The reluctant Christian

Nicole Cliffe didn’t ask anything from anyone, but she just couldn’t run away anymore

reluctan Christian
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Nicole Cliffe was perfectly happy being an atheist.

She found the idea of no life after death comforting in its finality.

She thought it was probably nice for people of faith to have faith, and found them "frequently charming in their sweet delusion".

But she had no desire, nor did she think she had a need, to believe. She had "no untapped, unanswered yearning".

As she tells in a personal essay published in Christianity Today, she was surfing the Internet when she stumbled upon an obituary for philosopher Dallas Willard written by someone she knew.

The article focused on the four great questions the thinker and writer said humans should be asking: What is reality? What is the good life? Who is a good person? And, how do you become a good person?

In this careful unpicking of an incredible mind, one thought stood out to Nicole.

It was a quote from Dallas: "I believe that every human being is sufficiently depraved that when we get to heaven no one will be able to say, 'I merited this'."

Inexplicably, uncharacteristically, a few minutes after reading the piece Nicole burst into tears.

"Later that day, I burst into tears again," she says. "And the next day. While brushing my teeth, while falling asleep, while in the shower, while feeding my kids, I would burst into tears.

"It was very unsettling to suddenly feel like a boat being tossed on the waves. I wasn't sad, I wasn't frightened – I just had too many feelings."

Feelings she was desperate to explore, and so Nicole read Dallas Willard's Hearing God – and cried.

She cried as she read My God and I by Lewis Smede. She cried as she read Sarah Miles' Take this Bread.

Until she got sick of crying and decided she could either stop reading books about Jesus, or she could tackle her question more intentionally and really get to the root of her overflow of emotions.

She emailed a Christian friend asking if they could talk about Jesus.

"I instantly regretted sending that email and if humanly possible would have clawed it back through the Internet," Nicole says.

"[My friend emailed back and] said she would be very happy to talk to me about Jesus. You probably already know this, but Christians love talking about Jesus."

But about an hour before the scheduled phone call Nicole already knew: she believed in God. "Worse," she says, "I was a Christian. It was the opposite of being punk rock.

"So when my friend called, I told her, awkwardly, that I wanted to have a relationship with God, and we prayed, and giggled a bit, and cried a bit, and then she sent me a stack of [Dutch theologian] Henri Nouwen's books, and here we are today."

She says she was tapped on the shoulder, and it was as if she had just figured out what she already knew and could no longer deny. That God was real. That He loved her.

"My Christian conversion has granted me no simplicity. It has complicated all of my relationships, changed how I feel about money, messed up my public persona, and made me wonder if I should be on Twitter at all.

"Obviously, it's been very beautiful," she concludes.

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