Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asking God to bring to mind the things that make up the story of my journey with Him. Because truthfully, things seem monumental and unforgettable at the time, but before long the things we never wanted to forget have blended into the background of our histories. So I’ve been challenging myself to retrace my steps, celebrating again what God has done in my life.
This past Sunday I preached a sermon connecting the story of Job with Romans 8:28.
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”
In the course of preparing to preach, my heart was broken again over the things that brought me into a real relationship with Jesus. Because I’ve shared several times recently how I came to an everyday awareness of and relationship with God, but Jesus was still somewhere far off. I knew I needed God – life was hard, after all, and I didn’t quite know how to navigate it on my own. God stepped into my confusion and made sense of everything, but my brokenness – my need for a Savior – was still outside my consciousness.
My senior year of college was a hard time of figuring out a lot of things. I didn’t know how to incorporate my new awareness of God into a life that hadn’t really outwardly changed, and I had to somehow figure that out at a time when I was keenly aware that the rug of my life was about to be yanked from under my feet.
With so many things to figure out and so many things I didn’t know how to do, I did what 21-year-old girls too often do. I compromised.
I don’t know quite what I was thinking, but I know I was searching for a pathway. Sadly, I too quickly settled for the one of least resistance…and I did it through a vehicle I had used before: boyfriends.
Suffice it to say that two bad back-to-back breakups left me with a lot of hurt, fear, regret….and shame. Oh, the shame. I tried to make myself feel better by reminding myself that I hadn’t done this or that other thing, but I still felt the agonizing weight of a cloak of shame. I knew I had done wrongly. Oh, how I knew.
College graduation was conveniently sandwiched between those two breakups, which meant the feelings of hurt and shame came at an already vulnerable time. My vague liberal arts degree proved undesirable in the job market, and every time I sent out a resume it was either ignored altogether or received with a polite, “No, thank you very much.”
Loneliness, shame, and feeling worthless, as it turns out, can plunge a person into a pretty desperate place. A place desperate enough to consider the unthinkable. A place desperate enough to think seriously about suicide.
I don’t think I have to tell you how that scared me. I didn’t know if I had it in me to act on my thoughts or not, but the fact that I was thinking about it scared me really badly. I remember feeling like nothing was as it should be, and that nothing was ever going to change.
Not a good feeling.
Around that time – July 4th, weekend, to be exact – I remember standing with a slight hangover (yeah, I know) in our contemporary worship service on Sunday morning. I remember very little of the actual sermon, but I remember with astonishing clarity the name of the message and the image onscreen.
inDEPENDENCE DAY, with an image like this one:
I remember staring at that image for the entire service. I stared at the links of that chain…the intact ones and the broken ones and the words surrounding them. I heard some of the words of the pastor, talking about how what we need isn’t independence – dependence and reliance on ourselves – but dependence. Dependence on the only One who can guide us through life. Dependence on the only One who can set us free from the chains that bind us.
And I remember thinking, “That’s me. I’ve been in chains. And I need out.”
And I remember realizing that Jesus had already broken the chains for me, and that I just needed to let them drop.
And I remember becoming aware that dependence on Christ and awareness of God were two very different things.
And I remember knowing that something was changing…and that I wasn’t ever going to be the same.
I went to my pastor – a pretty incredible thing, since I had spent all four year of high school literally running from him – and poured out everything I was feeling. My brokenness, my shame, my fear, my hurt, my rejection….all of it spilled out in a messy puddle on his office couch. Seeing the place I was in, he recommended a Bible study group for young adults that was just starting.
And y’all, I was just desperate enough to go.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the change was almost overnight. Where I had felt shame, I felt grace. Where I had felt hopelessness, I felt genuine hope. Where I had felt uncertainty about my future….well, I still felt uncertainty, but I somehow felt peace about it. It was going to be okay.
And friends, I’m also not exaggerating when I say that I’m kind of glad that I went through that terrible time of my life. Because I know that I know that I know that God worked in all of that for my good. I was involved in a close-knit group of Christian friends again. I became connected with a new church that was forming. And before too terribly long, I was engaged to a fantastic Christian guy in that group.
We’ll celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary this August.
So as I said in my sermon on Sunday, I don’t know what kind of suffering you might be going through right now, but I know for sure that God is working in it for your good. It may take awhile, but I am confident that at some point you’ll be able to look back on the pain and say, “Yes, that hurt…..but look at what God did with it.”
And I think that’s what this hope God gives us can do. We don’t have to be happy to be suffering – we don’t have to be numb to the pain of life or be emotionless robots in denial about the bad things around us – but we can have real joy knowing that it won’t always be this way, and can have peace knowing that God is always working for good. Even when we screw up. Even when we can’t see a way out. Even when we aren’t necessarily watching for Him to do it.