“Like most healthy relationships, mine with God is based on trust.”
Last week I was on vacation, so no interview–I’m dreadfully sorry. (Not really, I was at Hilton Head and it was wonderful). This week I interviewed Elizabeth, my darling grand-little in my sorority. I didn’t get to meet Elizabeth until she became Taylor’s little, but she fit into the sister-family instantly. She’s charming, well-spoken, driven, and hilarious–her sarcastic sense of humor showed she was meant to be in our family instantly. As I got to know her, I learned that her religion was very important to her–but not much more than that on the subject, so I was excited to get to ask her about her beliefs. She also made a gluten-free peach cobbler for our interview…and it was delicious (and very thoughtful, as I am gluten intolerant). We ate it while standing in her kitchen with her boyfriend and talking about religion/politics/everything else. [Side note: my interview will be posted next week, since I don’t feel it’s fair ask others to publicize their beliefs without doing it myself.]
Elizabeth mentions two churches she attended, but wants it to be clear that the opinions expressed in her interview do not represent either church’s views and are solely her own opinions.
And without further ado…
Interview 4: Elizabeth
Me: To start off, I’d like for you to give me your definition of your beliefs, currently.
Elizabeth: Okay. My definition of my beliefs…if I had to categorize it…I’d definitely say I’m a Christian, but I don’t feel like I fall under the label of Baptist as much as I might have when I was in high school. That was the church I went to, now the church I go to…honestly, I’m not even sure if there is necessarily a denomination associated with it? It’s Grace Midtown. It’s pretty nondenominational, not the typical Baptist mentality.
Me: If you could kind of go down how you made that transition—you were raised Baptist, right?
Me: Could you go through your childhood and how that transition came up?
Elizabeth: So a lot of my religious experiences come back from my parents, in a very positive way. My mom was raised Southern Baptist, she’s been Baptist her whole life. My grandma has told me that Jesus was a Baptist, because he was baptized by John the Baptist, and that is how you become Baptist, being baptized by a Baptist.
Me: I guess that’s fair!
Elizabeth: Anyway, so that’s my mom’s side of the family. My dad was raised Presbyterian, but both of my parents had a spiritual awakening in college, and they met at church in Texas, then they moved here, slightly before I was born, and we’ve gone to Johnson Ferry Baptist my whole life, that’s where my family still goes to church. But I’ve always known that my parents didn’t agree with everything that all Baptists believe in. My parents have never had a problem with alcohol, for example, or dancing, which is a Baptist tenet, but that’s not something that’s ever been completely frowned upon, by my family.
So I grew up super super involved in church, my dad was a deacon and my mom worked in the Sunday School office on Sunday mornings, church was a huge part of my life. I went to a Montessori school when I was in preschool, and then my mom had been an elementary school teacher so when me and my sister started getting older, she decided she would rather homeschool us. And she had a few other friends who did that. So while we were homeschooled a lot of my big social interaction was at church, other sports and activities we did were with other Christians. The first time in my life I can remember having a significant number of non-Christian friends would be when I started doing swim team, probably, in late middle school to high school. So church was always a huge part of my life, I did bible drill, church on Sundays and choir on Wednesdays, and bible study. Bible Drill was so much fun. I went to the state championship. You have a specific Bible—this is for elementary school kids—and they give you a list of passages and verses, and the goal is to memorize this and know exactly where those things are in the Bible, and they test you on it. You flip open your Bible and find it and step forward when you had it. It’s really funny and different and weird but I was really good at it. And honestly it’s really awesome now because I feel that I do know a lot specifically about the Bible from those things.
I would say I became a Christian when I was seven years old. It’s hard for me to look at seven year olds and be like, “What did I even really know then? What was my decision then?” but…they had kid’s church on Sunday, and they would say “Jesus died for your sins, so you won’t go to Hell. Do you trust in Jesus?” and they had a specific prayer you prayed. I can say that my relationship with God really did start then, because at that moment my seven-year-old self trusted Him to keep me safe, and like most healthy relationships, mine with God is based on trust. I remember coming home from church and telling my mom that I had become a Christian and I wanted to be baptized, because once again, being a Baptist, that was the thing. You don’t get baptized until you’ve really made the decision for yourself. (laughs) My mom was like, no, you haven’t made this decision yet. So she made me wait another two years to get baptized, until I was nine. And I really remember that, it was really special. It was on Mother’s Day.
Elizabeth: Yeah, so it was really tender. And through middle school—going my school that I went to that was a private Christian school—being a Christian was just everything. It was such a part of who I am and how I was, it was weird for me to go places and for people to not—I remember opening up our classes at school with a prayer, like “God, help us to concentrate on what we’re learning, please let us absorb everything and pay attention”…even just stuff like that. So swim team, like I said, was the first time that I had non-Christian friends and honestly it was very interesting to me. But I can remember praying for them when I went home. That was just so much of my life. Which is why when I started college, it was a little bit of a culture shock. At that time I was dating a guy that I knew from church but his faith wasn’t exactly where maybe I thought it was. I can remember the first two months of college, calling my mom crying and saying “There aren’t any Christians here”. I saw girls in [our sorority] going out and partying…it just wasn’t something I was interested in. I wasn’t judging them, I really recognize that that is their decision, whatever they want to do. There pretty much wasn’t anybody I could really relate to. And then I started going to BCM—Baptist Collegiate Ministry—with two or three other [sorority sisters], and honestly that was a saving grace of my freshman year, meeting people who valued the same thing I did. I found somewhere I belonged. And then I was really involved in BCM, so I guess that Baptist identity, throughout my freshman year. That was also when I started going to Grace Midtown.
I stopped being really involved in BCM my second year. It wasn’t really so much a falling out, but I was set up to be a freshman Bible study leader and they didn’t have as many freshmen as they expected, and I just didn’t really have anything keeping me around there. I started doing [our sorority] Bible study, and that’s been amazing—it’s something I haven’t really been involved with as much as I wish I had, but that was really good—and that was also a time that forced me to really internalize my faith, and not rely so much on the people I was around to define me as a Christian, and more figure out what I really believed for myself. And that’s where I am right now. I go to [sorority] Bible study sometimes. I actually went to a Catholic Bible study last fall that was really interesting. It was this thing called “Theology of the Body”, which is a Catholic thing. It was about relationships.
Me: So [sorority] Bible study, that’s non-denominational, right?
Me: Do you think that just being opened up to other denominations opened you up to where you are now, or were you already on that path?
Elizabeth: No, there’s never been a point in my life when I thought being Baptist was the only option, or the only way or the only good thing. I would say just being Christian in general was always more important to me. There’s two things, my Christian faith, which is something I feel like I belong in and there’s a lot of ideals there and ways of living life, community…stuff like modesty, not overindulging in alcohol…that was a mindset that I felt like I didn’t have a lot of other people who believed in that way. Now I’d say that I know people who don’t overindulge in alcohol even though they aren’t Christian. There are people who believe really strongly in dressing modesty, not as Christian, but that combination of ideals was a place that I felt very comfortable in, and that was something that I found in [sorority] Bible study. But then not completely separate from that, but also a little bit different, is my relationship with God and my personal faith, and that was never affected by the people I was hanging out with.
Me: So how do you define your relationship with God, these days? Is it a daily thing, is it constant, is it a dialogue?
