Spiritual Birthday

Spiritual Birthday: The day that you “prayed the prayer,” officially giving your life to Christ and being born new in him.

‎”You are so young; you stand for beginnings. I would like to beg of you, dear friend, as well as I can, to have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I barely remember that day.

This is normal, I suppose. Those earliest years are a bit piecemeal for all of us. I’m told I was five; I remember the cold fear of a bad dream. I can picture my parents’ bedroom, the early morning light on their bed as I came running.

But I don’t remember “praying the prayer.” I don’t remember what my mom said to me or what I said to God as I “asked Jesus into my heart.” I only remember that bedroom. The wrinkled sheets. The light breaking in through the blinds.

I don’t doubt that it was important, that moment, that day. My child heart was reaching for something that it did not understand but believed to be true. A safe place, a good place. A home. It is the blurry beginning of something beautiful, and I keep this memory fragment close to my heart.

And yet, it was only one moment. And I was only five. If you ask the date of my “spiritual birthday,” I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know what day it was that I said that prayer, and I’m not sure that it matters.

I was raised, after all, in the stories and songs of Jesus; I knew his face from early on, and who can say when my small heart opened wide? I am not convinced that there is a certain prayer – a secret handshake of word and faith that gets you in. We are a hundred thousand kinds of different, and no love story is the same.

My faith is a beaded string of unmarked, important moments. That hazy five-year-old one, to be sure, where I understood God to be bigger than my fear. But also the dark ones, where I felt unsure of him. The lonely ones. The angry, questioning ones. They are part of it too.

There was an important moment when, as a teenager, the words of the Bible felt brilliant and new and alive for the first time, and I laid in bed and read and underlined and read and underlined. There was that day during my thirteenth year when I stood in the baptismal pool and spoke my faith from a note card. The water swirled around my feet and the people sang around me, and it mattered.

But it also mattered, years later, when those same words felt like a wall I kept hitting my head against. Grace was there, kneeling down next to me on the bathroom floor in my drunken, angry moments. He was there when I was running, when I was hiding, and this matters too.

I don’t remember much about the first time I chose God, but I remember the day early on in my first pregnancy, when I made a simple choice to move away from cynicism, to let it go. I remember what it felt like to be knee deep in anger and to shakily, imperfectly choose to move back toward the Light.

There are these and a thousand more. Moments I have forgotten; moments I never even noticed but that changed me imperceptibly. And it seems right that these marked days pass unobserved each year, because God is always doing a new thing.

Faith, after all, is not just one day in which your life was changed. It is that magnetic, changing pull of love every moment of every day. So it seems right to spend less time celebrating the moment that I found God and instead keep my eyes wide open. To look for the ways he is always finding me.

We are born, one day, into the world. We breathe in, and our spirits are already spread wide within us. We are alive and we are loved.

After that, it’s just a matter of waking.

30 thoughts on “Spiritual Birthday

  1. Addie, this paragraph: “Faith, after all, is not just one day in which your life was changed. It is that magnetic, changing pull of love every moment of every day. So it seems right to spend less time celebrating the moment that I found God and instead keep my eyes wide open. To look for the ways he is always finding me.”

    Wow and yes. I could keep thinking on that all day. I think you have mentioned before the evangelical terminology of “the journey.” Even in it’s predictability and sometimes cheesiness, it is hard to come up with a better metaphor of the Christian life. The twists & turns & ins & outs of living life with God is about so much more than the destinations we often reduce it too.

    Thanks as always for sharing your words and your heart.

    1. Thanks Stephanie. I agree…”journey” is a good one. Though, like all important words, it needs to be constantly turned and shaken and dusted off to make sure it doesn’t become a shadow of itself. It’s the saddest, when a perfect metaphor becomes a useless cliche.

  2. LOVE this, Addie! The longer I’ve been a Christian, the less I like the notion of a spiritual birthday. (And even less than that, the requirement by some churches to know a specific date.) I “prayed the prayer” when I was 4 or 5 but then a bunch of crap happened so I really count a winter day in early 1994 as the day I believed. On the other hand, I fell away from faith in college. So maybe when I started going to church again? Or when I went to Thailand and made my faith my own? My faith is an evolution, a winding road. It doesn’t fit into the nice, neat boxes I grew up believing in. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  3. Yes, yes, yes.

    For though it helps me to return to certain moments as kinds of ebenezers, I know, too, that “my faith is a beaded string of unmarked, important” ones, always, always happening.

    Thanks for this, Addie!

  4. I totally remember the day. I was 19. I was involved in drugs and headed down a very unfortunate path. I went to a meeting, and even there God guided me. At the meeting the speaker talked about the Lord meeting our needs… I had grown up in a Baptist church and had been baptized at age 12, but was not really sure if Jesus was God and he Bible was true. Through a supernatural event God met me, and I knew that Jesus was indeed God and the Bible was true. My life was totally changed and a new direction began…

    I say all of that not to demean those whose memories, although precious, may not be as specific. In fact, I have begun to realize how much God’s work in my life is not an event but a process and a life-long relationship. As I pondered, I recognized other events. For example at age 10 (or so).. I was at boys camp. It was the early 60’s and ESP was popular. I was experimenting and found that I suddenly was able to predict supernaturally what card people were holding. One day while walking, God spoke to me that this was wrong. He spoke to me “if you need to know something I will tell you”. This was clearly supernatural.

    In contrast, I went off to Episcopal boarding school (Christchurch in Va) in 1968. Some of my priests were not even sure of their own faith, yet I was exposed to the Biblical stories and teachings of Jesus. We actually learned intimately in one semester the teachings of Jesus through a study of the gospel of Mark. I was not sure about many things, yet God used this to guide me both before I came to faith in 1972 (after high school) and later in life.

    So I do want to acknowledge what Addie is saying about how God works in our life in so many different ways. It is really a process and not simply an event punctuated by the sinner’s prayer.

    Ray

    1. What I love about this comment is how you, in recognizing the significance of your own “moment,” recognize and honor the hundreds of other visible and less visible moments that got you to that place. When you were at your most lost, God was always finding you.

  5. Yes! I love “My faith is a beaded string of unmarked, important moments.” I can identify with your story so much. I’ve felt like my testimony isn’t very powerful b/c I don’t have some dramatic spiritual birthday moment. But I’ve been coming to realize the fact that God can love a rebellious teenager back to Himself is very powerful too. Your post organized many of my thoughts. Thank you so much!

  6. In my Christian high school, it became necessary to know my spiritual birthday. So, I concluded it was April 11, 1979, right before I turned 11. There was some science to figuring it out, and it was based on what I remember of the night that I first asked Jesus for help.

    28 years later, I underwent open heart surgery to repair the hole in my heart that had been there since birth. April 11, 2007.

    Rather freaky, in a way. Two rebirths, both on April 11, with a physical birthday or April 20.

    As to whether I was genuinely converted in 1979, there’s a lot of water gone under that bridge. Much doubt, much fear, much concern. But I believe I was. I pretty well know exactly what I said, tho, and it wasn’t no Sinner’s Prayer. There was no counseling. No “how to be saved”. I had no idea of what to do, and nobody told me. But believe you me, this child was coming to Jesus.

      1. It still amazes me that a man was lowered thru a roof by four friends, and to my knowledge he never spoke a word to Jesus, but Jesus said “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” The Bible plainly says that HIS sins were forgiven because of THEIR faith. Yet, we obsess over the day when we prayed the prayer, we focus on the MOMENT of conversion, I think primarily because of our obsessive need for fire insurance rather than because we want to know Jesus. Most of my Baptist friends would read into the story that the man MUST have had faith, or Jesus would not have forgiven him, because “we” can’t tolerate true exegesis of a Bible section that contradicts our doctrine. I do believe we can and usually do have spiritual birthdays, but what frustrates me is the elitism that usually comes with the knowledge of that date. It doesn’t matter what the date is, what matters is who the Saviour is. My story is especially weird to me because I lost all assurance of salvation COMPLETELY in the days following April 11, 2007. It was a time of near insanity, and my spiritual “life” has never recovered. Yet, even in the middle of being an absolute spiritual flop, I try to find and continue in faith. Sometimes, the faith of those around me is all the faith that I truly have, much like the man whose sins were forgiven.

  7. LOVE how you ended this post. Love love love.

    I don’t remember the Day either. I’m pretty sure I had that Day three or four times…because you really could never be too sure. 😉 Oh the joys of peer (and teacher!) pressure in an evangelical elementary school…

    It’s strange how much emphasis we put on this concept. As if this day marked when we walked from black and white into technicolor. From nightmare into fairytale. I think for some people, like Ray wrote above, a seismic shift does occur, but for others–maybe the majority–we won’t ever feel the rumble of great change. We won’t have a completely new landscape to learn or a new way of life to rebuild. It’s more of a decision, small and quiet, marked by a small and quiet prayer.

    My husband comes from a very liturgical tradition that doesn’t really believe in the “born again” concept. Each day is a new day, a new slate. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow. It’s about today, about knowing you are held and loved and then living fully, giving fully, loving fully. I think this is beautiful and so much less daunting than making sure you’re always putting your foot on the right rock lest you slip and fall from this new life.

    P.S. Happy real birthday, dear friend. Hope it was amazing.

