Months ago, I was sitting in the lobby of Harnwell College House with a friend. We were talking about our faith when he asked me:
“So what’s your testimony?”
I looked at him and thought about it for a while. How could I respond to that? I didn’t have a testimony of my religious conversion. There was no exact turning point where I came to God. I was born to two pastors who immigrated from South Korea to Boston. I was saved by Christ before I was conscious, when my parents had me baptized. I’ve been Christian my whole life.
I didn’t go to church during my first semester at Penn. It was the first time in my life that I missed many consecutive Sunday services. And honestly, not a lot changed in my heart, because I really wasn’t invested in religion beforehand. I went to church because my parents did, but they weren’t here anymore to tell me what to do.
The stereotypical trope of the pastor’s kid is usually at two extremes: the holy, pious, disciplined kid, or the off-the-rails kid who strays far from faith. I, along with my brothers, simmered in a lukewarm medium; our parents were never really strict in a secular or non-secular sense.
As a result of this, I attended church almost every Sunday, but I was never extremely engaged. Church was a workplace for my parents, and my brothers and I had to go church. The person preaching was my mother — that made it hard to think of her as a spiritual leader. The Bible was my parent’s work and I didn’t want people to think that I was a “weirdly religious person” for being a pastor’s kid.
This is the unfortunate sentiment among a lot of people who grew up in the church. Going to church becomes a routine, and following God becomes something you have to do, like a chore every Sunday morning.
When my second semester at Penn came around, I decided I would try to go to church again. It was the first time I would be going to church on my own, out of my own choice. But before I did, I told myself: “If you’re going to do this again, it’s not going to be like how it has been for the past 18 years. Do you want to follow God? Is this something that you alone want? Then truly follow it with all your heart, not just your ‘Sunday for one hour’ heart.”
When I went to a new church, I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I didn’t have expectations for what my faith journey would look like. I just felt like it would be good for me to have a support system. I didn’t know that I would experience a God that was so real to me.
What I realized was that given the choice to decide to follow God or not, choosing it myself makes it so much more powerful. I think many people who grew up in the church fall away because their obligation to it was familial, and not a personal choice.
Through my time here at Penn, I’ve been blessed in so many ways since joining a church. I’ve been Christian my whole life, but I think it has only become “real” to me since the spring semester of my freshman year.
A lot of the religious pedagogy that I went through drilled into me what I should and should not do. What is sinful and the judgement we might face. Some people feel like following God will require forgoing the “good life” in pursuit of a restricted one. From my experience so far, I hope that we absolutely want to and choose to love God. I hope that we realize that it is the best and most freeing path. It’s the one that is filled with an overflowing and amazingly sweet love of God.
So if you relate to my experiences, I ask that you try to find a church and pursue your spirituality again. If you’ve been hurt by the church, if the church has weakened your faith, or made you turn away, I am truly sorry. But I ask you to try again, and come back independent of how those past experiences affected your faith.
When my friend asked me what my testimony was in the Harnwell lobby, I told him I felt like I was still living through it. Even though I went to church my entire life, I was just learning in my heart what it meant to be a Christian. I was no longer required to go to church every Sunday, or even follow God, but I still choose to do so because it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
JOEL LEE is a College sophomore from Groton, Conn. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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