The bar that I held myself to as a young child was unattainable, unbeknownst to me. It basically amounted to perfection. It looked like perfect beauty, smarts, holiness, the right weight, the right clothes, the right hair, and the right heart all rolled up into one. No one I knew measured up, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I was nothing if not determined and a little bit stubborn.
Deep down I thought I could be perfect. It seemed like a real possibility. I could please all the people that mattered with the way that I looked, the way that I acted, how much I did, the grades that I got, and how much I exercised. Later in life this also came to incorporate the way that I managed money, how much I tithed, how much I served, the ways in which I served, the nature of my career, and if I got married and had a family at the right time.
I had a relationship with Religion, but not with God, even though I grew up my entire life in church. I didn’t understand how very much Jesus had purchased for me or what living the abundant life actually meant. I grew up believing that the most important thing was that people got saved. That was kind of the end of the road. ‘Yay! Now you’re going to heaven!’ and I would move onto the next unsuspecting unbeliever. Unfortunately, because I was so religious in my own life, it rarely ended triumphantly but usually in hurtful game-changing arguments. I was tainted and paralyzed by my Old Testament view of God. A cruel Task-Master that was keeping a list of everything I did wrong and was ready to strike me down when I did one more wrong thing. I knew in my head that God was good, but I didn’t have a heart knowledge of his goodness, much less experiential knowledge in my own life. The fear that kept me bound for so long colored my understanding and experience with God. Fear of punishment (from my parents, church leaders, and God) kept me trapped in my small world bound by rules, superstitions, and worst-case scenarios.
Relentlessly trudging down the road to perfection led to more and more disappointment. I gossiped today. I didn’t go running. My weight is up. I didn’t do all that I could in that situation. Did I do the right thing? I didn’t get an A. Is my heart pure? I disappointed my parents. He didn’t ask me out on a date. I didn’t write a thank-you note. Guilt, fear, shame, condemnation and eventually self-hatred became frequent voices in my head. They sounded so real; and I was so ill-acquainted with truth that I couldn’t discern that they were lies. I believed them.
In High School I developed an eating disorder, desperate to try to control something in my life that felt so completely out of control. In some circles, I was praised the most for the way I looked when my weight dropped to an emaciated 100 pounds. This only enforced the unhealthy belief that I was only worth the way that I looked. By the grace of God I was able to pull myself out of this and began eating, but it would be many years before I came to have a healthy relationship with my body.
I continued to be praised for my beauty. Eventually this led to relationships with men who only valued me for the way I looked. I knew that there were good men out there who had pure hearts and loved God, who could love all the parts of me, but they weren’t the ones asking me out. And I was lonely and tired. I wanted desperately to be married and start a family of my own. I grew weary of fighting them off. After a series of relationships with this same type of man--the kind that used me to serve his needs, who took from me physically and who cast me aside when he was through with me, I reached an all time low, hating myself for the person that I’d become. I put on weight in a subconscious effort to insulate myself from more pain with men. Their rejection of me at my heavier weight only perpetuated the belief that I could only be valued for the way I looked. It took years of hard work to break through the bitterness and resentment that had crept into my heart towards men.
I know people that seem to live a life so close to perfection that it’s almost as if they don’t really need a savior. They don’t have any major sin in their life and they never have. Their lives are almost painful to look at, full of daisies and rainbows, and for years their ‘perfection’ triggered deep shame in me. It’s painful to see how very close to perfection they are. They don’t have a ‘past.’ There are others who are so disconnected from their hearts that they truly don’t recognize their need for help. They are holding so tenuously to ‘everything’s fine’ that they can’t afford to entertain the idea that it might not actually be. In time, when my heart had softened again, God began to speak to me about the person He’d created me to be. He whispered truth to my heart and all I could do was weep. There was a familiar sound to the truth that made me hungry for it, but truth was so far from the person that lay bare before the throne of God. I had reached the end of myself. All that I’d tried had not worked, and I was miserable, depressed, lonely and without hope.
I am not one of them. I began life with high hopes, fueled by lies and unrealistic expectations, and eventually cratered under the weight of my very own mind-numbing need. I desperately needed saving. I needed to be shown that the lies & untruths that came against me were not real. I needed to experience grace in a transformational way that would change me, and I would then have a well of grace to draw from and give to others. I needed to know and experience the love of a good Father who loved me unconditionally, so that I could do nothing more or less to change it. I needed to know that I was not the sum of what I did (or didn’t do). I needed to know that I was beautiful (inside and out) but that I was worth so much more than the way that I looked. I needed to know that greater is He that lives in me than the one speaking the lies. I needed to know that I was created with a divine purpose and was intended to change the world for good.
God’s redemption that was purchased through the death of Jesus is perfect and all-encompassing. It is divinely beautiful in every way and it is freely available to all. We must only acknowledge our need for it in order to have it. The truth is that we all are in need of saving. If we weren’t, Jesus wouldn’t have had to come and die for us. He died for you and for me and even the daisies and rainbow people. The Bible’s pages are littered with adulterers, murderers, liars and thieves. I am no better; only the details of my story tell a different tale. There is power in facing the reason that you need saving, and there is freedom on the other side. I stand up with you as you boldly share your story. I’m telling mine.
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Written by Anne E. Ballard