  8. Love this. Just this past week I marked the dayi used to call my spiriual birthday with a week of posts honoring the faith and presence of Gos throughout my life.

  9. I’ve not heard the idea of spiritual birthdays but this brought back my own memories of a bedroom in the mountains in Pakistan – we had gone to a mission hospital so my little brother could have his tonsils out. My experience was so similar to yours in that after lights out I went to my mom and she came back into the bedroom where I was staying. Something happened that night to be sure – and that child prayer made in faith and innocence birthed a foundation of faith that has grown despite aches, doubts, rages and more. I love the analogy attributed to CS Lewis where he says “it’s a bit like if you’re on a train from Paris to Berlin. Some people will be awake at the moment the train crosses the border, and they’ll know the exact moment it happened. Other people won’t. It doesn’t matter; what matters is that you know that you’re in Berlin now.” Which leads to your words about it seeming right to celebrate less the day or hour or minute, and more the fact that we’re here now and want to see more of Berlin….Thanks Addie.

    1. I can’t believe I’ve never read that Lewis analogy. It’s perfect! Thanks so much for sharing it.

  10. Addie I’ve been meaning to read this post for days I’ve had the window open waiting for a few few moments to take it it.

    The timing was perfect, your perspective on faith and the nuances of our weird Christian culture are needed and spot on. My “spiritual bday” is a blur too, I must have been about five because all I remember is singing the song “into my heart, come into my heart Lord Jesus” at the kitchen table. My little brother was in his bouncer seat and my parents were so happy.

    1. That is very sweet. As it should be. 🙂 An important part of the whole, beautiful strand.

  11. “I made a simple choice to move away from cynicism.”

    I get the sense that this line expresses a large part of the appeal of your blog. There are many cynical hearts out there. Thanks for letting us be, and modeling that there is a choice that can be made. A choice back to simple, child-like faith.

    God saves, and no work of ours, including a certain prayer, can.
    There is no such idea as “ask Jesus into your heart” in Scripture.
    I remember my mother inviting me onto my knees, I believe as a 6 year old, but I too can’t remember the date. What I do know is that God did something that day and I never turned “back,” even though I turned “away” on plenty of occasions, all of which were a part of my living journey of the surrendered heart, which is better.

    1. I would 100% agree about the appeal of the blog is that a graciously expressed choice to move away from cynicism comes through in every post and is so refreshing.

  12. I’ve often wondered how I would respond to someone asking me about my spiritual birthday. There is a part of me that would want to reply, somewhat snarkily, “It was about 2,000 years ago as I remember, give or take a few years. You know! The year God killed himself so that we might live.”

    But now …

    There is a voice in my heart that says my spiritual birthday was when I realized I was alive … and that I was waking up and showing up for work each day … or at least the days I am willing … to love as I am being loved.

  13. Ah, this post and the comments comfort me. I’m currently working through (i.e. writing about) one of the most hurtful (spiritually) moments of my life: when my youth pastor, having not known me for long, assumed that because I could not remember a specific day and because, in my honesty, I confessed I had “said the prayer” multiple times (“to be double, triple sure”), I needed to be FOR SURE converted, in front of him, so he could be satisfied with my Savedness. He also accused my grandparents of teaching me bad theology (in hearing about my confession about multiple prayers).

    Yeah, he had…not a lot of imagination. To his great misfortune, I’m sure.

    The point is, this important moment in welcoming the God of my specific journey, whatever it looks like, brought to you by Addie. Thanks, lady. 🙂

    1. So sorry that happened to you Becky. Definitely not a lot of imagination (or grace). Glad for your specific beautiful journey and the ways it brought you into my life!

  14. Wow. Just now stumbling upon your blog and I feel like you grew up in my house. I was just thinking about this recently. My parents always say, very proudly, that my “spiritual birthday” is October 2nd, 1987. I was four. I vaguely remember bed sheets too, multi-colored checkered sheets, kneeling beside the bed, after my mom had asked me for what felt like the hundredth time if I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart today. I don’t know how many times she actually asked, but I’m pretty sure I was thinking “Why not?” Coming into my adult years, I was actually angry with my mom for hijacking my spirituality and putting those expectations on me. (And dangit, I wished I had an “interesting” conversion story!) But fortunately I have come to appreciate how much they cared about my spiritual well being. Thankfully, I’ve realized that it’s a journey and a process. I’m on a more cynical side of the journey right now, but I trust that there is enough grace for me to ask the tough questions.

    1. So glad you’re here Dina. 🙂 I think that there are a lot of us who had that kind of “conversion story,” but of course, there’s so much more to the story than the way it begins. Yes, there is so much grace for those tough questions and for that angry, cynical place. Keep searching, yelling, asking. Don’t give up. There’s light there to be found.

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