|I grew up in a Christian home going to church and Sunday school, but while I was little I thought my interactions with God must function like everything else -- you do good, you get rewarded. I was a well-mannered, talented kid; I knew my parents and teachers were pleased with my performance, so I thought God must be pleased as well.
In middle school I began to fear academic failure. My father developed several serious health issues, and my parents' relationship suffered. I was sometimes furious at my parents and at God. When I noticed that my obedience was a facade, I was even angrier at myself; I disparaged myself in mock humility but was really proud, and I feigned kindness by forming comfortable, predictable friendships. I envied the easy confidence of my popular classmates, and I had been told that knowing Jesus as your savior meant that you didn't have to worry what others thought of you. I wanted that kind of freedom, but reminding myself that others' opinions didn't define me seemed to make no difference; I still felt cornered in conversations and feared being honest and vulnerable in relationships.
I had found everything I was looking for, but I still somehow felt alone! I had loving parents but sometimes felt abandoned; I had friends and family that accepted me, but I constantly feared rejection; and I excelled in tough classes and extracurricular activities but often felt empty.
In high school, God slowly showed me that Jesus' claims and promises were far more radical and relevant than I had realized. The Bible wasn't a self-help book -- I was beyond helping myself. Asking forgiveness for my sinful life and having a relationship with God required something more drastic, both a death and a new life: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Jesus truly became fatherless, rejected, and empty on the cross; he took our sin and shame so that you and I could be adopted, accepted, and loved.
I received this free gift of grace, and it has gradually reoriented my life and satisfied me deeply. But I still forget it so easily! I slip silently back to old habits -- elevating others' approval and my academic success as my ultimate goals, as What Really Matters. The longer I have known Jesus, the more I have needed grace and reminders of God's love. I continue to find hope, rest, and peace in that love. My emotions and dispositions seem to change weekly, but I have found that God's mercy and faithfulness are lasting, persistent, and unchanging.
But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me."
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me."
- Isaiah 49:14-16