I was raised in a good, Christian home with loving parents, sisters and a very close extended family. While they weren’t perfect, my parents did the best they could to raise me with a love of God and a good sense of right and wrong. At the age of 7, I gave my heart to Jesus and was baptized.
Honestly, I’m still not sure exactly where I began to wander off His path for me.
I grew up going to church, was baptized in elementary school, and really did love The Lord with all my heart.
At some point, that love became overshadowed by legalism and condemnation.
I believe it was a combination of several factors, but somehow my understanding of The Lord became more about fear and the quest to be the “perfect Christian” than it was about developing a deeper relationship with Him.
The problem with perfectionism is that “perfect” is not actually obtainable. At best, we can achieve the illusion of perfection for a brief period of time. But, inevitably, we will always come up short in the end.
It was a gradual process, but looking back, I can clearly remember a time in my life when I loved going to church and had a heart filled with the Holy Spirit, and then a time when I was so afraid of committing the wrong sin and angering God that I set myself up for a life away from Him.
My fear was not a healthy, biblical fear. My fear was of punishment and blame. I was afraid to make one mistake or risk losing my salvation entirely.
By the beginning of high school, it felt like I was living in a bubble. I tried desperately to make connections with other people, but something was always standing in the way. I had people who I considered my friends, and I had people in my life that I genuinely cared about, but I did not feel as though anyone genuinely cared about me.
The people I chose to surround myself with were as lost and broken as I was; yet I was depending on them for healing, understanding, and assurance of my salvation.
In middle school and high school, I began to despise all girls.
I still had my close group of girl friends, but I honestly did not like any of them.
Our group was full of malicious gossip, slander, envy and a bitterness that infected our very souls. Being out of the situation and looking back, I don’t believe any one of those girls had a wicked heart on her own. But, when we came together as a group, Satan had absolutely no trouble convincing us to tear one another down.
Even though I continued to consider these girls my best friends, I began to search outside the group for affirmation and affection. I repeatedly turned to the arms of boys through high school and college.
As I continued to date boys who made it clear they considered me of little worth or value, I reached a point where I saw myself the same way.
At the time, I felt the lie reinforced by every significant relationship in my life.
My sin was detestable.
I was detestable.
The combination of incredibly low self-worth and the absence of any positive influence in my life led to a string of unfulfilling, ultimately detrimental relationships and a heart which I attempted to bury from God’s reach. I hated myself, and was convinced that He must hate me as well.
My solution was to try and hide in my sin and my shame. I felt helpless to break free of my sin, and therefore made the same mistakes over and over again. After years of consistently choosing to love the people of the world above the Creator of the world, I fell into the same habits as those who are of the world.
I was angry, bitter, resentful, and dead in my sin.
Night after night, I would cry myself to sleep and pray for death. While I never questioned the existence of God, I truly believed I had lost my place in God’s kingdom. Salvation as I understood it had to be earned, and I would never be good and pure enough to earn it back.
Because I felt so dirty and unlovable, I avoided church. I would still attend with my family, and would pray on occasion. I would pray for others, but felt like I was unworthy of prayers for myself. By the time I got to college, I had stopped going to church altogether.
My sophomore year in college, He began to systematically remove every external influence from my life.
Every friend I had in college began to fall away. Every guy I had a relationship with was removed from my life. I was isolated in the desert. Abandoned and alone in Lubbock, Texas until finally, I was brought back to the One who would never abandon or forsake me.
That still small voice in my heart convinced me to wake up early one Sunday morning and go to church. There, sitting in the back row, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone, looking at pictures of a party I missed the night before. Just as I was asking myself what had possessed me to skip a party in favor of getting up early to go to church, the small blonde in front of me turned around, stuck her hand in my face, and exclaimed, “Hi! I’m Michelle!”
Shocked that someone had actually noticed me, I offered her an unsure handshake and silently hoped she would just walk away.
Instead, she invited me to sit with her through the service. I followed her from my seat in the very back of the church to the front of the sanctuary where she led me to a chair in the middle of the third row. I was fully intending to offer a quick “Thanks for letting me sit with you, BYE!” and make my exit the second the lights came back on.
Michelle was a bit too quick for me and, when church was over, she invited me to get coffee with her later in the week. I gave her my phone number, never expecting to hear from her again. Of course, she texted me the next day and set a date and time to get together.
Through the friendship of this one, brave, loving girl, I was drawn back into a relationship with The Lord.
The process was slow and incredibly painful at times, but it was so worth it in every way.
One by one, The Lord placed good, godly people in my life. It was over a year before I had any male friends again. I believe this was by design so I would have a heart softened towards women and free of the one idol I had clung to so tightly for so many years.
Now, I feel free. I know I am free.
After almost ten years of living in a prison of my own heart and mind, it is a truly incredible feeling to wake up every day knowing that I am not alone. Knowing that I am loved.
I am so incredibly grateful. His Word assures me that Christ alone is perfect, but that I am loved anyway. My salvation is secure through His sacrifice and His unfailing love – not by any effort or avoidance of sin on my part.
Times are not always good, and I know there will be many trials in my life, but I am secure in the knowledge that His plans are always good.
That He can use even my sin for His good.
That He is good.