“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV)
When I was a little girl, I used to imagine growing up and moving away to a faraway land. My plan was to save all of the orphaned babies. I remember seeing an infomercial once about the turmoil going on in Sudan, and so I set my sights on the poor, helpless children there. I would spend hours with my head buried in a notebook using my crayons to draw up blue prints of what type of house I would need to build in order to contain the many children I would save. I was sure that I could fit them all in my one little house if I used my space efficiently. I never understood why some people would look at me wild eyed when they would ask my plans for the future, and I would quite simply state that I planned to move to Sudan and save the orphans. In my young mind, it was as simple as “going” and “doing”.
As I grew older, however, I still valued the notion of some radical move to a foreign country to do good and witness to others, but as the distractions came pouring in – friends, fashion, boys – the thought of doing anything for anyone crept further and further into the back of my mind. As a young teen, I went to church often, gave a few good attempts at doing some local and foreign missions work, and even spent countless years agonizing over what my “calling” might be. But, ultimately, selfishness won, and my life’s choices became largely based on what made me happy. Fail proof, right? I tried for a little while to hold onto bits of morality here and there, trying to “be good” for Jesus, but that simply led to making sure my behavior “looked good” to those who didn’t know any better. Never mind the fact that behind the scenes I was sowing a path of self-worship that would reap struggles with thrill-seeking rebellion, eating disorders, promiscuity and sex addiction, drug use, and a small town criminal conviction. Not even the people closest to me knew my struggles, and as long as they thought I was still “good”, that’s all that mattered. I know, for some, my “good” bubble was burst when I showed up pregnant at the age of 19, but they still didn’t know the half of it. Denial and damage control was the name of the game.
I had very little concept of God’s grace at the time, and though I believed in God, and even believed all that the Bible taught about Jesus, I didn’t understand it completely. I still felt that it was my job to “clean up” before I could follow Christ. I didn’t realize, however, that all of my attempts to fix things only led me further and further into despair. It wasn’t until my sister started to teach me of his grace at the age of 22 that I was even able to submit my life to Christ. The years to follow would prove to be some of the hardest, and unhappiest. I would still go on trying to rely on my pride and control what I could in my neurotic type-A way. I would continue to suffer from depression and anxiety, and even have times when I was sure I had to earn my way to Jesus’ love rather than just repent and move on. But, a midst all of that, there would be an undeniable sense of hope that through all of this refinement, I was not lost. I was no longer drowning in the muck of my own choices. I still battled the consequences of my sin, but I no longer feared them. At times, I was still tripping over my own baby Christian feet trying to “do enough” for God, but his discipline and grace was evident. I no longer went to bed at night feeling shrouded in darkness. I could still go two weeks at a time feeling utterly depressed and unmotivated to even get out of bed, but I never felt as if there wasn’t life left to live.
People so often have the misconception that once Jesus saves you, all of that goes away. We don’t know what to do when we “try” religion and it doesn’t fix everything. But, as long as we’re simply looking for a bandage to put over our wounds and make our lives a little easier, Christianity is not the religion to look to. Christ’s primary purpose is to bridge the gap between helpless sinners and a holy God. But, until you’ve come to the end of yourself and recognized your need for a Savior, you will reap very little benefit from simply going to church and being Christian-like. I’d like to say that I don’t know where so many people get the notion that Jesus turns us into happy, sin-repellant perfection, but I can’t say that, because I know exactly where people get that notion. They get it from us – Christians and church goers. They get that impression because of the fact that we put a veil over our imperfections and we think that the presence of sin in our lives will discredit our validity as a Christian. They get that impression because there are still so many born-again Christians out there who get saved and then simply stew in spiritual infancy because growth hurts too much. And, so unbelievers are left with very little by way of understanding the true nature of the gospel, and never knowing that what the bible truly teaches is that with our confession of faith will come many trials and persecution. It’s no wonder the world can’t look at people like Joel Osteen and see him for the false prophet that he is, because darn it, “if you’re not smiling, you’re not saved”! The rest just assume that we’re all hypocrites because we can’t even regurgitate enough scripture to explain that we’re saved, yes, but sinners, also.
Please, for all that is good and holy, learn to embrace suffering. Know that God disciplines those He loves. Try to understand that if “happiness” is your ultimate goal in life, then you’ll probably come out “happy” at best – and that’s not saying a lot when you consider the eternal joy to be found in Christ, and the damnation to be had apart from Him. When a person is saved, Christ becomes our veil so that when the righteous and holy God above looks down on us as Creator and Judge, He sees Christ’s sacrifice instead of our sin. But, Christ does not become our veil from this world. On the contrary, we are often times pushed out of the nest, free falling into the world and gasping for air, with more than a few bumps along the way, as we learn to trust in His power to do the things that, apart from Him, we cannot do.
As Christ continues to work in my life, I often times wonder if He will revive my childhood desire of moving off to a faraway land and spreading His gospel. But, it’s dawning on me lately, that whether He does that in the future or not, He has put a new burden on my heart. This new burden is much closer to home. It is this self-absorbed, sex-crazed, money-worshipping country that I call home. It is the thousands of Americans that go to church on Sundays and pray before their meals that still have somehow “missed it” and don’t truly know Christ, but rather, live double lives of whom they really are, and who they present themselves to be – or, worse yet, claim to know Christ while boldly living in a way that contradicts scripture. It’s the ones who fail to understand that Christ’s love reaches down to us, right where we are, in the filth, the sin, the mire, and there is nothing apart from putting our faith in Him that can draw us any closer to God.
My burden now is for the ones who call themselves… “good”.
“As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV)