Sometimes life just seems so random, messy, and more often than not, downright exhausting. It’s so stupidly easy to be busy with a to-do list, losing sight of what matters. For myself, I get caught up in ‘what needs to be fixed’ both in myself and in my life that I don’t see what has changed.
And I forget where I came from and where I want to go.
Recently I shared a testimony of my faith, and afterwards it was like God gave me a little loving nudge telling me to practice doing that again. If whatever I share can bring one person closer into God’s incredible presence then I better start working out what I need to say. So here I am. Practicing.
I grew up in a home where we went to church regularly and I remember warming up to Jesus even when a young child. But I never really ‘got it’. However, my upbringing laid a strong Biblical foundation and some understandings of who God is.
In my late teens, I had several friends who were Christians and they shared their faith with me. The way they talked about Jesus seemed so alive to me; I could see they had something that alluded me and I was very drawn to it, whatever ‘it’ was. There was a unique joy and a love that I don’t ever remember seeing before. When a friend told me that I could have it for myself and what I needed to do, I asked for Jesus’ forgiveness of my sins. I accepted His love and grace given to me through His death on the cross and His victory in His resurrection.
I will never forget the light that bloomed from deep inside myself that was never there before.
What followed is a bit of a blur to me now, but I remember the love of learning more about Jesus and His Word. I got involved in a church and it was exciting to be surrounded by fellow believers. I attended a year in a Bible college and daydreamed of being a missionary so other people could experience what I found, too.
Over the next 9 years though, I took what was an amazing gift given to me only by grace and through a powerful Love, and somehow, very gradually, twisted it into a very legalistic and judgmental Christianity. Little by little, I boxed myself in by boxing others in with black and white thinking. I have strong tendencies to be harsh with myself with perfectionism and that leaked all over the place in my faith.
I remember begging God to forgive me at the end of each day for all the horrible things that surely must be inside me. Even though I had accepted Jesus’ forgiveness and grace, I still somehow missed the point. I was still convinced that I wasn’t worthy of His Love, that there was surely SOMEthing I needed to fix, get forgiveness for, that God might find out and finally convince Him that in the end, I just can’t be forgiven after-all. I was still walking in a place of great shame where I thought I was outside of God’s grace. Somehow I got messed up into thinking that I was responsible for ‘fixing’ myself, meanwhile pointing the finger at others telling them they need to be ‘fixed’ too.
I thank God He wasn’t done with me yet. I also raise my hands in praise that He never let me go.
When I was 26 years old, I did a complete 180 from Christianity. Strangled and choked by my version of it, I couldn’t live like that anymore. Keep in mind, I had no idea what I was doing to myself at the time. I thought that the faith I was practicing was what I was supposed to be doing and I was done with this Christian God.
Over the next decade, I did a lot of searching. I never let go of the belief that we have a Creator, that there was more to this life than what we can see with the naked eye. But I looked and looked for meaning, and I always came up empty handed in the end. Nothing completely made sense, nothing stuck to me, and I always felt like I was missing something.
I was listening to a podcast by who-knows-who and I was enjoying a lot of whatever this speaker was saying. But then this speaker lumped Jesus into the category with all the other ‘great teachers’ like Buddha, Ghandi, … and all sorts of red flags went up and my internal brakes came to a screeching stop.
There’s no way I’m lumping Jesus into that category because even in my abhorrent views of Christianity at the time, I just couldn’t do it.
I knew to the core of my being that He is more than that. There was an important shift in my searching and I realized that maybe I might still call myself a Christian, but I was determined to be an open-minded Christian. I was stepping very carefully and tentatively towards God, and holding Him at arm’s length. I still held onto the more open-minded views of the world and welcomed different belief systems in my life.
The next big shift for me was reading The Shack. I was so overcome with this amazing Love that the book teaches. It finally landed me at God’s feet, comforted by His great mercy and Love. For the first time I saw that He is the Ultimate Parent and the Giver of good things. And that I needed Him.
Still. My ‘open-minded’ belief system was in reality tangling my feet up. I received some counseling from a pastor and he taught me to be careful of creating my own version of God (which I was doing … a mixture of my own stuff and the truth). When I felt so lost in my struggles and tried to reach out for more divine guidance I was grasping at the air. My version of God didn’t exist, which is why I couldn’t get the help I thought I was seeking. Which is why wherever else I searched, I never found anything of deep substance. Where else do we find a King leaving His throne to walk in the muck with us? To befriend us? For our own sake?
I felt convicted to start learning about who God really is, and it’s a never-ending journey. Sometimes (often) it’s a very messy journey. He is mind-boggling huge and amazing and beyond anything we can imagine. I feel like I’m chasing Him, but in reality it’s Him chasing me.
Turns out that God isn’t a big fan of judgmental-ism, strict religion, and shame either. I never scared Him off with my uppity judgments nor my slamming the door in His face. I was always His lost, wandering sheep and He never stopped searching me out.
And it always lands me at the foot of the cross because that’s where it begins. I can never ‘fix’ myself. I can never make myself presentable for God. Only the blood of Jesus can do that. He bore my cross and died the death I should’ve died. By grace and by grace only am I accepted into God’s presence. What sort of Love is that? One that doesn’t exist anywhere else.
A few years ago I recommitted myself to Jesus and it was a breath of fresh air through my soul. But I told God, “this time it’s gotta be real”. I’m sure I heard God laugh for joy and responded with a “finally!”.
When I look back now, all I see is me stumbling, crawling (bawling in the mud) my way to finding God’s Love. Little by little He wipes the mud from my eyes and all I see in front of me is His shining Love. I’ve come to trust that His grace reaches into my darkest places and I’m never too far beyond His reach. Jesus’ victory over death makes sure of that. He didn’t make any exceptions on the cross, “this is for everyone … oh, except you, you and you.” His suffering and victory is for everyone. Period.
This is the truth for me and for you, too.