The Challenges of Being a New Christian

young women laughing at movie theater

One adult convert’s story of trying to live a whole new way.

Nobody’s going to lie to you: Being a Christian has never been easy. Although salivating lions no longer threaten, MTV-stylized culture presents an equal danger in the slick smiles of pop stars. And you think Christianity is hard? Try living a life empty of Christ. Impossible.

Yet there is something even more fraught with peril than either of those paths — a life filled with guilt, a constant sense of failing, and utter confusion. Welcome to the world of the New Christian. My world.

Case in point: going to the movies with new Christian friends from Bible study. Trying to divorce myself from my old worldly ways, I throw myself into fellowship with practiced Christians, those “in the know” with Jesus. So I am excited to be invited to an evening outing with these Christian brothers who will lead me.

Thirty minutes into the movie, we walk out. Or, more specifically, they walk out and I follow. “Oh man, it’s going to take me a while to get that out of my head,” says one. “I feel like I need to wash my brain or something.”

I run through my mental check-list of no-nos. Explicit sex scenes? No. Intense violence? No. Obvious disavowal of religious sentiment? Nope. Shamed, I have to ask what was so wrong with the movie.

“They dropped the F-bomb like crazy! Didn’t you notice?” Um, well, er, that is, hmmm … no. I hadn’t noticed at all. In fact, I had really been enjoying the movie. Clearly, my Christian radar is inoperative. There I was, laughing away without thought to the peril to my soul caused by that movie — which I now see has the clear mark of Satan on it. How could I have missed it? Worse, what is wrong with me? I am a bad, bad Christian.

Luckily, I have another chance to prove myself the next night — dinner plans with my non-Christian friends. These are the people who have always been there for me, who have gone through the horrors of high school life with me and lived to tell about it, who but for a few friendship snafus, have seldom had a major disagreement with me.

Unfortunately, they consider Christianity to be one of those friendship snafus.

Even though I accepted Jesus over a year ago, we seldom talk about it. It is a dead duck in the conversational water, any mention of the J-word greeted with frowns. But with the influence of my Christian friends, I am trying to present a positive example of Christian life — life sans alcohol, random hook-ups, anorexia, drugs, and late night partying. I love them and want to help them find Christ. I positively glow with ideals.

The night starts off well. One friend regales us with a tale of a wild night at a club. Another describes a drink guaranteed to blow your mind — or at least send you into unconsciousness (read: just as good). And then there’s me.

“So what’d you do over the weekend?” they ask, expectant looks on their faces as they wait for one of my usual I-can’t-believe-what-happened-at-the-bar stories.

“Well, there was Bible study on Friday night,” I say. No reaction. “Saturday night was, um, quiet time for reflection.” Not even a blink. Time for a last ditch effort. “Last night I went to that new movie everyone’s talking about.”

At last, animation. I sigh with relief. “Oh yeah, wasn’t it awesome?” my friend asks. “I couldn’t believe that crazy ending. Were you totally not expecting that, or what?”

Oh, no. She’s waiting for an answer. I’m trapped like a deer in headlights. “I didn’t really see too much of it,” I say. And before they can give each other knowing looks as to why I hadn’t been paying attention to the movie, I mumble, “We kinda walked out.”

The glances they exchange this time are less amused, and I wish I had never mentioned it. God should have struck me mute and at least saved my social life. We continue talking, but it’s not the same. I’ve now brought the dreaded C-word (read: Christ, Conservative, Crazy — they all fit) into the mix, and they watch what they say. When something truly titillating comes up, they say, “I’ll tell you later,” with a pointed look at me.

I feel horrible. I have been cut out, shut down, drop-kicked to the outside of an inside conversation. They don’t mean to be rude, and I know that they still love me, but it’s not the same. Since when did I become everyone’s Mom? I am a bad, bad friend.

I go home dejected. Where do I fit in? I’m not Christian enough for my Christian friends, and too Christian for all the people who have ever meant anything to me. I have disappointed everyone, most especially myself. I am an utter failure as a person.

Worse, I don’t even know what I believe. Do I truly think that a movie is going to poison my mind for all eternity? Do I really want to go back to the life of bar-hopping that had driven me to Jesus in the first place? Who’s right?

I am in the dreaded No Man’s Land of the New Christian.

Exhausted, I drop down onto my bed as soon as I get home. I am utterly alone, and I have no answers. I start to pray. Please God, I know that You are there. Please God, I know that You love me. Please God, show me what is the right way to live my life. Please God.

I pray for what seems like hours. Eyes closed, I concentrate on God, on reaching out to Him, on feeling His love for me, on the certainty of my love for Him. Please God, show me.

Inexplicably, incredibly, I am blessed — for God gives me the answer, a miracle beyond measure for those accustomed to unanswered prayers. As I am praying, the thought suddenly comes to me that this is not failure that has brought me to this place, but God. It is not a lack of knowing or a social faux pas — but God. For this is where God wanted me all along. Alone. Uncertain. Questioning. Doubting. But above all, seeking — for Him. And loving — just Him. And depending — only on Him.

It is a revelation that truly awes; that God can take a moment that feels like utter desolation, and He fills it with himself. Not only that, but He reveals to my nearsighted eyes that there was never a void to fill, for He was working in me all along. I breathe a prayer of thanksgiving.

I am not perfect. I will always be uncertain, and I will always fall down. But for the New Christian like me, the most important thing is to continually come back to God, to continually reaffirm our faith. Walking that line between the old life and the new is hard — but the incredible reality is that there has only been one life all along, and it has always belonged to God.

Copyright 2005 Joanna Saul. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Joanna Saul

Joanna Saul lives in Columbus, Ohio, and is a graduate of THE Ohio State University (Go Bucks!) and Georgetown Law.  She runs the Modern Ruth Project and works in state government to help the disadvantaged and has recently started a walking program for her local community.  As a 30-something singleton, she is passionate about using her time to serve God’s people.