Seven Year Olds Know Best

12:03 PM

We lived on a road that ran right by a steep, slopey road -- a road that you could coast your bike down at frightening speeds and end up at the piano teacher's doorstep. We parked our big red van in front of the garage crammed full of all the plastic and metal junk a family of seven accumulated. It was base housing, a duplex-type arrangement (our next door neighbors owned an evil husky and watched Batman) with an American flag and a name plate right next to the squeaky screen door. In the yard were the bed of mulch underneath the window I toppled out of, the crab apple tree perfect for ripping new homemade dresses on after cracking one's skull on the ground beneath, and the fire hydrant.

I remember the fire hydrant the most.

It was a grayish September day a week or so after two planes crashed into tall buildings and my brother climbed the tree out back to watch Air Force One land. I hadn't been thinking about anything, really, just wandering around in the grayness, barefoot and pensive. I thought about Jesus and the cross and Jesus on the cross and the nails piercing flesh -- and I stopped there cold. The nails piercing flesh -- not a Precious Moments Bible concocted character but flesh, Jesus flesh. The nails pierced flesh -- and why? Why did He take it, the whips stripping away, the crowds hating, the nails tearing skin? Sin. Sin did it. We. We did it. We nailed Him there.

And the thought overwhelmed me: sweet Jesus bleeding His life out on the cross for me, for sinners, and it wasn't fair and it wasn't right but He did it anyway, did it because -- because He loved. (I cried.) And He didn't love just in a general sense, in the way I'd always taken it as a Sunday school girl; He didn't just "die on the cross" in the exhausted, repetitious altar call way.

At age seven, by the fire hydrant, in the tears and the grayness, I understood for the first time the thing that turned the world upside down: Even if I was the only person in the whole world, Jesus still would have died for me. He loved me that big. And when I saw His great love, His arms stretched wide on the bloody cross, I loved Him then, loved Him with every ounce of seven-year-old existence. I told my mom about Jesus' love, about the unfairness of the perfect Son of God dying the death of filthy sinners. And I said yes, Lord -- I love you. I want to be saved.

Cause: God || Effect: Whole-hearted devotion
It's that simple.

For a very, very long while, I doubted that salvation. I told it in my testimony but qualified it with, "But I'm not sure I was really saved back then." For one thing, I fell into pettiness and lukewarmness maybe six months later, if not sooner. For another, I struggled and struggled and struggled with whether I was saved at all. I never let on -- no, I was too good a kid and too mature a Christian to admit that I couldn't sleep some nights lest hell fire wake me, that I prayed that magical sinner's prayer over and over, that I squirmed whenever the pastor or the youth leader issued mass invitations to salvation. I must have been saved several hundred times over the course of those years, if salvation comes through a prayer. I must have rededicated my life about half as much (since rededication seemed more of a milestone than starting over again). 

And that silly little jaunt by the fire hydrant -- it taunted me. The one time I was secure in my salvation was at seven years, when I didn't fully grasp my own sinfulness, when I didn't know anything about the great theological debates, when I didn't know really anything except that Jesus died because He loved me and because of that, I loved Him. Only that. 

It didn't take long to discover the back story of God's holiness and the spiritual agony Jesus faced that was far greater than nails driven into hands. It didn't take long to learn of my own sinfulness and how it grieved and angered the God I rebelled against. It didn't take long to get embroiled in the theological debates and tangled up in the doubts. Ironically, the only thing I felt sure of then was that Jesus didn't love me and I didn't love Him very much either. So I belittled that childish "salvation" that hadn't sustained me through rebellion and pain and spiritual bondage. 

Now I'm not so sure. 

I think that I knew better when I was seven years old. It was simple, it was pure, it was innocent and it was all God in me. I wasn't striving in my own strength, I wasn't overanalyzing, overcomplicating, I wasn't doubting. I merely saw that God loved me and responded to it with a full heart. Cause and effect. 

That's why Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these -- little girls and little boys like little seven-year-old Bailey who mourned sin and danced under the banner of love. 

God peeled away the layers of fake spirituality and filled me with His love and I responded to that: now I no longer doubt my justification. But that continued salvation -- that sanctification -- that's where I want to fall back on works and effort. I want to come back to God -- where I don't place my trust in how much I love God but in how much God loves me. For the love of God is a mysterious thing: when applied liberally, love springs back. Always. We love because He first loved us. I need that again: the simplicity of faith, the power of love. I want to worship this God who is love and rejoice in His love and be filled with love. 

Then the doubts fall away. Then the love for God blossoms. Then the faith grows. Don't believe me? Ask the seven-year-olds.

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10 impressions

  1. Oh, Bailey... How did you manage to tell my story so perfectly? I was just like that. This is a beautiful post.

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  2. I have a like story, with the same repeating over and over again. And my faith is growing.

