By Virginia Davidson, submitted June 18, 2015
[Note from editor: I believe this is intended to form part of a longer work Ms. Davidson is working on, so if you like it, you may get a chance for more! We featured Davidson before, both in Features and in Poetry & Arts, (also here), but this piece gives a different side to her story.]
My spiritual journey began long before I was born on January 10, 1954, in the experience of my godly parents. They met and married at Madison College in Tennessee. The devout, conservative Adventism of that place went with them out to the College of Medical Evangelists at Loma Linda, where Daddy graduated in the first class of dentistry—and where I joined the family as the second daughter. It followed them back home to south-central Mississippi where we girls, eventually four of us, grew up.
The spring after my eighth birthday, I was baptized. I understood the teachings of the church and wanted to be part of God’s people, so my parents allowed me to take that important step. I’m glad they did. However, another seven years would pass before I began to understand something of the lordship of Christ—that belonging to Him would make a difference in the choices one made.
A year and a half later, at age 16, I was re-baptized—thoroughly committed to God, whatever it took. I was a student then with two of my sisters at Stonecave Academy, a tiny self-supporting boarding school in rural Tennessee—a metaphorical “grandchild” of old Madison College, and very, very conservative.
Also about that time, I began to understand more about the unchanging nature of God’s love—that nothing I could do would make Him love me less. It must be, then, that nothing I could do would make Him love me more. It took only another second to assess all the things I did differently from most girls my age: no short skirts, no jeans, no meat, no makeup or jewelry, no boyfriend (it was against the rules), no “bad music,” no TV, and the list went on. I thought of all those things in one instant and asked, “THEN WHY AM I DOING THEM?!!!” If God doesn’t love me any more for all these things I’m doing [“not doing” would have been more accurate], then what’s the point?
Eventually I realized the intrinsic benefits of a good lifestyle—righteousness is its own reward!—and that issues of witnessing are also involved, if one is interested in being a tool in God’s hands. Even today, while I don’t espouse exactly the same list (there is such a thing as balance!), I still endeavor to be healthy and glorify God. But at that time, in my mind it was righteousness that was somehow all tied together with behavior. In fact, when I was a senior in academy, I actually made out a list of about a dozen items—like, don’t complain and don’t flirt and don’t gossip—and I thought if I could just do all those things, I would be a Christian. Every night I would go over my list and write in my diary and become even more depressed. It seemed I could never be victorious! I suffered from quite an over-active conscience.
The following summer, someone lent me a set of tapes—“The Vertical Life” by Morris Venden. The gist of the series was that if I focus on my sins and problems and faults and weaknesses and short-comings, as though looking horizontally into a metaphysical mirror, I will only become more like them. I knew already that our minds, our characters, are affected by what we think about, but I hadn’t applied it to issues of faith. I had experienced the reality that a negative, self-critical, inward-turning stance, far from changing me into Christ’s likeness, robbed me of joy in the Lord and made me a more difficult person. But when I began consciously to think about Jesus (a “vertical look”) and learn about Him and desire to become like Him and ask for His power to live in me—it actually happened! I realized He does work in me to make me like Him! He honors my choice and makes it my reality, and He will finish the job He started!
At about that same time, I also went through an identity crisis. The self-supporting system where I had lived had steep expectations of women—they should be demure and quiet and proper, and so on, all of which I was not. I struggled with myself and prayed for God to make me like one of the other girls on campus who, it seemed to me, had conquered all those lively personality traits that were such an integral part of who I was. It is true that we should “cultivate purity and simplicity, the quiet graces of the flowers,” as I was told (see Steps to Christ, p. 85); but all flowers are not violets and hepaticas…or wild ginger blooming under last year’s dead leaves. In fact, the State Flower of Mississippi, my own home state, was the Southern Magnolia—big as a plate and fragrant as ripe lemons! When I realized God had already made me who He wanted me to be, and that as I trusted Him, He would make me into the best “me” I could possibly be—and that I would even like it—I found yet another level of peace. I was learning to trust.
