Take a moment, please, and picture this scenario with me if you will: There once was a young girl who grew up in a Christian church. She was always perfectly groomed, and looked beautiful in her flowing white linen dresses. She spent her days thinking about how much God loved her, and how she wanted to live her life to please Him. She kept herself "pure" in the sight of God, and never let a man touch her until her wedding day. She raised 3 perfect children who were always perfectly groomed and behaved. In fact, her family looked just like they had walked off the pages of a Dickens novel. Everyone loved and adored her, and sought out her advice on every aspect of life. She was a shining picture of God's glory!
Now take a moment please, and consider reality! How I would LOVE to say that this is my story. The truth is, though, my story is so far from this fairy tale, that when I read it I laugh out loud! I want you to understand, that in the following paragraphs, I am going to be brutally honest with you. I am going to tell you things about myself that I really don't want you to know. Then, when I am finished, I will tell you why I choose to share such painful memories with you.
Here is the truth: Once upon a time, there was a young girl who grew up in a Christian church. She struggled with other kids. She fought with her best friends. She copped an attitude when she felt shamed or rejected. When she was 10 years old, she made what she thought was a commitment to God, but sadly, she struggled her whole teenage existence with feelings of inadequacy. There was something missing in her life....and she knew it. Not knowing how to fill the void, she tried many things that the world had to offer. She tried to find intimacy in sinful sexual relationships that brought her temporary comfort. She found a refuge in the music that consumed her thoughts and molded much of her view of the world. And, while she never gave in to the temptation of drugs, she tried drinking and found that being drunk was more uncomfortable than it was fun. She spent many nights laying in bed crying because she knew there was a God, and she KNEW that she wasn't good enough for Him!
When she was a young adult, someone gently challenged her thoughts on who God is. You see, I had spent my entire life thinking of God as a big authoritarian in the sky. There was a list of do's and don'ts. Most of my activities were on the don't list! The bigger problem I had was that I loved my lifestyle even thought I knew in my heart that it was wrong! Why would I want to change something that I loved so dearly? It was the only comfort I knew.
Let me just clarify something here. This is not an indictment of my family. I am so thankful for the family that God blessed me with! My parents loved me. They taught me right from wrong. They were strict, and that kept me out of some trouble anyway. We went to church every Sunday. I never felt unloved by my parents! I want to mention this because it doesn't matter what kind of family you came from. You can receive all of the love in the world, and still feel empty.
So, back to my point. Someone came along in my life who loved me enough to ask me questions about my faith. She never (that I can remember) challenged the notion that I was the Christian that I said I was. It was a simple seed that was planted. It was a simple as her asking what church I attended and then asking if I believed that I could lose my salvation. To be totally honest, I had no idea what she was talking about, but it was the turning point that made me want to ask questions, dig in scripture, and really understand her way of thinking. She didn't spend hours following up, and making sure I understood. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit did that for her.
Honestly, I do not know how long it took me to understand. I can't give you a date when I "prayed a prayer" and was saved. It was more of a process. What I began to realize, though, was that as hard as I tried, I could not change myself. I could not make myself into what God wanted me to be. Oh believe me...I spent years trying! What a miserable existence! I do remember laying in bed one night and crying. Then crying out to God. I told Him how unworthy I was of Him. I told Him that I wanted to know how to love Him. I told Him that I needed Him. What was the difference between now and when I was 10? It was HUGE!
My favorite Bible verse to this day was what made the difference. Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." This beautiful verse explains that we are not saved by what we do. We are not saved by our actions, the way we dress, or by looking like the "perfect Dickins family." We are saved by the grace of God alone. Through faith in God alone. We cannot boast in our goodness, because we are not good!! Romans 3:23 say "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." I am a sinner. Well, I knew that! :) What I didn't know was that working to make myself a better person in the eyes of God was impossible. Unfruitful. Painful.
So here it is in a nutshell. God loves you. Whether you believe that you are lovable or not. God doesn't want you to strive to emulate other people, or to spend your life listening to self-improvement gurus. What He wants is for you to trust Him. Trust that you are unclean, but through Jesus death on the cross that HE can make you clean. Listen, only HE can make you clean! YOU CANNOT DO IT YOURSELF! Whew...what a relief. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, God reconciles us to Him. That means that at one point, we were not a friend of God. To be reconciled means there was an enemy relationship at one point. Romans 5:10-11 "For if when we were enemies of God through the death of His Son, much more having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation." I know for a fact that I was not a friend of God. Since then, I have come into a relationship with the creator of the universe. Wow, I get goosebumps when I say that!
So why would I share all of the skeletons in my closet with you? I have come to realize that my past has a great impact on who I have become today. I cannot change my past. I have a lot of regrets that I would love to wipe out. I have learned that I cannot clean up my past. I can't "clean up" anything. Neither can you. I was broken, but I was unable to embrace my brokenness and place it in the hands of God. Truly that is what we need to do. Admit we are broken, and admit that we are unable to fix it. Then let God do the rest. If my story can help just one person see who God is and help them "embrace their brokenness" then it is worth the pain of admitting my past mistakes.
My story is not of the pure girl in paragraph one. My white dress was so stained with sin, that I never could have cleaned it. However, when we trust Jesus and come into a personal friendship with Him, He gives us clean robes. A robe that can never stain. A pure white robe of righteousness. I can't be stained, because it doesn't matter what we do. What matters is what He did for us. We cannot tarnish His love for us. I can't explain to you the joy that results from the knowledge that God has sealed you as His forever. Joy that replaces pain and brokenness.