|I have always been a huge fan of stories, fairytales, adventures, and happy endings. My kindergarten teacher thought it was hilarious that I would be late to school because I locked myself in the bathroom so that I could read. I tried to convince my mother that I was a bear so I could hibernate and read even more, but she never believed me. Now writing is an entirely different matter, especially writing about myself. I generally avoid it at all costs. My issue in this area is now the result of a lack of practice, but a few years ago it was the visible result of a deeper problem.
I learned quite young that I received attention based on my achievements. If my third-grade self did well on a test, I got a sticker and the teacher’s congratulations. If I was the one to get the third out, my teammates were quite vocal about how upset they were with me and I just wanted to break down. I loved being noticed, having people like me, having people care. As I grew older, I found myself acting certain ways and saying things, things I didn’t like or agree with, just to feel accepted. I had no concept of self-worth, for I thought I was only worth something if other people thought I was. I quickly became a perfectionist, striving to be the best at what I did and beating myself up when I failed. The trouble was I could never succeed at this. There was always somebody who was better. If I found a special circumstance where I was the best, people hated me for it, so I still failed. My entire identity was wrapped up in how people perceived me. I was constantly stressed and worried over my shortcomings, yet nothing was changing. My life was a constant competition and I was always losing. I kept pushing myself to try harder and be perfect, but I could never be good enough to earn somebody’s love.
I approached God in much the same way that I approached people. I grew up in a Christian home, a “nice kid” from a “good family.” I grew up hearing about God and the Bible, and I believed what I heard. I knew that I was a sinner and deserved Hell, but Jesus had come and died in my place, rising again, and offering salvation as a free gift. Still, I refused to accept this as a gift. I tried to be a better person, more spiritual, hoping in some way to earn God’s love just as I had tried to earn it from everyone else around me. Once again I failed in my attempt to earn love or redemption by deeds. There was a flaw in my theory preventing me from seeing the truth. Not only is God’s love so much greater than human love, it does not come on a conditional basis. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God did not wait until I had changed my life around myself, until I had met his checklist of good deeds, or even for me to earnestly desire to change my sinful nature. He reached out to me while I was still a sinner, living against his law and in defiance of his authority. How much would you have to love somebody to keep loving him, even die for him, even though he turns away from you? Yet this was what God, the all-powerful creator of the universe, did for me. Maybe working hard for approval wasn’t necessary after all. Maybe I didn’t have to be perfect to be worth something.
Now in a fairy tale this would be the part where everything turns out nicely and everyone lives happily ever after, but real life is a bit more complicated. God still has a happy ending planned for me in heaven, but I have a journey ahead of me before I reach that point. I didn’t change my perspective immediately or even quickly. I still have days where I feel like an utter failure and people’s opinions hurt me. These days don’t happen as often though, and when they do I am no longer hopeless. I know that God is constant even when I or the people around me are not, bringing me peace regardless of my circumstances or failures. This change in mindset isn’t the instantaneous result of a string of magic words; it’s the result of a growing relationship between me and my savior. When I take my focus off myself, my constant striving and my ultimate shortcomings, I see a majestic God, who loves me enough to sacrifice everything to save me from my own destruction and include me in his plan. I am by no means perfect, nor will I ever be, but God knows that and loves me enough to die for me anyway.