A Profound Journey Back to God
In this Lenten season, recalling a path from darkness to light
I loved Sunday school when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s in northeast Pennsylvania. I didn’t know until many years later how it would help me find my way back to God after I went seriously astray.
Each week I looked forward to Sunday school as a child and to seeing my church friends from other school districts. Afterward, we would head to my grammy’s tiny row house in South Allentown for a big lunch with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins (they were legion). Then the kids all changed into our “play clothes” and headed out into that postage stamp-sized yard to chase each other around.
Easter Sunday was always the best. I reluctantly covered my frilly dress with a long white robe and sang in the children’s choir (I still have my singing child Christmas ornament dated 1981 from the choral director). The view from the choir loft thrilled me as I felt closer to God. I was fatherless and loved Jesus. I thought of God as my Heavenly Father and this feeling comforted me.
Alas, childhood does not last forever and soon the rebellion of adolescence hit.
As a teenager I adopted gloomy and brooding music, then black clothes, then spiky punk rock hair. Even so, I kept going to Sunday school because I loved it. Eventually I fell in with a crowd that ignored parents and rules and eschewed religion and God — and I fell from my faith.
During this long, dark night of the soul, I quit high school, ran away from home, got pregnant, had an abortion, and even attempted suicide. I took a job at an abortion clinic mostly as a way to convince myself that I should be just fine after my abortion (even though I missed my baby so much) and to assuage my guilt for not being strong enough to save him. Somehow I needed to think abortion was just fine for other women, even though I knew it had been dead wrong for me.
Unsurprisingly, it was easy to remain godless while working in an abortion clinic.
Attending college in Pennsylvania and then graduate school in New York City was also an effortless exercise in avoiding the divine. Again, unsurprisingly, it was easy to remain godless while ensconced in the American system of higher education.
I started believing in God again after earning my Master of Arts degree in Applied Psychology from Yeshiva University. I worked at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan in an entry-level job as a research assistant. It was a place mired in death, yet still buoyed by hope. After lunch, I would sneak into the tiny chapel near the cafeteria to sit quietly with my thoughts, but I wouldn’t say I was praying, and I had no real religion, yet.
Finally, after I got married and became pregnant with our first child, I felt it was time to give the religion of my youth another try. It was important to me to have my children baptized, but I had no prayer life, and for me, attending services was a monotonous and joyless exercise made all the more awkward by not feeling welcome in the church community.
My failed attempts at maintaining faith and practicing religion gave me an armor of indifference, which was finally rent by the lightning bolt experience of becoming pro-life five or so years ago. Embracing my newfound pro-life worldview led me to face head-on my painful, shameful past and to seek reconciliation with my creator. I repented, prayed for forgiveness, begged for penance and began my atonement.
Crawling back to God, broken and humbled, has made me who I am today: I am still broken and humbled, but accepting of His forgiveness and viewing life “through the lens of eternity” as His beloved child. So, it turned out, I was never really fatherless after all.
I had just lost sight of my Heavenly Father and like the prodigal, I sulked back home and He ran out to meet me.
I was welcomed back into His arms, and in this season of Lent, I am profoundly grateful. It is here I intend to stay.
Jewels Green is a mother, writer, public speaker and advocate for the right to life from conception to natural death. She is featured in a new book, We Choose Life: Authentic Stories, Movements of Hope.