The Terror of My Conversion
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25, NABRE)
My conversion from atheism to Catholicism happened a fairly short time ago. It was not a slow or reasoned conversion. It was instantaneous. One minute I believed in nothing, and a few seconds later, I knew the Truth. I was in a bathroom getting ready for a baseball game. I did not ask for conversion, nor did I want it. Up until that point, I thought faith meant blind obedience and that Christians believed with no logical examination of those beliefs. I had never touched a Bible, contemplated God, explored religions, or studied philosophy.
All of the conversion stories I heard involved years of religious exploration and great joy when Christ was eventually found. It sounded to me like they had reasoned incorrectly, because how else could one come to believe something so foolish? No one told me that conversion could be instantaneous and utterly terrifying. Yet, if my conversion had happened in a slow and gradual way, or if I had been actively seeking it, I would have been full of self-doubt and disbelief. God meets us where we are, and he met me with a nuclear bomb in hand.
I will not go into my conversion story here, because it is too long. What happened left me reeling and thoroughly confused. I did not understand how I could know something was true, especially something so unbelievable as the Resurrection, without having studied it. Nevertheless, I knew beyond a doubt, and I remember the terror setting in. Up until then, I had denied Christ out of ignorance. Now, however, I knew the truth, so to deny Christ at that point was an informed choice, not an ignorant denial. I understood that the stakes were high, and the choice was eternal. I stood at a crossroads having to make a decision for which I was not prepared, and my mind searched for ways to explain what I was facing. I did not grow up exposed to any religion, so phrases like “dying to self” or “born again” were unfamiliar to me. Yet, it popped into my head that the best way to describe the choice I was facing was to say that it felt like the death of an old self and the birth of a new self. I later found out that this is how coming to Christ is described.
There is no more perfect description of conversion than death and rebirth, especially in my case. I stood facing the choice to follow Christ, realizing that my house had been built on sand and that every reality I had constructed would have to be torn down completely and rebuilt on a different foundation. I could continue on the familiar road, giving up and changing nothing, or take the new road which was unknown, difficult, and full of loss and persecution. My blood ran cold, and my heart turned to ice. I actually stood frozen in terror. Both decisions seemed horrifying, because I realized fully and completely that my soul was at stake, though I had never before known of things like salvation or the existence of souls. I told God that I realized what He was asking, but that I could not choose right then and there. I stepped back from the precipice with the promise that I would decide within a day.
For 24 hours my mind was tied in knots. Serpents writhed within my skin and worms twisted in my stomach. Although I knew there were no actual serpents and worms, I felt that if someone were to open up my body to look inside, they would certainly see the creatures there. I could physically feel the crawling sensations, and I knew it would not go away until I made a decision. It was terrifying to die, to give up everything I had been. It was more terrifying not to die, since I would then have to exist in that state knowing that I was living a lie and denying the Truth of Christ, the consequences of which were eternal.
I cannot live a lie, no matter the cost of the truth, so I reluctantly told God that I had decided to take the path of Christ. I received no immediate response other than relief of the writhing under my skin, and I was unsure what I was supposed to do. The next day, Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis) appeared on my coffee table. I have no idea how it got there. The appearance of the book kicked off two weeks of miraculous events and graces as I died and was reborn. I spent the next year learning the details of the knowledge I had been instantaneously given and blindsided my husband with the request to join RCIA. It was not until years later that I would tell him my story. My transformation was rapid and surprising, though I remained steady and not outwardly zealous. No one understands the shocking nature of the change better than my husband, who was the most intimate witness to it all and whose Catholic heart must have been rejoicing.
I no longer view the faithful as blind people easily enjoying their faith. If anything, it is quite the opposite. Suffering, fire, pain, death and loss accompany Christianity. The faithful are the very opposite of blind—they see all too clearly. It is a wonder that anyone is Catholic at all, considering the suffering it can involve. Christ is all or nothing. If you are a ‘little bit’ Catholic or follow ‘most of’ Christ’s teachings, then you are not Christian at all. You must try to give everything or else you are really giving nothing. You must follow all that Christ said, for He is God. You must die completely and be reborn in Christ.
I will forever remember the terror of my conversion. I am thankful for it. If I had not experienced that icy terror, the serpents and the worms, the critical nature of the choice presented to me, I would not have believed. The beauty and love experienced after the conversion has far outweighed the initial terror. When I start to doubt, I am immediately reminded of that moment, and my faith is renewed. I took Thomas the Apostle as my saint, and he helps to remind me that I am fully converted, because I experienced the shock of touching Christ in my own way, erasing all doubt. Like Saint Thomas, unless Truth was presented to me in this way, I would not have believed. Blessed are those who believe without this kind of proof, and they should be thankful. Some of us only believe through a shock to the senses, and God is more than willing to provide it!
Saint Thomas the Apostle, pray for us. Amen.
Copyright 2022 Jessica Tucker