A glimpse at my personal story - and an offer of hope
|I sent this to a friend of mine a few years when he was having a tough go of things. He seemed like he was searching for something real, something to hold onto, some direction to go in - I couldn't let him suffer alone.
I thought that if you were in the same position you may need to hear what I told him. If you want, I'd be happy to discuss any of this with you.
Here's what I wrote:
... How're you going to 're-script'? You know - you can have a fresh start, but there's only one way and it isnt easy to take that path.
I hope you won't tune me out or decide to never speak to me again, but... I'm concerned about your spirit, about your welfare. I care what happens, how you feel, what you think. I don't count too many people as 'friends' instead of acquaintances, but you're definitely in that friend category. That means a lot of things. For instance, it means that I love you. It means that I want what is best for you. It means that if you need me I'll bust my bum trying to help and get to you. Another part of that friendship is my knowing that if I don't tell you how you can find hope, I've failed you. I'll admit that I'm a coward most of the time and don't often talk about this or admit what I feel and think about a person, but mostly I'm a coward when it comes to other's pain. It's obvious that you're pained and I want to take that pain for you, but know I can't.
There are two things I can do for you. The one I don't much have trouble with is I can pray for you... the other is that I can offer to share the hope and direction that I have.
You're right - there is a deeper reason for your feelings. Let me tell you my story. (Promise me you’ll read this whole thing even if you never speak to me again?)
About four /five years ago I was at the point you’re at – looking for hope, directionless, unhappy for no reason. I guess you could say I was searching for purpose. I’d been playing a part my whole life. I’d been the ‘good girl’ for so long I didn’t know who I was, didn’t have any goals for myself, had no clue what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, had almost no ‘real’ personality. I’d been in church all my life, made a ‘profession of faith’ at a young age, and again in ninth grade but even that was a charade; I was just playing the part. It was something I thought I was ‘supposed’ to do, so I did it. But I was running from a void – that big God-sized hole each of us has within his heart of hearts. But I couldn’t ignore it forever and it caught up with me that year.
I’m too much of a coward to think I could harm myself, but let's just say I was real low. For weeks, I was so down my mother began to ask if I was alright. “Sure,” I’d say, but even she knew better than to believe me.
You see, the void I had was a spiritual one I was aware I possessed, but I was rebelling. I didn’t want to feel better. I didn’t want to be saved from myself. I’d thought I could do it all on my own – be good enough on my own, be happy enough on my own. Needless to say, I couldn’t. As a last desperate attempt to make things right, I pulled the pastor aside after a meeting and asked if he’d be able to talk with me sometime that week. We set up a time and I showed up.
Without asking he knew exactly what my problem was. “You’re running, aren’t you?” he asked, offering me a seat across from his desk.
Even though I knew I’d been caught, I didn’t want to confess – but there I was, in his office, so I knew something serious was happening with me.
“Jennifer,” he began, “would you answer a few questions?”
I nodded my consent, trying not to cringe ‘cause I knew what was coming. I’d been thinking about it in fear for weeks.
“If you died right now, if you never took another breath, do you know for certian you'd go to heaven?”
I couldn’t answer. I thought of all sorts of things. I thought – well, I was baptized when I was 14 and said the ‘sinner’s prayer’ who knows how many times, but I knew - I knew that in the deepest part of my heart, all of it had been an act. My heart had never changed. I would not be in heaven. I shivered and looked away.
He asked another question after my hesitation. “Let's just say that you’ve died and you’re standing in front of the pearly gates and Jesus asks why you should be let into his heaven? What would you say?”
I got really flustered then. What could I say to Christ? I knew I’d done terrible things, thought terrible things. I knew I wasn’t worthy of heaven. The pastor’s eyes bored through me and I squirmed. I hadn’t killed anyone, though I’d hated a few people. I hadn’t stolen anything, though I’d coveted. I hadn’t lied – much. I was a ‘good girl’ that had to count for something. God was love, right?
“Jennifer, take a look at this,” he said, sliding an open bible towards me.
It was opened to Romans. “Read chapter 5 verses 6-10.”
I didn’t trust my voice so I looked at the page.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
I pushed the book back at him, trying not to tear up. Wrath? God was definitely angry with me. And after years of Sunday school I knew I qualified as a sinner. I mean, that's one of the things that gets drilled into your head - we're all sinners.
“Did you understand what you read?” After I nodded he explained anyway. “Take a closer look at these,” he said, sliding the book back towards me.
I didn’t want to look, but the passage drew my eyes to it.
“Did you notice that in these passages it says we’re 'powerless, ungodly, sinners' and that we’re 'enemies' of God?”
The last one hit me hard and made me hold my hands together lest they tremble. I didn’t want to be an enemy of God. If God was real and not just some made up thing we humans had created to give us false hope in an afterlife, I definitely didn’t want to be on His bad side. I mean, He was the one that wiped out whole nations in the Old Testament, parted seas and made the sun stand still in the sky. He created man. He was/is terrible and sovereign and just. And with what I'd found out through science classes and physics and other such things in school, I knew none of it happened by accident. There had to have been a Creator - and surely that Creator was God.
