I grew up in a liturgical church. It was very legalistic in the sense that you were REQUIRED to go to church on Sunday (or you were sinning); you were REQUIRED to go to confession before you took communion (or you were sinning); you were REQUIRED to fast for at least an hour before receiving communion (or you were sinning). I learned about sins of commission, sins of omission, mortal sins and venial sins. I learned about Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and Limbo.

I grew up believing that these rules and regulations were sanctioned by God Himself. To be a “good Catholic”, you went to church on Sunday (or Saturday after 4 pm), confessed your sins to the priest on a regular basis, and abstained from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. In my senior religion class, we were told that the primary reason for marriage was procreation.

Then I went to college. A public institution. Where I wasn’t REQUIRED to go to church on Sunday; I wasn’t REQUIRED to take religion classes; I wasn’t REQUIRED to go to confession.

I was Catholic in name only.

During my freshman year, a friend shared with me some materials from Campus Crusade for Christ, an Evangelical Christian organization with chapters on many college campuses around the world.

The materials were about “getting to know God personally” and “receiving Christ”. These were foreign concepts to me. “Getting to know God” sounded all Bible-belt and born-again to me, and “receiving Christ” was something I did at communion on Sundays. What really got me, though, was when she quoted Romans 3:23.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Now, it wasn’t like I considered myself perfect, or anything. I knew perfection was God’s business. But I certainly didn’t consider myself a SINNER! I was a good girl. I listened to my parents, did well in school, didn’t lie, cheat or steal, went to church occasionally, was nice to my brother and had lots of friends. I didn’t drink or smoke, and I didn’t even THINK about sex!

A sinner? Me?

So we chatted and basically agreed to disagree. She was still a sweet and dear friend and we just went our separate ways when it came to religion.

Fast forward twenty-odd years.

I get it. I am a sinner. And to use the words of my three year-old, it makes God “so sad” when I sin. And he doesn’t want to send me to Hell. He just wants to bring me back into the fold.

Now I know. True Christianity isn’t about just following a bunch of rules to the letter (although rules can be good guidelines). It isn’t about standing or sitting at just the right time (but again, disciplined worship isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

It’s about relationships. Starting with the most important one, and building (or rebuilding, as the case warrants) from there. So while my college friend didn’t realize it, God had a plan, as He always does. I just wasn’t ready to hear her words (or His).

It’s about loving and living others to God. Praying for others, yes. But more importantly, SHOWING the love of God by how we live.

It’s about realizing that God really loves us and wants the best for us. He wants us to make good decisions, in consultation with Him. He wants us to live our lives to glorify Him. He wants us welcome Him into our hearts, minds, bodies and souls.

And it only took me almost forty years to figure that out.