I was 18, a first-semester sophomore at a college five hours from home. I had long considered myself an atheist.
Yet here I was, having a conversation about God and the Bible with a new friend, a fellow student, at the restaurant where we both worked.
Her name was Lisa, and she was a patient and compassionate listener. I was involved with a guy who was thousands of miles away, and I was worried his feelings for me had cooled.
I needed to talk about it. A lot.
After listening to several minutes of my verbal handwringing, Lisa responded in a way I never could have expected. She told me about Romans 8:28, and how God works everything together for good.
When I got back to my room that night, I found my roommate's King James Bible and looked up the verse Lisa had directed me to. Then I read the verses before and after. I didn't understand much of it, but I remembered her paraphrase.
She introduced me to an idea — really, three ideas — that shook my narrowminded atheism at its core:
God cares for me.
God is in control.
To understand why these were such revolutionary ideas for me, you need to know some of the background of my atheism.
My dad, though he was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, abandoned his religion when he couldn't reconcile the idea of a loving and all-powerful God with the suffering he saw in the world.
He was born in 1930. Think WWII. Hitler. Death camps.
So he came to the conclusion at age 18 that either God couldn't help, or that He wouldn't. Either God was loving but powerless, or He was powerful but unloving. Given those choices, my dad chose instead to believe in no God at all.
(I've phrased it that way intentionally. Atheism is not disbelief, or the lack of a faith. It is really a faith, although the object of that faith is human reason rather than a divine being.)
I was in elementary school when Dad told me about his decision. By that time, he had lived with his belief for over two decades, and his commitment to it was unwavering. It was around that time I decided I, too, was an atheist.
Romans 8:28 introduced me to a God who not only existed, but who also cared for me (despite the fact that I had never looked His way except to scoff at the naïveté of His followers), and who was powerful enough to work in situations and circumstances over which I clearly had no control (despite all my best efforts).
Without knowing any of my background, Lisa had pointed me to a verse that countered the very foundation of my atheism, point for point: He exists, He is loving, He is powerful.
A few weeks later, after many more conversations with Lisa (and with other Christians who suddenly appeared in my life), I put my faith in Christ.
A few weeks after that, the long-distance guy broke it off.
At the time, I was crushed. But I look back now and see God's hand doing the actual breaking. The relationship wasn't good for me, and it didn't honor Him; He broke it off, because I never would have.
I've been reading Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner's memoir of her own conversion to Christianity. In a section about prayer, she writes:
Augustine wrote that God sometimes does not give us what we ask in prayer. "Of his bounty, the Lord often grants not what we seek, so as to bestow something preferable."Less than a year after the breakup, I met the man who would eventually become my husband.
Right now, I'm in the middle of a struggle that feels similar to that breakup. This time, it was a job instead of a guy. Back then, it took me a while to see that God's hand held something better than what I was clinging to.
I'm trying to remember that.