In our “Stories of Hope” series, we’re sharing stories of salvation, life-change and God at work in the lives of Living Hope. Summer White shares how she grew from treating religion as a ritual to living in freedom through a relationship with Jesus.

“I was raised in Christian home.  I accepted Jesus into my heart at the age of 6. My mom would also do Bible studies at night, and there was one moment where she was sharing about Heaven. And I said I wanted to go there. So, I prayed with her and trusted that Jesus died for my sins and gives me eternal life.

“At that point, I was in a home where we were Christians, but it was still a broken home like any other home. There was a big focus on following rules. We were part of a very conservative Christian group. There was a lot of pressure to continue in our conservative ways. It’s all about looking good and following the rules and I never felt good enough. I knew God as looking down being disappointed in me. My home life continued to get worse and it became harder to hide the difficulties in my home life. Eventually it led to my parents getting divorced when I was 16 and that’s when it became even more apparent that we lived in a broken home. We couldn’t keep the image that we were perfect Christians.

“During my time of greatest need, many Christians turned their back on my family and gossiped. Christian means ‘little Christ,’ but Christ was not being represented to me at that time, so it was very confusing to have people who are supposed to represent Christ to me, but they were imperfect people representing a perfect God. At one of my lowest points after seeing all the hypocrisy I thought if this is what it means to be a Christian, then I don’t want any part of it. I took my Bible and put it on a shelf because every time I open the Bible it’s another rule to follow and the rules just weren’t working at that time.

“But there was one thing I never gave up and that was talking to Jesus. Because his relationship with me was so real at that time, and I did not want to give that up. I wanted to give up everything else but I just kept holding on to that relationship with Jesus because it felt so real. In John 11, when Lazarus dies, it says Jesus wept. That shows that Jesus feels with you and he feels deeply. And that’s how it felt when nobody else was there for me. Jesus was there walking with me, feeling just as deeply as I did.

“Then I started coming to Living Hope, just to kind of give Christians a last chance. I knew this was a different culture than what I was raised in.

“People were more open to come out with struggles that they were going through. They didn’t feel like there was as much pressure to put on this perfect face. God placed the Sunday school teachers in my life that showed me a new way to read the Bible and to truly accept God’s grace in a way I’d never really been taught before and I learned true freedom in Christ.

“I joined a Bible study with other girls in my grade and Brandy Moore was teaching. And we were reading 2 Corinthians 3-4, and when we got to verse 17 it says, ‘where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.’ And that’s when I had a moment where God just stopped me. And I just thought, ‘If I have Christ in me, then why don’t I feel free? I feel so chained to sin because I’m so focused on it. I’m trying to work away from it.’

“And then that’s when I realized I was not living under God’s grace. I was trying to be good enough. The focus was not on God, it was on whatever I could do to get away from sin. But that still chained me to sin.

“I was coming every week and I kept learning about new ways to read the Bible. I told one Sunday School teacher about how I struggled reading the Bible because I kept finding more rules to follow. She said, ‘Will you pray before you open the Bible and ask God to speak to you through His word?  Don’t look at it through your eyes, but look at it through God’s eyes.’ Still to this day, that’s what I pray for.

“I think before then I did it as more of a ritual, but then once God allowed me to go through a difficult time, I wanted to grow because I didn’t want to give up the peace I had through this relationship with Jesus.

“To summarize, it’s confusing when Christians hurt you, but remember that they are imperfect people representing a perfect God, and that didn’t come from God. And that’s from the brokenness in this world. And I’m still growing in grace. God has given me many opportunities to forgive the people who originally hurt me. He kept placing them in my life and I kept saying while I want this to be dead, I also learned that forgiveness isn’t just a one-and-done thing, it’s a continual process. You know, Jesus forgave us for all the things that we have done and what we will do and going through that helped me have that peace and freedom.”