“The only way I can explain how I look at this is,” the man continued, “to say that we are like a paraplegic who, although God reaches down to help him up out of his own filth, spits on God, curses at Him and tries to bite His hand, even though the man's powerless to move or help himself.”
I looked down. That’s exactly how I felt – foolish for thinking I could be my own god. I was doing a terrible job even by my own standards - I couldn't even live up to my own rules.
“Look at this other verse,” he said, pressing a finger to the page.
“'For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.'” I read aloud. (Rom 3:23) It resonated in my head. All have sinned, not just me, everyone from young to old and every one of them fall short on their own – short of glory, short of heaven.
“And this one,” he said flipping a few more pages to Romans 6:23.
“'For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,'” I read, my voice flat. I was going to die. I knew I was going to die.
He picked up the book and then read Romans chapter eight verses five to eight. “‘Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.’”
He put the bible back onto the desk and made a tent out of his fingers in front of him. “Jennifer, we’re all sinners. We can’t please God as we are. Sure, He made us in His image, but we choose our paths. Every one of us have chosen. It wasn’t just Eve’s fault we’re so screwed up. Every one of us had the choice to lie about the cookie we took from the jar or tell the truth – that we ate it and licked our fingers.” Here he paused and looked down at his desk.
I didn’t know what to think. I knew I didn’t want to be hostile to God, neither did I want to be an enemy. I already knew I wasn’t perfect and now it was abundantly clear that the reason I wasn’t perfect was cause I was a sinner and couldn’t even be in the same room as perfection. My already low self-esteem took a lethal nose dive.
I felt him look up again, but I couldn’t look him in the eye. I was guilty.
“There is good news for us sinners, you know,” he said.
My head popped up just in time to catch a smile.
“Look here,” he said, pointing to another passage – Romans 10:9-13. “‘That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
He paused to let the words sink in then said, “You see, it’s a free gift. Hope, joy, love – it’s all free. God loved you enough that He sent his only son to die for you so that you could spend eternity with Him and have abundant life while you’re here.”
Friend, in that moment, I swear I thought my heart was going to bust out of my chest. I was being offered a glimmer of hope, direction. In that moment I realized that, yes I was a sinner and I was willing to give everything, even my very life to be on God’s side. I sat with the pastor for at least an hour after that going over the finer details of what was happening in my life and whether or not I was sure I knew what I was getting myself into, but at the end of our talk I told him that I wanted it. I wanted to be saved from myself, from hell, from purposelessness. We prayed right then and there.
I admitted I was a sinner, I stated that I believed Christ died for my sins to cleanse me from all my unrighteousness and repented of those sins. I said that I wanted him to be the Lord of my life and come into my heart and live through me. I can’t even describe the peace that descended about me. The pastor said it was the Holy Spirit dwelling in me, but all I knew was that I felt like there was a reason to live, a reason to keep going. For the first time I could remember I felt like I had a future. A week later I was baptized and the rest is just history.
I can’t say that it’s all been peaches and cream. I can’t say that it’s easy to believe, to keep my eyes set on truth. It’s hard to believe in something/someone I can’t see. I won't tell you all your troubles will go away – I mean, I’m just like anyone else. I didn’t stop sinning just ‘cause I said a prayer and got dunked in a booth. If anything, life is harder ‘cause I am trying to follow what I have been learning about how to live in Christ - walking that 'narrow road' that's outlined in the Bible.
But I can say, things are easier in a way. I’ve got a peace, an unexplained joy, and hope to help me along the way. I’m not happy all the time… joy isn’t like that, but I take refuge in the peace He gives, the knowledge that He's always with me and that He will equip me to deal with life, that He will provide for every one of my needs at the perfect time, that He is in control of this bonkers world. All my hope for the future is in Christ and what He did for me on that terrible cross. I know I don’t deserve His love and know I could never earn His favor, but I’m thankful that He has accepted me, zits and all. Although sometimes I get concerned about the present state of things - the economy, if my job will last long enough for me to pay my bills this month, my health, and other such things, I'm learning every day to lean on Him to provide and what's amazing is that I know that He is trustworthy. The more I lean on Him, the more peace I receive.
So, what I’m trying to say is – you can have this hope too. Christ loves you. God is love, but He is also just. There's only one way to have hope and that's through what Christ did on the cross. He died for you just as He died for me. I don’t know if you’re even interested in this, but I know when I was in the deepest part of my depression, I focused on Him and somehow things got better. Even now when I get so involved in myself that I lose sight of Him and get depressed, when I come back to the basics, I am renewed and my peace returns. My ONLY hope is in Him.
Do you have a Bible? I feel like I’m asking a lot, but could you read the whole book of Romans with an open mind and heart? If you don’t have one, contact me, I’ll send you one or you can read it online.