I’ve never had much of an issue believing that God exists. I grew up in the church, so I’d experienced his presence from a young age, and even when he felt far away from me, I’d seen too many prayers be answered and too many lives be changed because of him to doubt that he’s real.
Believing that he loves me—that’s another story.
It’s a terrible thing to be convinced that God exists but to not trust his intentions. I knew the Bible says he loved me so much that he died for me, but that was perplexing. For one thing, I didn’t think I was that bad of a person. I was a goodytwoshoes growing up, and I didn’t factor in less obvious sins like greed and gossip and jealousy. Compared to a lot of people, I thought I was doing okay. And then I thought that even if he did want to save me, it was in a begrudging way, and only because he had some sort of tyrannical desire have control over me. And I did not want to give that to him.
Psalm 37 tells us that God gives us the desires of our hearts, but in the Bible, even the people known for being favored by God seem to get the short end of the stick. Job, whose children died and whose wealth was taken from him and who was ill wasn’t even granted a real answer to his question why. Hannah, who desperately wanted a child, had to send her miracle baby to the temple to become a priest. Moses, who spent his life leading the Israelites to the Promised Land, didn’t even get to step foot on the land.
I wrote out a list of all the things I was scared God was going to make me do if I totally gave my life to him.
- Become a public speaker,
- Or become a missionary in Africa, far away from the comfort of home,
- Or give up my most important friendship,
- Or be “blessed” with the “gift” of singleness forever,
- Or give up wearing makeup,
- Or delete my Myspace
I wasn’t wrong. Over the next few years after writing that list, God brought me face-to-face with everything on it. (Except the public speaking thing, but I have a weird feeling that that will happen too, eventually.) He started with the last two: makeup and Myspace.
It’s okay; you can laugh. It sounds melodramatic to be worrying about makeup and freaking Myspace and the state of my soul in the same breath. (Or to be worrying about Myspace at all, really.) But anyone else remember how addicting it was? Whoever came up with the idea of publicly rating your friends with a Top 8 is sick and twisted and brilliant. When you have a crush and there’s a possibility of moving up and down his list, best believe you’re going to be checking his profile every five seconds. And I somehow sensed that God wanted me to give this up. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not like God ever says, “Thou shalt not use social media.” But he does say not to envy, and he does say not to have any gods before him, and I slowly became aware of the fact that I cared more about how many notifications and profile views I had than what he thought of me.
The thing was, I didn’t know how to stop caring what other people thought. The Top 8 thing combined with being dumped for the first time had resulted in this obsession with being enough. Smart enough, kind enough, talented enough, pretty enough.
I made lists of all the things I needed to do. Volunteer. Pluck eyebrows. Study harder (anything less than 97% isn’t good enough). Be more outgoing. Lose weight, lose weight, lose weight. Forget thigh gaps—I somehow got it into my head that thighs shouldn’t be bigger than calves. I was absolutely repulsed by the way my thighs squished against the seat and looked fatter when I sat down, so I’d cross my legs or hide them under desks and jackets or try not to sit down all the way.
Even though all my obsessive work produced results, it was never enough to make me happy. One Christmas morning, after a miserable run on the treadmill in my freezing basement, I remember thinking, I’m skinnier and prettier than I’ve ever been and probably ever will be again (but I still feel ugly and worthless), I’m at the top of my class (but my friends are still smarter than me), I have lots of friends (but I still berate myself after every social interaction). I’m empty. I’m surrounded by my favorite people and celebrating my favorite holiday and everything in my life is exactly as I would have it to be and it’s not enough.
So then what would be?
It was as a last resort that I finally turned to God, ready for him to take away everything I cared about and leave me with some crappy worship songs and a one-way ticket to Africa, but thinking that if there was an answer anywhere, it’d be with him.
I told him that I didn’t trust him the way I knew I should. I told him I was frustrated with the cost of being a disciple. I told him I didn’t know how to make myself believe that he loves me the way the Bible says he does.
God answered in a way tailor-made for me: through a book.
There’s a lot of talk about original sin, but a lot less about original goodness. In Wild at Heart, John Eldredge talks a lot about how God intended things to be, as shown in the creation story.
It was very good. Full stop. That’s it. Mankind had done nothing yet—hadn’t gotten all A’s on a report card, hadn’t built anything worthwhile, hadn’t done anything to earn God’s favor. They just were, and look how God loved them enough to literally give them the world. He delighted in them. They were enough just because he made them that way.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Adam and Eve ignore God’s warnings and take the one fruit he told them not to take.
I don’t know about you, but when I find out that someone I care about is just using me for what I can give them, I don’t stick around. And if they find themselves in a pit of trouble, my instinct is to feel a little smug, not to help them out and give them an opportunity to walk all over me again.
But that’s not how God reacts.
“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins,” (1 John 4:10).
I’d read all this many times before, but this time it was like God was right there in the room, saying it to me.
You are enough. You are enough. You are enough.
He was not going to stop trying to pull me out of my pit, no matter what I looked like, no matter how much or little I accomplished, no matter how many or few notifications I had. I didn’t have to earn anything from him. He already wanted to give me everything.
He was not going to stop pursuing me.
It’s a little difficult to explain the effect this had on me. But it was like, if God cares about me—my heart, the real me, and not just what I can give to him or to the world—then I should care about myself too. I started allowing myself to “waste” time on things like reading and writing, planting a garden, learning the Thriller dance just because it seemed fun. I took only the AP classes that interested me. I deleted my Myspace (again, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with social media, but I needed to take time away from it at that point), and started looking at makeup as a fun ‘sometimes’ thing, not a necessity for leaving the house.
I still found myself comparing myself to other people no matter how much I tried not to. Finally I said, “God, you say not to envy, but I can’t stop no matter how hard I try, so YOU have to do this.” The next day was surreal. I hadn’t even realized how much envy affected my daily life until it was gone. I suddenly didn’t feel intimated by the people who were better than me in whatever area. I didn’t hate the girl who got to date the guy I liked.
God dealt with my eating issues in a similar way. This took a lot longer because he had other things to teach me through it (I could write a whole post just on that), but in the end, I was free in an instant. I didn’t need to count calories and treadmill miles. I could wear shorts without that twinge of shame.
And IT WAS SO UNBELIEVABLY FREEING.
Rereading the story in Samuel, I noticed a part I’d overlooked before: “Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” …And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:21).
And Job: “…The Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. …After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.”
Getting the things they wanted, whether children or material things or a crown or the Promised Land, was never the point. Knowing God really is enough. But I think it says something about who God is that he, in the end, gives us even more than we ever asked for in addition to himself.
God had to take away Myspace and makeup in order to give me what I was actually searching for in those things: unconditional love. Once I had that, he gave back the things he’d taken away, this time showing me how to use them in positive ways.
Because it turns out that God doesn’t ruin our lives to hurt us or lord his power over us. He does it to bring us greater blessings.
What I’m Listening To: The Only Exception by Paramore