Panic In The Back Seat
When Karen was five, she had her first and only panic attack. It was on a Sunday, after church. She had a tummy ache and, with it, a sudden terror. What if she died? She began to hyperventilate, so Dad and Mom put her in the car, where she sat in the back seat between her grandmothers as they raced to the hospital.
In that moment of paralyzing fear, when five-year-old Karen thought she was dying, she told her grandmothers she wanted to ask Jesus into her heart—and she did.
Shortly after she said the prayer, the only panic attack she’s ever had subsided. They never made it to the hospital. Instead, they turned the car for home and celebrated a small miracle.
And it was. Jesus met Karen in her five-year-old terror and saved her with His great loving-kindness. But for the next 40 years, Karen told her salvation story through the lens of her evangelical upbringing as though it were cute. And we’d all grin because Karen has always been cute—and because God has always been good.
However, as we have grown in the love of our heavenly Father and discovered a goodness beyond what we knew yesterday, and through raising our kids—as well as some healthy deconstructing—that story is no longer cute.
You see, in the last few years, Karen has realized what happened.
That morning, in Sunday School, she’d likely received some version of the typical salvation message—the one with which many of us have grown up. Remember? It’s the one about punishment that often-included hell trains and the gnashing of teeth, forever, etc., etc., etc.
When she looks back on that salvation prayer now, she recognizes the kindness of God, the sweetness of loving family, and the reconciling wonder of the good news. At the same time, she recognizes how her little five-year-old heart was exploited and how her innocent and sincere desire for Jesus was manipulated by religious fear-mongering.
There is no bitterness in Karen. Kindness marked her formative years and continues to transform our families. She believes those who likely shared the sin counting, hellfire, Western evangelical salvation message were good, well-meaning people doing their level best; but also, because of kindness, she has deconstructed any salvation message that leverages hell and a cruel and punishing God to manipulate hearts of any age, because it is abusive and nothing like Jesus…
This article is excerpted from my book, Leaving and finding Jesus