Joining Sarah Bessey‘s Synchroblog/Link-up for her new book, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith. My copy of the book should be here tomorrow (!!) and I cannot wait to read!!
If you’d like to participate on your own blog, here’s the prompt:
Write a post on your own blog based on this prompt: “I used to think ____ and now I think ____.” And tell us a story of how you’ve changed and grown and transformed in your opinions, your theology, your preferences, your doctrine, whatever in response to the unchanging Christ.
When seeing this prompt, I had a few ideas about what to write. One, however, kept sticking out:
I used to think I had to do all the things to earn God’s love.
That I had to live the perfect life– live a life of striving for– for God to love me.
Now, I think (know) that there’s no earning when it comes to God’s love.
It’s freely given. Graciously given. And there’s nothing I have to do to earn it. I receive it it just as i am. No perfect life necessary.
Nor is there anything I can do to earn it– no perfect life I can live, because there is no such thing. But I still tried my damndest to earn what I thought I had to.
I think it has a lot to do with my mentality of earning I’ve had since childhood: I have to do the things, to earn the rewards. And I had to do them perfectly.
I have to be good, perfect, at everything I do, no matter if I like it or not. If I don’t, I’d let everyone down-especially myself.
Like I had to get the good grades to earn the praise (I’ll never forget the tear-fest when I earned my first B in 3rd grade, darn you Mrs. Karkau)
Or have a good (perfect) performance to receive the accolades.
I couldn’t just get these things as a kid. I had to earn the praise, the accolades, the good words.
Both from other people and myself.
If I didn’t do what I thought I was supposed to, I didn’t get what I wanted (or in my case, needed).
I was told if I didn’t do it this way, I wasn’t doing it right; or if I wasn’t like this person, I wasn’t good enough.
I was raised to be a perfectionist in all I did– if it wasn’t as close to perfect as possible, it wasn’t good enough.
I spent a majority of my early years as a Christian with the same mentality towards my faith. I didn’t grow up in church, so I had no clue what to expect when I started going to church with a friend in 7th grade. I thought it was a similar process with a different goal: I had to earn His love and grace by doing as much as I could.
I had to do All The Things for Him to love me (and by “love,” I mean for him to actually do the things I wanted Him to, not actually love me). I had to go to church and every function the church offered; I had to volunteer to help everywhere– and not because I loved to serve (which I do) but for him to see me and pay attention to me; I had to go to every retreat and come back changed (which i did sometimes!) for me to really think He knew who I was. I had to be one of the youth group kids that closed their eyes during worship, hands raised and all in praise. (true story: when I first started going to church/youth group, I thought people closed their eyes during worship cause they knew the song. hahaha). I thought I had to be perfect for Him to love me– and being a ‘perfect’ Christian meant doing everything I deemed ‘Christian’– listen to Christian music, read only Christian books, read the Bible all the time, go on mission trips and every retreat/event on the church calendar… the list of ‘things’ goes on and on.
I was the stereotypical good girl, the wannabe good church girl who tried to do and be everything because that’s how I thought God worked. The more I did, the more He loved me. I did everything I was supposed to, everything I thought I had to, and tossed my issues, my struggles, my battles to the way side because I didn’t think they ‘fit’ with me as a Christian. God only wanted the good, shiny parts of my life– everything else was just baggage to check at the door, right?
I spent the first 5 years of my faith life thinking that I had to earn love from God.
(I’ve spent even longer thinking I had to earn love from other people).
And then God showed up in my life. And as He tends to do, He flipped everything I thought on its head.
That happened freshman year of college.
It was in college that I truly starting knowing God– instead of just knowing about Him. And when I started knowing Him, He changed everything I thought about who He was– and who I am.
When God showed up, he reminded me that no, I don’t check my baggage at the door when I follow Him. My life is still my life-– my story is still my story. He’s just the one in charge of the pen now. But by back story– my life pre-Jesus (and all the brokenness that comes with it) doesn’t disappear when He enters the picture.
You see, when college came around, I was very, very broken. Between questions I had about God and church, to family stress, to being a freshmen in college in a brand-new completely Christian bubble-like enviornment (coming from public schooling to private christian college= hello Jesus overload!), I was a hot mess. And in true fashion, instead of being up-front with my mess, I kept trying to do things-– go to every chapel offering, every campus ministry event, and try to “be Jesus” (read: be a complete and total overwhelmingly jerky,smug religious person) to my suitemates– instead of owning up to my problems and accept His love and grace for myself. I kept trying to earn it, trying to strive for something that was out of my reach— because it had already been given.
Until I fell flat on my face trying to earn it. God then forced me to deal with my issues–to give them up, and be honest about what I was going through, instead of trying to live like life was totally perfect (because it wasn’t–nor was it ever).
It was only then, in the midst of my brokenness, that I finally started to realize that I couldn’t earn what had already been given.
For the first time in my faith life, I admitted that I was a mess. I wasn’t perfect because I did all the things– and my life didn’t suddenly become perfect and awesome when I started following Jesus like I wanted it to (or pretended it did).
And, what do ya know? God didn’t reject me for being imperfect! He didn’t hate me because my life was a completely shattered mess!! He didn’t leave me out to dry because I was broken and lost and… well, human.
He takes it all, piece by broken piece, and uses it. He loves me in spite of it, through it, and from that broken place.
Once I figured that out, He taught me about grace. Mostly, He taught me about love— a love that cannot be bought, taught, or earned.
Simply given. Freely given.
And there’s nothing I can do to earn it, or lose it.
I still do the things for His kingdom, like worship, retreats, mission trips, reading scripture and other things– the things that intersect my love for Him and the gifts and joys He’s given me. But I don’t do them to earn love anymore. I do them to learn more about love– and for His love to be seen in me. I do them to know Him better and love Him better, not because it’s going to make Him love me more.
It’s because of the love He has so freely given that I do the things that I am called to do. Not the other way around.
I some days still live in that place of striving— that place where I’m not a ‘good’ follower if I don’t do a certain thing, or don’t participate in an event… I still get wrapped up in that I have to earn His love and devotion, when I already have it. Breaking that habit is so hard. But He’s teaching me that He is enough. I don’t have to do the things, or go to the events to follow Him…I just have to be His.
I don’t have to be the person I think I have to be to be loved by Him.
He loves me as I am. He made me as I am– and through His love, we’ll write the rest of story– brokenness and all. It won’t be perfect, but it will be full of Him and His fierce, undying love for me– and that’s enough.
Without all the other things, His love is enough. Unearned, free, and beautifully given for a wretch like me.
For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.~ Ephesians 2:8-9 (The Voice)
So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? Can troubles, hardships, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, or even death? The answer is, absolutely nothing. As the psalm says,
On Your behalf, our lives are endangered constantly;
we are like sheep awaiting slaughter.
But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us. For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39, The Voice)
Nothing can keep us away from the love of the Savior
Thank you, Lord, from saving me from myself.