Have you ever wondered what’s going on inside the heads of the women who have it all together?
Well, wonder no more.
Back in high school, perfectionism and the appearance of excellence were my idols. You would have loved to hate me.
President of the Bible Club and vice president of the French National Honor Society, I wouldn’t dare shrink away from admirable positions of authority. In addition to sports and extracurricular activities, I just knew I was the stuff when my peers voted me class chaplain. Carefully I balanced excellence within the public school system and even more excellence within the Christian community.
Great SAT scores? Check. Attending youth group retreats? Check. Ranking top in the class? Check. Playing the hand bells at church? Check. Full scholarship to college? Check. Participating in fascinating and exotic summer mission trips? Check, check, and more checks.
Friends, I was on top of the world. In a society where self-doubt and insecurity burden the hearts and souls of so many women, my pendulum swung in the opposite direction. There I was to confidently dish out advice, from eye-liner techniques to spontaneous scripture references. And while these seem like semi-healthy, not terribly wretched qualities for a teenager to have, there seated in the middle of my heart was the certainty that I was making my heavenly Father proud with my God-honoring, pure, passionate convictions and hard-working attitude. While there was no mistaking the gospel of Jesus Christ’s faith-based salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9) and while in no way was I trying to earn a place in heaven with a calculated system of weights and measurements, what I was lacking was both the head and heart knowledge that my Heavenly Father’s loving view of me didn’t diminish even on my worse days. While I knew how to display my love for Christ through obedience (John 14:15), I had no idea how to rest in His own love for me.
Peace at that time looked a little like, “I feel good because I think He feels good that I’m being such a good girl.” Good, good, good. So much emphasis was placed on knowing the difference between right and wrong and choosing well that very little emphasis (if any) was placed on, “But when you do so happen to stumble…” My brain held no category, no manual, and no guide for the big What Happens Next When You Act In A Manner Unworthy of the Gospel of Christ. Stumbling had never been an option in my competitive heart, so no time was spent evaluating a healthy game plan in the event that I failed to heed my mother’s godly advice. In other words, I might have had the “Roman’s Road” memorized to help lead others to Christ, but I had absolutely no truth, no ammunition, tucked away for the personal battleground called Shame and Failure.
Imagine my despair when little, perfectionist me came tumbling down the hillside in such a sloppy and hypocritical display that even Jack and Jill were embarrassed.
Growing up in a Christian home and feeling like the only virgin in the world who had made it to the age of 20, I had held my purity as the highest offering to the Lord, proof of my devotion. If I was a Levite back in the Old Testament, my chastity would have been a quickly lit incense, lifting a sweet and pleasing aroma to the nose of my God. It was my lamb without blemish. It was my tithe. It was my confidence. It’s what made me special, unique, captivating, and mysterious. Or so I thought.
When I returned home from Bible school and from leading my last mission trip, I began to help with the youth at my mom’s church while finding my way into a cosmetology apprenticeship. Did you catch the loaded words? BIBLE school, MISSION trip, CHURCH?
Smack dab in the middle of that, I met my soon-to-be husband, Brian, and began knowing him… in the biblical sense, the way you’re not to know a man until your wedding night and the exact opposite of the way my momma taught me.
No seriously. For shaaaaaaaaame. Would that I had the humility and honesty to be transparent with at least one mature Christian in my life, I’d have opened myself up to the possibility of understanding the depths of the love of the Lord. Perhaps I’d have remembered the refreshing truth that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1, ESV).
Unfortunately, rather than confessing my faults and receiving forgiveness and healing (James 5:16), I began to suffocate under all of the new, raw material the enemy had as he began to condemn and shame me into isolation and despair. Just as Adam and Eve’s instincts were to hide when they screwed up big time, so my instincts were to retreat, to shrink away from my relationship with the Lord in embarrassment.
Friends, when we shrink away from the Light of the World, we only set ourselves back further into darkness. You wouldn’t believe the lies that pinned me down and sat on my chest.
You’re ruined now. Who would want you? You’re not special. You’re just like everybody else. You can never go back and undo this, so you might as well forget your dreams. This will never get better. If anyone found out, they’d never believe your gospel. You’re a hypocrite and couldn’t possibly use your gifts to serve the Lord now. And you were going to be a missionary? You’re just like all the other people you’ve ever judged. You should be the one being judged now. Just give up.
Condemnation is the enemy’s quicksand. It makes you stuck and slowly pulls you down, not closer to Christ. Conviction by the Holy Spirit, however, is meant to turn you from your sin and propel you toward the God whose name is Love. One focuses on self; the other focuses on Christ. One degrades, humiliates and discourages; the other is steeped in truth and promises. One paints a picture of endless entrapment; the other acknowledges the reality of our sinful state and compels us toward confession and repentance.
As I operated under the full weight of condemnation and shame, my husband and I barely survived the first five years of marriage. I resented him, doubted myself, questioned my motivations, and believed that I would always live a “second best” life as a punishment for my shortcomings because, well, I deserved it. It’s what I earned (or at least that’s what my heart believed).
You know what one of the saddest parts is? In hindsight, the Lord was obviously orchestrating a blessed union between my husband and me. Observing the manner in which He sovereignly worked on our hearts and circumstances prior to our first date (as told in Our WalMart Love Story), there’s no denying that He had a plan for us all along. Brian is my other half and fits my quirks like a puzzle piece. But instead of seeing the kindness of the Lord in bringing us together, I kinda sabotaged His plan, doubted His willingness to bless me, and spent many years feeling hopeless and frustrated.
Thankfully, due to the presence of mature Christian counselors in our lives and the patience of the Lord, the wool was pulled back from my eyes and I began to see that God was not keeping his distance from me or holding back any blessings because of my past. He’s already loved and blessed me with His whole self. There isn’t room for Him to love me more because when He emptied Himself for me, He emptied Himself fully. For all eternity I’ll be able to sing His glorious praises because in Christ I am redeemed – and that eternity starts now… and that love has always been. If God can raise the dead, there is nothing He can’t redeem.
God took a broken, wasted spirit and breathed new life into it.
God took a dead marriage that had no more foundation than a toddler’s Lego house and raised it up to be whole again.
God took a cold, proud, judgmental heart and warmed it up to new understandings of grace and forgiveness, both received and extended.
Friends, today sharing our faults needs to be less about confiding and more about freely admitting. God isn’t proud of you because you’re deserving; He’s proud of you because He’s well pleased with Christ and you’ve been adopted into His kingdom. In the same way that I’m proud of my two year old even on the days when syrup has hardened into his hair and the snot streak is shining from nose to ear (indicating the preferred route of the back of his hand), God is not waiting for us to wow Him to be close to us. We are messy, well-loved children. That is the foundation of my peace now.
Do you know a Christian who seems to have it all together? Pray for her heart. She might be proud. She might be afraid of failure. She might be judgmental. And she might be stand-offish, disconnected emotionally, and afraid to get too close because of this secret she’s keeping. Don’t let your prideful, shamed sister shrink into the darkness when she’s messed up. She thinks she’s the worst. Freely admit your own faults before the enemy convinces her that she’s useless in God’s kingdom.
I’m so thankful that my screw ups (and sanctifying process of coming full circle from those screw ups) glorify God so much more than my perfectionist teenage ego ever could.