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What’s your testimony? What has God done for you?
I’m unsure how to answer the questions posed by a trusted counselor. In the past the story of my testimony has been the “easy” answer to the church-ese question:
When did you get saved?
I’ve never shared the answer here because my testimony is so much more than that one story. And because, looking back, I am frustrated with myself and my limited understanding of God at that time.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be. I was only seven, after all.
I looked into the campfire at family camp and I was consumed with fear. In the dark room, the fire was ominous. Evil almost. I had been taught about hell and the terror of not wanting to end up in such a place led me to grab my mommy’s hand. Together we sat on a torn yellow leather couch and she shared with me the truths I already knew. About God, Jesus, the Cross, and how I didn’t have to go to hell, if only I believed.
I don’t remember the words that she said or the words that I prayed. I just remember returning to the group of campers and timidly telling them of my decision to follow Christ.
From that day on I was, if only a little, slightly less afraid of hell. At least, as long as I didn’t think about it too much.
I truly believe that that was the moment of my justification.
But I grieve that moment. Not because of what happened, but because of why it happened. Because hell was just one more thing that I was deathly afraid of.
The fears started young and unexplainably. As a wee-one I was afraid of my own grandfather. I was afraid of my uncles. I was afraid of the garbage truck, so much so that I hid in my room every trash day. I was afraid of rock and contemporary Christian music. I was afraid of my gym teacher, hiding under the seat when he sang a solo in church. I was afraid of the puppets at George’s Restaurant and the people in costume at the mall at Christmastime.
I was powerless and voiceless, inexplicably unable to even explain my fears to my parents.
Fear was my way of life so it only makes sense that I would try to avoid it at all costs. By hiding. By faking sick to get out of going to school. By accepting Jesus into my heart so I wouldn’t have to go to hell.
I took control of my fear in the only way I knew how.
I wish that fear hadn’t been the thing that pushed me into the arms of God.
Throughout my later childhood and early adolescence, the prayer was prayed over and over. Anytime I got scared or felt insecure – especially any time I sinned.
I didn’t stop praying the salvation prayer until I was 14, when a special speaker at our church said this:
Belief is placing your life in the hand of Christ.
Instantaneously, the thoughts rushed my consciousness:
I did that. I’ve done that. Over and over I’ve done that. So why am I so afraid? If I die and go to hell, it’s God’s fault. Because I’ve done what He told me to do. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ I’ve done that.
I never prayed a salvation prayer again.
Until I was 25, this was my testimony. A fear-based decision to follow God and a moment of clarity when I realized my salvation was up to Him, not me.
But then I had another moment. The moment where I told God, “You are God, You are God…of all else I’m letting go.” When I left behind everything I thought I knew about God. When I realized that accepting grace for my sanctification was just as important as accepting grace for my salvation. And that I couldn’t do that when I was still holding onto my goodness and trying to earn God’s love by my actions.
And this moment, by far, is the sweetest of the three. Because it was in this moment when I understood God the most fully. When fear wasn’t a factor. When it was just me and the love of God.
I wish that I could tell you that moving forward from that moment left me healed and fearless. Confident in my standing in Christ. Accepting of His daily grace. Loving Him. Thankful. Motivated to grow closer to Him.
But fear still runs deep in my heart and my psyche.
Do you believe that God loves you? she asks.
Of course! I answer confidently.
But some nights I’m still a little girl scared that God’s going to send her to hell. The truth that I’m chosen, holy, and dearly loved – for who I am, not for what I do for God – is easy to write out for a blog post. It’s a lot harder to make my brain and heart believe after 25 years of fear-based faith.
Sunday, I was talking to my husband, trying once again to put into words this disconnect I feel within, this struggle I have to believe…really believe. To simply accept “what I already know to be true.” To love God and desire to be closer to Him.
“So many women will get divorced because they say ‘He’s not the man I married.’ It’s kind of like that. The God I know now isn’t the same God as the God I grew up believing in.”
He responds: “But God hasn’t changed. You’ve changed. And your understanding of Him has changed.”
And I know he’s right. But it’s still like starting over. Learning to love again.
It’s not a light switch I can just flip. “God, I understand that you love me. Got it. Now I can love you back wholeheartedly. Conform me to Your image and let me serve You all of my days.”
No. Nothing about it is simple. Sanctification and Christian service used to mean earning His love. I don’t know how to move forward and have it mean anything different. I don’t know how to separate obedience, progressive sanctification, and holiness from legalism. I don’t know how to pick up the Bible and not have this new loving God’s image shrouded by everything I used to think He was. I don’t know how to not be triggered by church jargon and guilt-inducing hymns. I don’t know how to serve, grow, or try to be a better person without it being motivated by fear, guilt, and shame.
It’s a hump that feels insurmountable. Impossible even. As though I’ll be in this state of limbo forever.
What has God done for you?
Of course, the right answer is everything.
But why didn’t He save me from believing things about Him that weren’t true? Why didn’t He rescue me from a too-young life exhausted in service to Him when I was too young to know any better? Why didn’t He keep me from being taken advantage of, being left powerless and voiceless, and shamed all in His name?
I drafted these words in pain the other night and have spent the last few days mulling them over. This afternoon, I was in the car flipping stations. First Pink…then Darius Rucker…then Stephen Curtis Champan. (The irony is not lost on me…)
I see you sitting over there with your head in your hands
And the mess life’s made of your best laid plans
You really want to shake your fist
But you don’t know who to blame
Well you can blame yourself or The Man Upstairs
Or the guy on the screen who says he cares
But all the shame and the blame won’t change a thing
What’s done is done
But grace has just begun
We know the world got broke when it took the fall
And here we are living in the middle of it all
Longing, waiting for the day when everything’s restored
But the best of the beauty that we get to SEE
While we’re living down here in this “yet to be”
Is to watch God take the most broken things
And to hear Him say,
“When I get through, you’re gonna be amazed”
And God’s says
I’m gonna turn it into something different
I’m gonna turn it into something good
I’m gonna take all the broken pieces
And make something beautiful like only I could
So put it all in the hands of the Father
Give it up, give it all over to
The only one who can turn it into
Something really beautiful
And while the song finished playing I sensed that Still Small Voice, and heard this:
Maybe the question shouldn’t be “What has God done for you?”…but rather “What is God doing for you?”
The pain, the doubts, the confusion, the million unanswered questions I have about God can be blinding for me. Keep me from seeing Him. Keep me from loving Him. And maybe that’s my own fault. Maybe I let it all control me in ways that I shouldn’t. Maybe letting go, forgiving, and moving on should be simpler than I make it out to be. Maybe I should be further along in recovery.
Or maybe it’s all part of the process. Because just because I am broken and blinded doesn’t mean that He isn’t turning this mess into something really beautiful. And that’s what Beautiful In His Time…Redemption Stories…Hope…is all about.
I just have to keep believing in the “yet to be.” Hoping that, eventually, faith will seem less messy and muddled. Holding onto the beauty in spite of the brokenness.