After I had completed the three-year program at Wildwood Medical Missionary Institute in North Georgia and worked at the print shop there for another year, I was asked to return to Stonecave Academy to teach—among other subjects, freshman Bible. The class alternated from year to year between “Life of Christ” with The Desire of Ages as the text, and “Old Testament History” using Patriarchs and Prophets and Prophets and Kings. I had studied those same books on the same campus years before as a student, but studying to teach was another story. I found an even richer storehouse of truth! I began to think more deeply, more independently, and to see underlying issues rather than mere rules and regulations. I read, “God designs that men shall not decide from impulse, but from weight of evidence” (DA 458) and cross-referenced that thought with the statement that trued faith is based on “evidence, not demonstration” (SC 105).
Years later when my mother-in-law lent me “Conversations about God,” by Graham Maxwell, I recognized the inspired emphasis on evidence. The deep, underlying issues of the universe-wide great controversy rang true with what I had read for myself, and made sense particularly as I saw my father-in-law transformed through the truths involved. I had experienced my own frustration in trying to make two rambunctious little girls “be good,” and the message of freedom in God’s government and the way He works to win our loyalty, which is the essence of righteousness (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 97), began to bear fruit in my own life in the way I raised our strong-willed daughters.
Then came the opportunity to write the adult Sabbath School lessons on Proverbs. Actually, that story had begun about five years earlier when our Becky was a newborn and Carol a toddler, and I had neither time to write nor a computer to write on. But when the time was right and I was ready, after I had begun to see the bigger picture and grasp the significance of the great controversy in theology, God brought the opportunity around again. Proverbs to Live By was essentially different due to the deeper, broader perspective. Nine years later it would be “recycled” and studied again, after an opportunity to rewrite and strengthen it once more in the larger, great controversy viewpoint.
Back when I was a student at Wildwood, I had a roommate who told me point-blank, “I’m glad I didn’t grow up in the church like you did. You will never know what it’s like to grope in the dark for truth, and trace down a ray of light until it opens into the full brilliance of day. You will never experience how that feels.” She was right…I won’t, not in the same way. But I wouldn’t trade places with her for the world!
It seems that people who have been out in the wild wicked world and lived dangerously and finally have come to God—those are the ones who “have a testimony,” we say. And they do. They grip us with their stories of dramatic collisions in dead-end alleys, of God finally getting their attention so they can turn around—which is the essence of repentance: turning around, turning toward God.
It is also true that we all need a deeper experience with God ourselves, and hearing the story of someone else who is on fire could possibly rekindle our own light. But I wish there were some way to help our young people see the treasure of growing up in the church! We don’t need to go out and get ourselves battle wounds so that we can “have a testimony” or be able to minister to the needy. Scar tissue is stronger, true; but it is also less supple, less sensitive.
I treasure my background in the Seventh-day Adventist church, and our strong, devout family. Oh, we heard “by the grapevine” the expectations of some people that we girls would “go wild” as soon as we got out from “under the thumb” of our parents. Those people made themselves false prophets. We all have stayed true to the faith. In fact, I believe it was the “faith of my fathers”—while it did need to become my own—that freed me from the wandering quest for truth which takes so many through the vast, thirsty wasteland of the world.
Instead, the heritage of faith has formed the basis for a deeper understanding of the familiar truths. I’m thankful for what I have been given. It has been a solid foundation on which to build. Of course, God is infinite; truth is exhaustless. We can never know truth fully, but we can know truth truly. Throughout eternity, we will continually learn more and more and more, and never encompass the whole and never get tired of the exploration. Eternity blows my mind—never-ending. Infinite! It follows, then, that the only way to make eternity longer is to begin it sooner—like, now. “As through Jesus we enter into rest, heaven begins here” (DA 331). That sounds good! Will you come with me?