It’s April 2019, 8:30 am on a Tuesday. I am wearing a knee-length black down jacket taking the 47 down Geary to FiDi. A classic SF day- Carl, the fog has taken over west SF while east SF remains nice and sunny. On the bus, I’m listening to my 3rd Joel Osteen podcast episode of the morning, but I am not getting the same endorphin hit. I skip around in the episode, hoping to land on something good – another quote to inspire me or organize my life. But the podcast has run its course, and I was left with the mess I started with.
Since graduating college, I’ve felt like a part of me died. School and being a student was my identity, so when I graduated and was no longer ‘a student,’ I fell into a depression and tried other ways to identify myself.
One way was through trying to be a Joel Osteen follower. I was hooked on Joel Osteen’s podcast because I thought his mix of inspirational storytelling and preaching would encourage me through my confusion. Also, he was Christian-lite in my mind – non-offensive and easier to digest.
There was this one episode called the Season of Silence where Joel talks about the story of how David found out he was to be king and then sent back to the countryside to be a shepherd while his brothers gained fame for being generals. Osteen’s message was that we didn’t get a promotion, lost a job, or have sick family members because God is toughening us up for bigger, better wins later in our life.
I believed him. The first couple of months, I would push aside my dissatisfaction at work or my unhappy relationships as God ‘toughening’ me up. But after a while, I felt Osteen’s message to be toxically positive. It didn’t get to the core issue I had: I was confused, upset, and wanted healing.
One day, I visited my folks in San Jose when my dad invited me to a church he transferred to. We pulled up into the parking lot, and immediately I was flashed back to my youth. The last time I went to church regularly was in elementary school. It felt so lovely to be back- a kind of nostalgia like roasting marshmallows on an open fire. The area smelled of pine bark, and the same redwood buildings surrounded the quad where I spent my childhood in the playground. Opposite it, we walked into the new auditorium. The sermon was about returning to church. Thinking back, the guest pastor probably was speaking to church attendance. Either way, I felt led by the Holy Spirit, so I decided to find a church in San Francisco.
Upon my first search, I found First Presbyterian Church SF. It was a sunny Sunday morning along the Embarcadero. Entering the Commonwealth Club, my hands were clammy, and I quickly hid in the corner of the room. Chris came to the front and this intense, dynamic energy radiated from him. It was like he could shake the back walls with one breath. I was terrified by his charisma but felt a tinge of hope.
Maybe if I return to the church, God will help me.
Maybe if I return to the church, I won’t feel so alone in my mess.
Maybe if I return to the church, I could find where I belong through Christ.
Coming to First Presbyterian Church SF was a big reminder to me of the Good News. This has been very helpful in teaching myself to be accepting and respectful of all the gifts and talents God has given me. I no longer find my identity through different communities or interests. As cliché as it sounds, I find my identity as a follower of Christ.
The church introduced me to other people’s prayers and favorite bible verses. Through service, I’ve come to learn the Lord’s prayer. I was driving down the 405 in southern California, and someone turned into my lane without signaling: God forgives my debts as I forgive my debtors. When I am envious of someone: Lead me from the evil one. When I gave up sugar last year and had a hard time controlling myself, I learned of Romans 7: For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. These quotes help put into words the feelings I couldn’t describe.
I am a bit afraid of the Church. I know many who won’t go back because of the pain it has caused. I grieve for those who lost their connection with God because a church rejected them based on social-economic status, race, or identity. A reminder that the Church is a body of sinners. Thus expecting disappointment, I can pick my battles, forgive others as the Lord forgives me, and remember the bigger goal is to bring glory to God.
I believe God chose me to be his follower, and he sacrificed his son for me, but following him and trusting in his plan is a day-to-day struggle. The impulsive side says I can’t just sit around and expect God to do all the work, but the rational side says to trust God’s timing. So I read my bible and attend Sunday service. I forgive others and ask for forgiveness. I remind myself that God saved me by grace through faith, and I pray.