This post is part 3 in a blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I share how I came to realize that I had an incorrect view of God and self and how I became free of the system of legalism whereby I was trying to earn God’s favor. You can view all of the posts in the series here on the series landing page.
It is my prayer that Christians who are grappling with these concepts can find clarity, hurting Christians can find comfort, broken Christians can find healing, and tired Christians can find rest in God’s grace by walking through my story with me.
I was standing in an empty dormitory room, the one right across from mine. It had been empty for the entire semester, but now it was where I was hiding all of my things that I was packing in boxes to mail home.
My parents and I had mutually decided that I would not be returning to this college the following semester, and my parents had already submitted a letter of my withdrawal to the school’s administration.
I was leaving, but I didn’t want anyone to know.
I didn’t want to have to tell the story about my misstep, the accusations, nor the battle between my parents and the school that had followed.
I didn’t want or need any more judgment, from anyone. I was scared of being misunderstood, again.
I also didn’t want to “poison” anyone’s opinion of the school. I didn’t tell anyone I wasn’t returning other than one close friend.
I stood there in the dark hoping that no one would find me, packing up my things….packing up my dreams.
This wasn’t just any college I was choosing to leave – it had been my dream for three long years.
I had put all of my golden eggs into the basket of this perfect school. It was my favorite place to be on the entire earth. I had visited there multiple times over the last 3 years. When I visited there during my senior year of high school one of the professors had joked “You mean, you’re not a student here yet?” I had attended summer camp there two summers in a row and had even gotten the camp award for memorizing the most Bible verses in a week.
When I got there I already knew half of the student body, and they knew me. I fit in. This was where I belonged. This was going to be where I was going to prepare to be a good little pastor’s wife or a missionary’s wife. This is where I was going to meet my husband (and at this point, where I thought I already had).
I didn’t have a plan B. Plan A was perfection and it was supposed to work out.
Because that’s what’s supposed to happen when you follow God’s will.
My decision to attend college was not taken lightly. The church I attended in high school greatly discouraged unmarried girls attending college. The example from the pastor’s family and the preaching from his pulpit was that girls should stay under the authority of their fathers, in his home, until such time as God brought them a mate.
I struggled with this idea for close to a year, praying to God daily for His direction. Sometimes I even felt guilty for even wanting to go to college. The evening my father finally gave his permission for me to go was one of the best nights of my life.
It was a huge step of bravery for me to announce my decision to the people at my church, and I continually felt the need to defend my decision. I knew God had plans for me, and I knew that He wanted me to go to college to prepare me for those plans. But I felt an unspoken disapproval from those around me, a shift in their attitude toward me.
Now here I was, hiding in the dark, ashamed that my actions had ruined my dreams – wondering if they were right all along. Maybe I was wrong to come here.
Followed by anger, self-justification, self-righteousness. I knew I had made the right decision. I had “followed the will of God.”
So God, dear God, why didn’t it work out?
I drove my boxes over to the post office, hoping and praying that I wouldn’t run into anyone from the school and have to answer any questions.
For the last two weeks of the semester I tried to stay away from people as much as possible, just biding my time until I could leave. On my last day, I only even bothered telling four people goodbye – two friends, my RA, and my then-boyfriend.
My brother and I drove away from that small southern town, leaving my dreams of perfection behind.
Hiding in shame is a human’s default response when confronted with their inability to obey God. Adam and Eve hid from God from the moment their eyes were opened and they realized they were sinners.
But God seeks us out. He calls to every human being hiding in shame. He says, “Come out, I’ve made a way for you. Look, here is the sacrifice that will cover your sins! I know, I know – you don’t deserve it, and you didn’t earn it. But I accept this sacrifice in place of your goodness. You no longer have to hide. I do not condemn you. Come to me and let my grace and love cover you and your sin!”
Adam and Eve could not accept God’s covering for their sin until they came out of hiding, until they bared their sinful, naked bodies to the holiness of God.
When a Christian believes that he must be righteous in order to maintain fellowship with God, any time he doesn’t feel righteous he will stay in hiding. The judgment of men will only keep him there longer.
Yes, sin separates us. Sin, missing the mark of God’s plan and intentions for us, shows us just how ugly we are. It shames us. But there is nothing we can do to fix it.
We cannot experience the fullness of God’s grace when we are hiding in shame.
We must come out of the darkness. We must bare our naked, ugly, sinful, shameful, helpless selves to God in all of his holiness before we can embrace the covering of grace that he has given us.
There may be chastening from God for our sin – there was for Adam and Eve. But with his chastening comes his beautiful love and grace that make a way for us.
Legalism brings shame and pushes us into hiding.
Grace brings forgiveness as we step out into God’s light.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t come to realize these concepts for several more years. Please come back tomorrow as I will be sharing more of my story.
Are you hiding in shame today? Are you hiding because you are afraid God can’t love you in all of your ugliness? Have the accusations and judgments of men pushed you into hiding because you never feel good enough? Have you forgotten that the same grace that brought you eternal life can get you through each day that you struggle with sin? Give God your ugly! Lay it out before him and accept his grace – new and afresh every day!
To view all the posts in this blog series, visit the landing page.
Next post, part 4: when you “trust and obey” but your heart still gets broken