"And without faith it is impossible to please him,
for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He is
and that He rewards those who seek Him."
A counselor friend recently suggested I watch a You Tube video called "Two Faced Two Roads Message. I loved John Lynch's message. It caused me to think back on my spiritual journey. Sometime early in childhood I became interested in God and asked questions about him--Who is He? Where does He live? Is He is a girl or boy? Okay questions for a curious three year old. Around that same time I was fast becoming a perfectionist because I believed I had to be very good and please others to be loved. When I got old enough to go to church on my own I carried that thinking over into my personal theology. I thought early on I had to be good and as Lynch said, I had to do more good than bad to be accepted into God's family. If you asked me if I believed that I would have said no, but my life and words indicated I did. At some point I attended an evangelistic church and said I wanted to be saved and I asked Jesus into my heart as they suggested.
I don't remember what I learned about God in Sunday School and Church as a child. I may have had great pastors and teachers and taken what they said and skewed it with my childish black-white thinking. Or I may have had some teaching that helped mold my skewed thinking. Regardless of which was true, I continued to develop a people-pleasing, God-pleasing mentality that plagued me for years. As a teen I tried so hard to be good. I did well in school, participated in every curricular activity there was, worked part time, and didn't hang out with the party crowd. I avoided drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and premarital sex. I even took it on myself to confront family members on things like racism and cursing. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to please God and my family.
When I look back at those high school years, I notice interesting things. First, I had a very skewed view of God and His love. He says in His Word that He created us and He loves us. At the time I had this view that He loved me because he had to love me, but that did not equate into Him delighting in me as a daughter and wanting to spend time with me. I viewed Him as a distant God waiting to zap me when I failed and as One who was bothered by me coming to Him in prayer. I went to churches that believed once saved always saved, but every time I so much as thought of a cuss word, fought with my siblings, disrespected my parents, or hurt someone with my words or my actions, I would confess it and ask Jesus into my life again and again, hoping this would be the time it would make me pleasing to God. I spent a lot of my time and energy trying please Him, because I believed it was in the pleasing I would find love and acceptance.
Second I lived in a constant state of fear. One day I was going out the door to run an errand for my mom. The wind was blowing hard and it caught the door and slammed it on my hand. I screamed and let out a curse word in front of my mom who was standing directly in front of me. I not only expected her to slap me, I expected God to destroy me. I looked so terrified, my mom started laughing, not understanding the fear coursing through my body, as I waited for God to slam me to the ground. That is probably the first case of spiritual PTSD recorded!
Third, because I viewed God as distant and judgmental, I hid behind a good-girl mask, trying to cover what was inside--so dirty, so deeply flawed, so incredibly needy, and sinful to the core. I even tried to take control of what felt out of control by over controlling food and weight until I nearly destroyed my body. I woke up early seven days a week and stayed up late exercising, studying, and going over things in my mind. No wonder I was bone tired and fell into bed, at times crying for hours until sleep would overtake me.
A few years later my husband and I attended a church in Mississippi we consider our home church. I sat down with the pastor when he began teaching out of the book of Revelation, because I wanted to find out how to be ready for Christ's return. He had me read a book about end times, Come Lord Jesus, that spoke of Jesus and His grace that offered such hope. We met again and the pastor talked to me about salvation through faith and the grace that was offered. At some point I made peace with salvation and understood it and haven't doubted it since. I wish that I could say that that ended the struggle with my perfectionism, but it didn't. I still hid some things from church people--things like the eating disorder that so often raised its ugly head, selfishness that showed itself when I want my way, jealousy that rose up when I see another woman who seems to trust God so easily, a judgmental spirit that judges another because the log in my own eye is so hard to take out, ugly thoughts that float through my head of their own accord, my history of sexual abuse and depression that carries such stigma in the church, an accident in high school that forever changed me, my imperfect marriage, and five precious kids that were full of energy, pranks, and bouts of rebellion which I now look back on fondly, and all sorts of feelings I was told good Christians don't feel. All that hiding and what I longed for most was to be known and to be loved for me, what ever that might be. I tried so hard to please, I had become a mixture of the people I respected and didn't even know who I was.
After listening to Lynch's message, I think what bothered me the most is that living like that was saying something about God and that something was not true!. The way I was living said God was a hard task master whose standard was impossible to keep, making it impossible to please Him. It also said that God didn't want to spend time with me until I was perfect, and anybody who knows me well knows I am not that. A distant God indicates He doesn't want to be bothered by His children. That view is so the opposite of the Biblical view of God and the view of God that I now embrace.
