I grew up in an Italian-American family in Central New Jersey, hearing the Gospel and going to church. And as long as I can remember, I mentally assented to the Gospel. It had always made sense to me: if I broke my parents’ rules and disobeyed them, I was punished; similarly, I had broken God’s rules and disobeyed Him, and so I would be punished on a much greater scale. But because God loved us, He sent His Son Jesus to earth, who didn’t deserve to be punished, and He took our punishment by dying on the cross. And if I believed that, I wouldn’t have to be punished for my sins. I can’t recall a time that that message didn’t make sense to me. And because it did make sense, I thought that I was saved at a young age.
But I really hated church. It was boring. Every Sunday morning, my brother and I used to pretend that we couldn’t be shaken from our deep slumber, hoping that our parents would throw in the towel and let us stay home on Sundays. When they managed to get us in the car, church was still at least 15 minutes or so away, so it was plausible for us to once again be sound asleep by the time we arrived in the church parking lot.
I don’t know if the fake sleep routine ever actually worked, and so despite our commitment to stay out of church, we were there pretty much every Sunday. Usually, I would endure the singing and the preaching and then do my best to get my parents out the door as quickly as possible. But one Sunday when I was 11, I was particularly pricked in conscience as a result of something the preacher was saying. I don’t have any idea what it was, but it made me realize that though I thought I had been saved since I was 4 or 5, I hadn’t been. At the end of the service, “with every head bowed and every eye closed,” I “slipped up a hand” to indicate that I believed I was saved that day. But I didn’t tell anyone about it, and soon after that I reverted back to my old pattern of feigning sleep and living for myself.