It was a July evening and the night sky was gorgeous. I was in our hammock, thinking and swinging softly back and forth. Trying to talk to God. Kind of. Our dog, Lucy, was outside too, begging at the back door to be let in. And I remember thinking about how similar I am to Lucy–her looking to be let into our home and I looking to be let in with God. I thought about the comparison for a minute before He spoke:
“And yet that little dog has more faith that she’ll be let in than you do.”
It struck me. He was right. How long have I tried to get in with God? How many nights have I felt like my prayers bounce off the ceiling? How many times have I tried to perfect myself before talking to Him? Don’t I know Who He is?
-sigh- No, we’ve never gotten into this. Yes, we’re getting into this:
My relationship with God has been sketchy at best. To be honest, sometimes my heart’s in the right place. . .but mostly I’ve been addicted to the feeling of not going to hell. That feeling was my drug and being good was my dealer.
Mandie Russell: simultaneously supplying drug analogies AND testimonies. I’ll be here all week.
The first time I asked Jesus into my life, I was 6 years old in my great-grandmother’s kitchen and I said a prayer. I have no idea what I said, but it launched me into a decade and a half of doubting. I went forward several more times, got baptized at 11, and prayed multiple times on my own. I would ask forgiveness for every sin I could think of–once even down to picking my nose–and try to read my Bible and pray. . .and that lasted about two weeks at best. . .and then I would give up for 3-6 months. . .and then a pastor would say, “If you’re not [feeling this way or doing this thing], then maybe you should check that salvation!” And there I’d go again.
At 18 there were a couple very dark nights where I was too scared to sleep because what if I woke up in hell? I mean, this is my soul we’re talking about and this is eternity and how can you know? I mean, really, really know? Was my heart right? Did I say the right things? What if I left something out? I knew I wasn’t living right. I knew it.
I’d open my Bible and shuffle through some of the pages, not knowing where to look. I’d run to my dad with tears in my eyes and ask him to help me. He always calmed me down enough to help me get to sleep, but of course he couldn’t settle these things for me.
My first service at Bob Jones University led me to going forward again with the hope that it would work this time. Minutes into the conversation, I knew it wouldn’t. Everything she was saying I could recite to myself backwards by that point. I know now that it was faith I lacked. That was the last time I went forward.
After that college started and life was a pendulum, swinging from caring too much to not caring at all. Mostly I just didn’t think about it. I learned to smile when I was in the middle of hating myself. I learned to numb myself to the point where I didn’t care about much of anything. I told myself that if I wasn’t willing to change my life, then I couldn’t complain about it either. I stopped crying at bad grades. I stopped complaining about my weight. And for the most part, I stopped trying to get saved.
I learned to be funny instead of real.
Somewhere along the way, I found Ann Voskamp, Angie Smith, and Hannah Brencher and I knew they were different. What they wrote about helped me more than anything else. I heard about grace. I thought about the times I’d gone forward and the tears I’d cried and the repenting I’d done. I knew He’d heard me and I decided to trust that if I wasn’t saved, He’d let me know along the way. I still doubt. I still have lots and lots of trouble reading my Bible and praying. But I know Who He is and I know He’s consistent even when I’m not. Most of all, I know He loves me and I know He sees me. And I know I don’t have to be perfect to be used.
So, to sum up, here’s what I’ve learned in 5 easy-to-read points. For your convenience.
1.) Sometimes it takes a lot to get to God. Not because of Him–because of us. And I choose to believe He gets that. He’s the one who pursues even when we run away. So if you’re out there–and I believe you are–and you’re doubting, you’re not alone. If you’re out there and you’re angry, you’re not alone. If you’re out there and you’re scared, you’re not alone. If you’re out there and. . .anything. . .you’re not alone. Never, ever, ever. Not for a minute.
2.) It’s not about you. It’s not about your doubts and insecurities. It’s not about finding yourself. It’s not about religion. It’s not about the people who showed you a false version of Jesus. It’s about picking up your cross and choosing to follow Jesus–choosing to believe He is Who He says He is. Are you loved? Yes. Are you valuable? Absolutely. Are you here for a reason? Definitely. But salvation, ultimately, is about an imperfect person accepting the redemption that is offered by a perfect savior. It’s not about anything that you’ve attained.
3.) Christians are not given a spirit of fear. If you have fear, it’s not coming from God.
4.) Don’t let people get in the way of Jesus. Mankind will fail you, but God won’t. I promise you this.
5.) Even if you don’t know what God’s doing, keep holding on.