Last night our pastor made a couple of statements that brought back some hard memories. He said pastors know that to make parishioners feel guilty all they have to do is ask them how they are doing in their prayer lives or with sharing their faith. This is because most of us believe we fall short in in these two areas. He said many people want to know if God is mad at them when they fail to do what He has instructed them to do. When he said that, I remembered the years I have struggled with believing God was angry at me for sinning. This would hit me hard when I went to bed at night and replayed my day in my head so I could make sure I confessed every single sin.
The fear I felt as I confessed sin was often overwhelming. This was because I did not understand the benevolent side of God who viewed believers as His children. There were times I expected God's wrath to hit me like a lightening bolt. An example of one of those times was when I was going outside and the wind caught the screen door and slammed it hard on my hand, hitting it between two of the bones. Waves of pain ran up my arm into my shoulder as a curse word slipped out of my mouth. I looked so terrified my mom laughed, but she didn't realize I wasn't afraid of her, I was expecting God's wrath to hit me like a lightning bolt because those words had come out of my mouth. It never occurred to me that God would be concerned about his daughter's injured hand and the pain she experienced that day.
When I went to bed at night, I replayed each day in my head to make sure I confessed every single sin I committed. During my prayers, my anxiety and fear of God would rise for several reasons. One reason was that I was such a perfectionist that I judged every conversation and every action harshly. That left me constantly feeling like a failure, believing God was always angry and disappointed with me for not being the perfect Christian. I also believed He was exasperated with me for not always speaking the right words into every situation or always performing perfectly in ways that would bring glory and honor to Him. Looking back at those times, I now realize some of my harsh judgments were because I didn't grasp that when people were unhappy with me because of the faith I was living out loud, that was between them and God. When they were unhappy with me, I always assumed I had failed and then felt guilty when the real issue was that they were feeling convicted and got angry at me for the discomfort they felt.
Another reason I struggled with fear and guilt was that I had an eating disorder. When I read new "diet" books, I viewed their rules as God's law and committed to keeping the rules perfectly. I felt guilty every time I ate a bite of something not on the good food list and confessed that as sin to God. I ate a diet of almost zero fat, no breads, and very little food. I was close to a hundred pounds and believed I was extremely overweight and sinful for being so. I believed God was angry and disappointed that I didn't eat a perfect diet, weigh a perfect weight, and wear a smaller dress size. I didn't realize He had created my body to need a balance of fats, carbs, and proteins and I didn't grasp that eating could be an act of worship when it was done with a grateful heart. I didn't understand that the Lord is pleased when one of His daughters put the food He gifted her in her body so that it could thrive and she could have the energy she needs to serve Him. I waisted so much time and energy on guilt that was based on lies.
I had other misconceptions of what I believed sin was. A part of that came from my melancholic temperament. To stay safe I viewed things from a very black and white perspective. Things were either all right or all wrong. That lead me to believe that there was an absolute way to do things that would be right in every single situation. When I left home and met all sorts of people, I found people from different walks of life, different churches, and from different parts of the country had very different views of what was right and what was wrong. My list of wrongs and potential ways to sin grew with every person I met. Over time it became exhausting!
Then we landed in a little Baptist church in Mississippi. This church was different than any church of which I had been a part. Our other churches had pastors who mostly evangelized, which left me in a state of wondering if I was really saved. But in this church, the pastor gave a clear gospel, spelling out God's grace every time he spoke. At the same time, he taught the Word verse by verse, taking as long as he needed to get through a book. In addition, the pastor loved to answer questions. Many of us were young college students or young marrieds and we were hungry for knowledge of God and His love. We were nurtured and taught the word of God by the pastor and the deacons and the Sunday school teachers. After church we often had pot lucks or went to lunch and continuously discussed the Bible and asked questions about the sermons and about how to apply the Word to life.
Overtime, my views began to change. I no longer viewed God as an angry, distant God who sat in heaven, waiting to punish people who failed. Instead, I viewed Him as a God who loved so much He became not only the just, but the justifier. I saw Him not only the lawgiver, but the law fulfiller. I not only saw Him as a judge, but the Sacrificial Lamb who bore His judgement--God's wrath for sin. I saw Him not only as the Sovereign One who has the right to determine my days and my journey, but as the Good Father who walks me through life step by step, revealing Himself and His grace to me as He reveals hidden sin in my life in a loving way. I no longer saw Him as a God who expected me to already be a better person, but as a God who understands my brokenness and the ambivalence with which I struggle in wanting to do His will while my flesh is clamoring to do mine and gives me the strength to make better choices. I no longer saw Him as a God who expected me to not be broken, but as the God who gives me counsel as He heals my brokenness.
I came to realize that the condemnation that had plagued me for so long was the work of The Enemy and that God calls me to repentance through His goodness. I began to relax and lean into God in faith, fully trusting His finished work on the cross and His loving care in this life I am living. I began to see the Christian life as less black and white and more in shades of gray where love can often determine actions that need to be taken as I trust God to give me wisdom abundantly.
So, is God mad at me? The answer to that is a resounding, "NO!" The proof is in the Word. Romans 5:9 says, "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." The disciple known as the one Jesus loved even said, in 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.
Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!