God began to chisel away at my tendency to hide. First, when my oldest child climbed out of bed after a nap and came pattering down the hall and peaked around the corner, I felt this overwhelming love flood my soul. I held my arms out and he ran into them, both of us laughing with delight. God impressed upon my heart that is the way He reacts when we approach him. That felt so good and it fed my desire to meet with Him early in the morning before the kids woke up.
Second, God put a young youth pastor and his wife in my life who believed in transparency. I don't remember how many times I heard him tell the group, "You are just giving me a church answer! Let's get real!" One night he had asked us to stand if we wanted to make a specific commitment. I told him later I was afraid to stand because I knew I would fail. He smiled and said, "Welcome to the human race!" Not long after that, I met with his wife and another sweet lady for a prayer session. For the first time, I experienced deep prayer and transparency. I was real with them and them with me. I walked away seeing them even more beautiful than before. The person they "liked" was the real me.
Sadly, I bumped into others who said or did things that brought my old way of thinking back and I would put the mask of perfection back on. It was safer and even expected. Eventually I entered a long term counseling relationship with a Christian therapist. The first couple of years as I began to talk at a deeper level and found safety I found the courage to take the mask off more and more often. There I not only dealt with the hidden pain of my past, but I also began to look at the deeper parts of my heart--the parts I was afraid to face because they belied the good girl image. After a really rough conflict with another person, I remember processing with the counselor and she asked me what I felt. I whispered my answer, hoping not to be heard. "I think I hate her." She didn't turn away, scold me, or throw Bible verses at me. She looked at me with compassion and gently smiled. I think I followed it by saying I wondered what God must think of me now. She pointed out the truth. The truth was that He knew all along, and now that it was in the light where it could be changed. I could grow closer to Him because I was honest. I was able to taste grace because I admitted what I thought I could never say. I realized that telling God the truth in itself is an act of faith. Telling Him about my ugly thoughts, frustrations, and doubts shows I believe His blood is enough to cover my sin. Telling Him that I struggle to forgive when someone keeps wounding me shows I have believe He will help me get there. Telling Him my desire to be a grace giver is tainted by fear shows I am trusting Him to be my safety and courage. Telling Him my heart feels dry and craves intimacy shows I believe He will fill me to the brim. Telling Him about my failures to love shows I believe He will change me, bit by bit until what I know to be true is reflected in my life.
I wish that every church was as safe as that counselor's office. I wish that men, women, and youth could share their struggles honestly and find love and acceptance I found while sharing my sinful parts. I wish they could share their deepest struggle with pornography, with lying, with drugs and alcohol, with fear, with depression, with broken relationships, with failures to love, with unresolved conflicts, and with doubts and be met with eyes that show acceptance and compassion rather than eyes turning away, rejecting the part of them of which they are most ashamed or eyes that roll in judgment and tongues that spout verses wielded to wound, not to heal.
The closer I've become to God, the less I worry about what other's think and that is freeing. Some people like me, some hate me, and some don't think enough about me to decide one way or another. And I know some people who just don't know what to do with me, especially when I get real. That's okay, because this prodigal is home in grace and grace is where I plan to stay and grace is only experienced in the real!
Had I known all that I know now when my kids were small. I would have parented differently. I would make sure they know I love them unconditionally and there is nothing that they can do to make me love them less-- not bad grades, not lies, not tears, not words spoken in anger, not disrespectful body language, not arguments with siblings, not outward acts of rebellion, not sneaking around--none of which can melt this mama's love. I would make sure they didn't have to do anything to please me, just learn to trust me and my love. If they learned that , then everything else would have fallen into place. I would have also told them God has captured my heart with His grace and that it's theirs for the taking by faith. I would have made sure they understood they didn't have to spend a life time trying to do things and hiding who they are living in a messy fallen world attempting to please God. All that needed to be done was done by Christ on the Cross, just believe!
"For without faith it is impossible to please God!" It didn't say without perfection. It didn't say without good works. It didn't say without going to church twenty times a week. It didn't say without doing penance. It didn't say without participating in visitation every week. It didn't say without being involved in every ministry advertised at church. Please, don't get me wrong, I love ministry and everyone is gifted for it. But doing ministry to please God or people results in us doing things for which we aren't gifted or called to do. Serving from a transparent heart filled with the love and the acceptance that God gives is refreshing and fulfilling, not draining. Can I encourage you to do some self examination to determine if you are living to please God or if you are trusting Him and basking in His grace? The cross not only makes the way of salvation, it allows us to remove masks to come out of hiding, allowing beautiful messy selves to be known. For under all the messiness is the image bearer He created us to be. Removing masks allows us to be children after His own heart--children known by the grace they give.