Hannah's Story

What do you love most about Oxford?

I suppose the best bits of Oxford are the people that live here. The city brings together individuals who are so intrigued by different aspects of the world around them that just being here helps you enter a better, richer understanding of life. Port Meadow is also good.

What’s your story?

I’ve always been a Christian, or at least have always called myself such. Throughout school, I was pretty happy with this. In my early teens, I thought I had already cracked it, that I knew what being a Christian looked like and was just living my life according to this self-affected model. Christianity dictated how much I drank at parties, how I treated my friends, what words I did and didn’t say, and I was actually quite happy to have that framework in my life - I felt it made me a better person.

When I started to look into theology as an academic field, and I was forced to begin properly engaging with the Bible. Unfortunately, I didn’t like much of what I saw; I wasn’t keen on the sacrifice it felt like Christianity asked of you. The Old Testament was a scary, alien world to me and Jesus’ words felt harsher than the ones I remembered from Sunday school. To resolve these issues, I began separating the Bible from God and I ended up just seeing it as a man-made text open to having holes poked through it and polemics encircling it. It was not the Word of God. I was now allowing myself to pick and choose what I considered sacred words and those I could just push aside into a ‘not for me’ pile. At this point in my life, I was still calling myself a Christian. I did have moments where God felt really real and close, for even when I’m not, he remains a fierce friend. But I was yet to be transformed in the radical way the Bible asks us to seek and expect. I don’t think I actually felt the need to be radically transformed - middle class suburbia was treating me kindly, and Christianity was just something I did alongside the rest of my life.

It was no surprise therefore, that when a friend asked me “Why are you a Christian?” I was completely stumped. I thought I should try to answer it with some philosophical argument that I didn’t really understand. It affirmed that Jesus was indeed just an argument I was trying to defend, an aesthetic I was trying to adhere to, and not the only reason I truly live. This question kick started a spiral down into an overly intellectualised but incredibly doubtful faith as I tried to find a reason for being a Christian in books and lectures. I started to meet a lot of people who introduced me to different world views that seemed more appealing than Christianity. Moreover I met really good, kind hearted people volunteering in France who weren’t religious at all. I found myself wondering if you can still be a ‘good person’ without God and Christianity. That seemed a much easier, and a much smaller, leap of faith than that taken into the arms of God.

After a tough few months of university, and a steady plummet into loneliness and apathy, I was forced to decide whether I was going to let God come with me into the next part of my life. But though I thought I was able to leave God with the fairy tales of my childhood, I had ceased to realise that he is indeed God. He is the immoveable, unchangeable, powerful, incredible creator of the universe and he, for some wild reason, loves me. He loves my cynical, lazy, broken heart and calls me, with nothing to offer, closer as his daughter. I decided to step away from the intellectual pursuit of Christianity, park the questions I wasn’t yet equipped to answer, and return to the heart of the gospel. I needed to realise that God doesn’t need me to defend him, all he wants is for me to know and love Him. And, though there wasn’t one specific epiphany moment where “everything changed,” as the weeks went by I could feel the weight I’d put on myself being lifted off, something foggy and dirty being washed away. I was being transformed by the love of Jesus and the human he made me to be was starting to emerge.

I now realise that Christianity isn’t a sacrifice, it isn’t scary or judgmental. It isn’t a self-help guide or hobby, it’s not an argument to defend. It’s an invitation to the absolute and unfathomable fullness of life, to understand what it really means to be human. To know both how broken we are, and how loved we are, and to hold the hand of the one who fought for this reality. Where angst used to dwell, I am instead daily filled with the purest of joy. I have restarted my walk with Jesus, and I long for him to shape how I live – not because I have to, not to make me a better person, but because I now have a desire to live more and more like the one who saved me from the power of death. Trying to do this, I can often find myself asking “What can I bring before God? Do I have anything worthy to offer him?” Yet, as he reminds us in the book of Micah, all God asks of us is to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly alongside him. This coming from the one who poured out his life for us is just beyond belief, and an invitation I struggle to refuse. I really feel as though I have come home, back to my true father who loves me unconditionally, and he is gently teaching me daily more and more about what it means to be his daughter.