I invited Jesus into my life when I was six years old. I met him when I was seventeen.
My name is Tim Ornelas and this is my journey out of fear.
I was raised in a Christian home, full of joy and hymns and bible reading plans. I never doubted my parents loved me or that God was important. I saw real spiritual connections with him in their lives and in my older siblings lives. But I lived in fear.
I never want to magnify the enemy or his lies. I never want to tell my story and just talk about him. But without darkness, how can you discern light? Without pain, how can you experience healing? I lived in fear because I didn’t know what love was. I didn’t know what love was because I didn’t know who God was.
The God I invited into my life when I was six was not the same God I talked to this morning. You see, I was raised in a church that spoke more about hell than heaven, more about wrath than love. I was scared of God. The thought of hell was terrifying. I remember when I was six or seven thinking: I wish I was an animal. At least they don’t have to worry about what happens after they die. I was so scared of death I didn’t find much joy in life. I was a very quiet kid and so no one knew what was going on inside my brain. If they did, I’m sure my childhood would not have been the same. Then again, the questions I wrestled with couldn’t be answered with a few nice ideas.
I remember telling my brother on the swing set behind our house, you know, if suicide was a sin, it seems like it would be a good thing. I couldn’t have been older than seven or eight. I don’t remember what he said, but I wonder what I would say if I heard my son say that. I think I would cry. And yes, I did cry. I remember laying on the couch watching my older sibling play instruments and sing hymns about Jesus. I remember wishing with all my heart that one of them would walk over and just ask me how I was doing. I remember crying and wishing someone would notice. I was too scared to say anything. I lived in fear when I was young.
Over the next few years, my mental health and spiritual journey was all over the place. I didn’t have many friends. I was really sheltered. I knew I was loved but I didn’t know why. Again, I concealed most of my thoughts from my family. Being the youngest of nine, I found it easy to smile and laugh and be “a kid”. My parents began trying different churches that introduced radically new teachings of grace and faith. I grabbed whatever I could but I only grew more confused. I was a smart kid and I tried to understand whatever was being taught. As my parents shifted theological views, I followed suit. I read my bible diligently and argued passionately. But I was still in fear.
Around the time I hit my teenage years, I began to struggle with what I can only explain as paranoia. I would imagine what could happen and then, before I knew it, begin to believe that it would happen. Lies upon lies started digging trenches in my mind. I learned how to hide my thoughts from others even better. While many might have thought I was the “life of the party”, I was miserably insecure. Thoughts like “what if I’m gay?” Or, “what if I don’t believe in God?” became normal. I did all kinds of things to prove to myself I wasn’t what I was afraid of. That included looking at pictures and watching videos that were pornographic. I became addicted to masturbation and further chained in shame and fear.
Things that people said, perhaps flippantly, would dig deep into my mind. If someone said, “Tim, you don’t listen to anybody!”, I would started proving it true. I was desperate for attention and recognition from my peers. God became just another thing to doubt. I hit many times during this long season where I doubted I could ever really know if he was real or good or if I was saved. In the church services I attended, I became more and more agitated. I wanted something more. Every service seemed liked the same thing. I couldn’t decided if it was good or bad because I didn’t know if it was true or false. I was skeptical and tired of the constant war in my mind.
And then God did something I’ve only begun to see recently started way before I knew it. He started wooing my heart. One of the ways He did so was through an unlikely source: a novelist named Ted Dekker. I don’t know if you have read his books or not, but let me tell you! His stories of a God named Elyon encountering messed up people like me stirred something deep inside of me. I read his stories, mesmerized at the feelings and colors. My heart began to speak louder than my mind and I started to wonder: what if this was true? What if God was really this good, this loving? But I would shake my head. Surely this was not the God of the Bible.
And then I distinctly remember reading the Book of First John. I was shocked. Surely, everything I dreamed of was already written in one simple sentence: God is love. Contrary to what I was being taught or at least the way I was understanding, love was not just another side of God. It was God. And it followed that every other attribute would flow from this essence! Slowly my heart began to awake. I was still confused in my mind but I finally knew something in my heart. And that was new…
(to be continued)
Thanks for reading! Have you struggled with knowing, really knowing, God? Please feel free to comment or ask questions below! I pray that you and I can continue to pursue with the truth with all we have and are. Much love,