Elizabeth: Speaking from an ideal point of view, I would say that it’s every day. But really, it’s not as every day as I would like it to be. I feel it’s kind of a mix between a relationship with a parent and a relationship with a friend, if I’m speaking in terms like that. I feel like He is someone who cares about my life, cares about everyone’s life, kind of like a friend and someone I can really talk to, even sometimes out loud…(laughs)…about stuff that’s going on. But sometimes I do feel like it’s sort of a relationship with a parent, in that He knows what’s best for me when I don’t. I ask him for advice, wisdom…as far as there actually being a dialogue I can’t speak to any time that I’ve heard a voice, but I can talk about times, all the time, when I’m praying and praying and praying about something, and then I’m reading my Bible the next day, and a verse just stands out that completely talks to how I’m feeling. I think a great way to talk to God, for me, is actually to talk to my parents or talk to my friends who I feel like also have a really strong relationship with God. Other people can speak so much wisdom into your life. And I feel like that’s a way of communicating. One of my favorite Bible verses is “Be still and know that I am God,” [Psalm 46:10] and I feel like being able to actually hear God and feel what he wants for your life comes from being still, and honestly that’s something I have a problem with. I really enjoy being busy and stressed to a certain extent…I wish I was able to focus more on being still and listening.
Me: Do you believe in souls and what do you believe a soul is?
Elizabeth: I believe that people have body, spirit, and soul, and that your soul is what exists when your body dies.
Me: Since you are Christian, do you believe in Heaven and Hell?
Me: So what do you believe would qualify someone to go to Heaven or to go to Hell?
Elizabeth: In the Bible Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me,” so I believe that the only way to get to Heaven is to have a personal relationship with Jesus. And to go to hell is….everything else.
Me: Since going to heaven requires a relationship with Jesus, do you think that, when you get married and you have children, that you’re going to want Christianity to be central in your loved ones’ lives?
Elizabeth: That’s a great question, and honestly something that I have thought a lot about. Obviously I’ve never had a problem having friends—even close friends—who aren’t Christian—
Me: Obviously. (gesturing to self, laughing)
Elizabeth: (laughs) But for me personally…if I haven’t said it enough, I love my parents and I feel like they did such a good job of raising me and my siblings morally and spiritually, so for me personally I would want to marry someone who believed probably between ninety and ninety-five percent of the same stuff I do. I feel like a huge problem with Christianity is people nitpicking over small things. If there are a few things that we don’t agree on, that’s fine. If I go to a church and the pastor says some stuff that I don’t necessarily agree with, that’s fine, I don’t feel the need to split off a lot. I think that’s really damaging. I think the thing that really matters is the relationship with God. I want my spouse to believe the same stuff that I do and I want my children to grow up in church the same way I did, but I also feel like power comes from making your own decision. I wouldn’t want my children to feel like they had to get baptized at five years old. I don’t have any regret for the decision that I made, but I feel like really strong faith, or the people I can look at and see that they have really strong faith are people who did come to that conclusion later in life. So I definitely wouldn’t push anything on my children, I would want them to take time and figure out what they really believe and then arrive at their own conclusions. This is going to sound silly, but part of thinking that I am right is thinking that people will come to that conclusion also. If it is the right way, people will be drawn to it.
After our interview had officially ended, while we devoured peach cobbler, our discussion on religion continued. At one point, I turned my recording device back on to capture more of Elizabeth’s point of view. Here’s what she said (and a picture of her with her delightful cobbler):
“The thing that I have learned the most about my faith since I’ve been in college—or not necessarily my faith but religion in general—is universal truth to it. I took this psychology class, and I feel there are psychological principles that relate back to Jesus’s teachings in the Bible. There’s a verse in the Bible that—I can’t remember the wording off the top of my head—but it says “love those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you” and there are psychological principles that say stuff like, if you can get someone to do a favor for you, they are more likely to like you. It pretty much comes down to, if you are nice to people, they are more likely to be nice to you. There’s a lot of weird stuff like that, that I feel like a lot of the stuff that Jesus said is super applicable no matter what. And not just Jesus–if you read in Proverbs, there’s just such practical advice in the Bible and that’s one of the things that I love about it and one of the things that have been cool to me, as I have matured intellectually, to see that, huh, this isn’t someone blowing smoke, they have proof.”