I was raised in church sporadically. My early church experiences instilled a feeling of inadequacy in me. I realize that none of us are adequate and it is purely by God’s grace that we are saved. However, my early experiences did not teach me that. Instead, they taught me that I could never be good enough. I had a very defeated attitude and felt well why try? I could never hit the mark. I was always messing up. Always feeling like I had to go back to God and beg for another chance. There were so many rules! So many, I could not possibly know them all. I was probably breaking rules that I did not even know existed. Furthermore, I saw other church people visibly breaking the rules yet holding positions of authority. Rather than my experiences drawing me near to God, I felt myself running the opposite direction. Who wants to feel condemned every single day? In the process, I made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions.
There were times in my life I desperately needed God but did not realize it. Times I felt empty and alone. Times I was looking for something to fill the void in my life – there were even times I was suicidal. I am not proud of that admission but I feel it is important to be transparent and honest. Every person and everything I put my hope and trust in disappointed me. I was on a self-destructive path. I was completely without hope.
My entire life I had not felt truly loved or safe. I spent a great deal of my adolescence fearing for my life. Sleeping with one eye open. No one knew. I grew strong and independent. I had to! I would not change a thing. My experiences made me- ME! However, I certainly could have used a savior. I looked for that savior in all the wrong places – relationships, ambition, purpose, even exercise. I sought to control every area of my life.
I did not find God in the walls of a church but rather in the heart of His people. Sinners just like me that understood grace. Their God was one of love and hope and strength. These people smiled and glowed. Even in the worst of circumstances, their hope did not waver. They may have experienced hurts but had an overall sense of peace. They were kind – not judgmental or condemning but rather encouraging. Despite all of my mistakes, they showed me love. Now we are talking! I wanted some of that. I had been looking for that my whole life and did not even know. I especially wanted peace. My soul had been filled with a nervous, unsettled energy for all my life. A friend described me as a restless soul. She had no idea!
It wasn’t until I truly learned to give up my perceived control that I gained peace. Everything that I had ever wanted or needed was available to me. God had already provided. Not the God of my youth, the one that I had learned could only love me if I was perfect – but, rather the one that created me and thought that I was perfect with every flaw! I spent years picking myself apart because of all of my flaws and He loved every one! I was too fat, my teeth were crooked. No one had ever loved me for the me that I was. Everyone always had conditions. Here, I was being offered unconditional love. He had forgiven me for all of my wrongs and yet I had not even forgiven myself. Suddenly, I was free. I was at peace and my life was suddenly right. Not to say that my life would be without struggle but, I would no longer be facing it alone. I was no longer running the opposite direction but right into His loving arms. The protection that I had not received from people, I now had from God.
I no longer run from church but crave it like chocolate! I just seek out churches that teach of God’s love and forgiveness.
I am so grateful for those people that displayed God’s love to me. Without you, I may have never found it. Mary Beth, thank you for saving my life in more ways than one. Jill, thank you for your sweet spirit, your awesome smile and caring. I see God in you. Kathy, for the greatest compliment that anyone has ever given me. You told me that you saw “Him” in me. My husband, for truly being a man of God in action not just in word. There are so many others!
It is my sincere and earnest prayer that I can spend the remainder of my life shining for Him as each of you have.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NASB)
Until Next Time,