    And girl!! I love your new blog design. :)

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  3. God did say to have faith like a child...and frankly, I want to have that childish faith. It's pure, it's full of love, it's genuine, and it's all about God. Who wouldn't want that kind of faith ?

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  4. Thanks for this post, Bailey. It encourages me that so many others are wrestling with this mustard-seed-tiny, move-mountain-enormous, mysterious and incredible and terrifying thing they call faith.

    It's hard. So hard. But then, who wants a soft faith?

    He never promised this journey would be easy, just that struggle would be worth it.

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  5. Childlike faith is so precious. It is trusting, it's not fake; it's oh so real. It's a faith we should all strive for. [:

    Lovely post, dear. *SQUUUIIISHHH*

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  6. thank you for sharing Bailey...this is an area I've struggled in to some extent and I know some people who have more. God bless you...may we all have the faith of a child!

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  7. This is a wonderful post! Not only was the writing and the descriptive imagery beautiful, but what you had to say really hit home with me.

    I once was in much the same predicament. I accepted Christ during morning devotions with my Mom when I was three years old. The event is firmly ingrained in my memory, and while it now means a lot to me, I used to wonder if I really understood. My mom didn’t force any kind of response out of me, so it’s not that I felt that my reaction was contrived, I just felt uncertain in later years if I had ever really known.

    We were reading through a devotional book, and had reached the writings on Jesus’ sacrifice. I remember being so moved. He had died for me. While I’m sure that I had heard of his sacrifice before, this was the time when it really struck me.

    Not wanting to force any kind of response, my mom said something about how when my sister and I were older, we could accept Jesus into our hearts. I asked, “Why can’t I do it now?!” If all this was true, and if Jesus really had died for me, I couldn’t imagine why she would want me to wait before accepting him into my heart! :)

    Looking back on the event now, I am convinced that my response was from the heart. The devotion was not speaking of the threat of hell- my response was not induced by fear. I simply learned what Christ had done for me and to ignore it was unthinkable.

    From until I was seven to when I was near eleven, I continually would ask for God to save me, but nothing changed. Lukewarm and empty, I felt that I couldn't be a Christian, yet logically thought I must be. In hearing numerous testimonies of "I accepted Christ as a child but never meant it", I was afraid that I would be one of those people ten years down the road.

    Reading devotions/spiritual literature about the topic hurt more than it helped. They all said that once you were saved, no one could snatch you out of God's hand. I believed that with all my heart. What I wanted to know was if I had ever been saved in the first place!

    In seventh grade, I attended my first youth retreat, and rededicated my life to Christ. I knew that I meant it, and things only looked up from there, yet I do not think that I first tasted salvation there.

    I now believe that I was saved when I was three. I understood the gospel, and while I could not grasp my own sinfulness, I knew that I needed a savior. In all my agonizing over whether I was saved or not, I missed how simple the gospel really is.

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  8. Hi Bailey! I just found this blog, and I love it!

    This post was great. As a Catholic with close Protestant friends, I always find it interesting to hear Protestant ideas about salvation. (I'm curious: what sort of Protestant are you?)

    I wonder also what you think about Catholic soteriology, and wanted to recommend a couple things if you're interested in doing any research on it. (Hey, mutual understanding is good, right?) If I were you and were interested, I'd read the writings of the early Church Fathers (here's a link to a very small sampler: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1786166/posts), and for some light and easy and GOOD reading, anything by Scott Hahn (http://www.scotthahn.com/scott-hahn-books.html).

    And watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZ1pLyLdnhM&list=UUcMjLgeWNwqL2LBGS-iPb1A

    Any suggestions for me?

    P.S. Lucky duck going to Hillsdale. I go to a little Catholic high school a lot like Hillsdale or Thomas Aquinas College, and I love it. I'll miss that kind of education so much if I don't go to a school like that.

    Helen

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  9. Hi, Helen! I'm a very mixed bag when it comes to theology -- it's hard to box me into a precise denomination. I guess if I had to pick a label, I'd be Reformed Baptist.

    I have been studying Catholicism for a while, so thanks for the recommendations! Catholic soteriology...well, to be honest, I strongly disagree with it. I see where Catholicism gets some of its ideas, and starting from the assumptions Catholics have (e.g. emphasis on free will, the role of the church), it makes sense. I just don't think the assumptions either come from or can be reconciled with Scripture. It's hard for me to explain my entire thoughts on Catholic soteriology -- or soteriology in general -- in just one comment without a specific issue to discuss. :) That's the gist of my general opinion.

    Let me get back to you on suggestions for you. I need to weed through everything I've read to make sure it's actually accurate and fair. I'll be looking into the links/books you sent once homework is completed. :D

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Hit me with your best thought! I'm very interested in your unique perspective. If you'd like to discuss things in private, feel free to email me! :)