I grew up in a home with wonderful Christian parents. At age 4, I understood the gospel well enough to desire to be in heaven with Jesus one day and to ask him to forgive me for everything I had done wrong. Unfortunately, as I grew, I placed more stock in my reputation as a “good Christian girl” than in my identity as a forgiven daughter of God. For that reason, my story is not filled with “heinous” sins (at least, according to many people) which would require a dramatic conversion experience. That would have been unthinkable for me — not because I loved Jesus so much that I wanted to honor him in everything, but because I loved what others thought of me too much.
However, that is not to say that my life was not still filled with “heinous” sins — by God’s definition. My fear of man, which was greater than my fear of God, showed up in many ways. I have one particular memory which still haunts me: In elementary school, I befriended a girl who had a physical disability. Eventually, my other friends hinted that it was not “cool” for me to hang out with that girl. So, I finally and slowly stopped making efforts to even acknowledge her. This is just one of many of the ways in which my lust for the approval of other humans proved that I was not truly, or at least not fully, motivated by a passion for God and for the true joy that he gives us when we obey him. Even though I believe, at the time, that I was truly saved, I made choices that hindered my ability to enjoy God.
But when I was twelve years old, my family moved from Connecticut to Minnesota — partly to be with family; partly because my father had been diagnosed with a chronic health condition and was unable to work full-time. He began homeschooling my sisters and me while my mother worked full-time, and everything as we had known it was turned upside-down. During this time, I lost contact with my friends in Connecticut and became involved in the youth program at our new church. Everything was so new, and I coped with the unfamiliarity by withdrawing in silence when in public. (And I mean, silence. I didn’t make friends with people; people made friends with me).
But God was using that difficult season of change to bring about something for my good! He began opening my ears and my heart to understand that I really needed Jesus on a daily basis. To begin to see the depths of my sin. To be overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of forgiveness and heaven that I did not deserve, yet Jesus died to give me. To allow myself to be challenged by the Bible — to the point where I began to desire to tell complete strangers about what Jesus had done for me and could do for them.
I ended up applying to a solid, reformed Christian college and grew much in my knowledge of God while I was there. But again, my people-pleasing hunger reared its ugly head in a new way, and God revealed yet another aspect of my sinful heart that needed to be killed. I became so devoted to getting good grades that my devotion to God waned. I grew very dry spiritually, to the point where reading my Bible felt like a chore. I even became slightly depressed, as I realized that I could not get myself out of that pit. Yet God did not allow me to remain there; he humbled me through some difficult circumstances that opened my eyes to how little I really understood about God. He allowed me to experience deeper fear than I had ever known — every “what if” began to overtake my mind and heart, and I have felt the emotions almost as strongly as if those terrifying “what ifs” were all coming true. For a long time I lived in constant dread of dying or losing a loved one. Now I recognize that my fear was a gift given to me as a result of God’s grace. Grace, because it drove me to thirst for the Bible, and for more of God. Grace, because it drove me to the end of myself and my idols, the things I have always clung to which I cannot keep. You see, when those “what if” questions pierced my heart like spears, I had to say, “well, even if ___, still I have hope that___.” Even if my loved ones are killed, I still have Jesus now and forever. Even if the bridge collapses beneath me, and I drown, I will be with Jesus. It is better to die and be with Christ, as the apostle Paul said.
I am finally beginning to understand that the wonderful things and people that God has blessed me with are meant to impress two deep truths upon me. They fill me with joy, which helps me understand God’s beauty and goodness and splendor; but they are also meant to fill me with longing, as I realize that even the best things in this world are tainted (and our enjoyment of them is tainted) by sin. Then I experience a deep longing for heaven, where I will one day be with Jesus forever in a perfect joy that does not have that nagging thought, “but there’s got to be more.” And that longing for Jesus drives away the very fear that drove me to him.