On a bleak day in my early thirties, I had a very shocking thought. I realized that if I wrote down all the parts of my life on a piece of paper and handed it to somebody else, they would look at it and think that I was a blessed person and that I must have a very wonderful life. But as I reflected on my different roles, responsibilities and relationships, I wasn’t feeling blessed. I was feeling disappointment, heart break and a sense of hopelessness.
I had tried lots of things to make myself feel better and behave better, and nothing was helping. I realized that day, instead of living a blessed life; I was living a miserable life. I was pretending that I was not miserable because I believed that I had no right to be miserable. But it was getting harder and harder to pretend, and that scared me deeply.
“I was pretending I was not miserable…”
The thing that confused me most was that I had been trying to faithfully live according to the expectations of my Christian community. I grew up in the church. I attended a Christian university. I married a Christian man. I pursued a career that left me time to make our family a priority. I had invested in serving faithfully in the church. I was committed to learning the Scriptures. How could all of that lead to this? I realized that my life did not match the promises of Scripture even after I’d tried to do the right things. Where was I to go from that realization?
Since I didn’t have the energy to pretend anymore, I shared with a few people what was really going on inside of me. In that process, I realized a few humbling and very uncomfortable truths. I was self-righteous. Even worse, I was hurting other people with my self-righteousness. I was pretending my soul was in better condition than it was. But I was willing to admit it and knew that I needed help from God. I could not keep doing all the same things and expect for my relationship with the Lord to get any better. I was broken and I needed a Savior. I knew I was saved for eternity; that was not in question for me, but what about for now?
Around the same time, I sensed the Lord was asking me to leave my work as a Certified Public Accountant and go to seminary. I really wrestled with God over this. Was this really what God wanted me to do or was I trying to rescue myself? Was I willing to give up my identity as a CPA? The whole conversation with Him took almost two years. Just at the point when I was ready to apply to a seminary, God moved us through my husband’s work to Southern California. That was in 2003.
“I realized that my life did not match the promises of Scripture.”
Shortly after our arrival, I began taking classes at Fuller Theological Seminary. My life back in Texas had been full of activity, responsibilities and relationships, and suddenly I found myself spending lots of time alone. I was reading and writing for my classes. I had a couple of friends and my family in the evenings, but for the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid of alone time. I was able to see it as a gift from God. I didn’t know exactly why I needed the one-on-one time with God, but I knew without a doubt that the time with God was meeting a need. It helped that the books I was reading were all about Him.
Strangely, it also helped that I had a huge fear of writing. That was helpful because I knew that I would need the Lord’s help with all the writing that would be a part of my classes. As I began the writing process each semester, I was aware that He was providing me guidance and help, and that produced in me a very tender and appreciative spirit for His willingness to be faithful to me. This gave me significant hope. God was leading me out of the misery, pain and disappointment, and teaching me how to relate to and to depend on Him.
I can see now that God also used professors, books and church friends to introduce me to new ways of entering into relationship with Him. I went through a series of mini-seasons. Those mini- seasons often started with invitations to spend time with Him that did not necessarily make sense to me. For instance there was a season when all I did was listen to worship music with God. This was a very hard thing for me to yield to. It wasn’t studying the Bible. Didn’t that make it wrong? I decided to believe the invitation came from God and to surrender to it. So for a while that is all I would do in my one-on-one time with the Lord was listen to worship music. Or, I would sing praises.
“God was leading me out of the misery, pain and disappointment.”
Some days, I even danced before the Lord. After dancing before the Lord as an honest response I remember realizing, “Oh my gosh, that’s actually in the Bible.” I was living the Psalms. It was breathtaking to realize this was true. I had been afraid to obey God. I was breaking the rules that I had learned about quiet times. In that process, I was discovering that I really had put God in some kind of box. Well intended, but ridiculous all the same. I had put myself in some kind of box too, but God was leading me out.
Then there was a season when I learned about all kinds of different ways of praying. I experienced sweet communion with the Lord. I wasn’t asking for anything. I wasn’t expecting anything. I was just making myself available to Him in conversation. At other times, I was practicing, “Be still and know that I am God.”
One of the most memorable seasons was when I felt led to memorize Scripture. In the past, I had always been afraid to memorize Scripture. I wasn’t good at it. I don’t like being a failure, so I would just avoid it. I had concluded that some were great at it, and I was glad Bibles have Concordance sections.
“I was breaking the rules I learned about quiet time.”
But as I began to teach a Women’s Bible Study at my church, based on verses in Galatians, I sensed the Lord wanted me to stop doing what I had been doing in my one-on-one focused time with Him and to start memorizing Galatians. Again, I did not make the decision to do this overnight. I wrestled with God about this too. I told God why I was afraid to try. I told God I didn’t think I could do it. But the only peace I ever felt was when I considered obeying God and asking for how I should go about it.
I decided to trust this was the Lord’s leading and to begin. I developed this fun little system for memorizing verse after verse. It was not fast. It was a struggle, but I was taking it in small bites and in ways that were enjoyable to me. As I memorized more and more, there were days when I would have these moments that were profoundly surprising and meaningful. My eyes would be closed, and I would be going through the verses one word at a time and I would have an amazing moment of clarity and insight about the meaning of the words. “Oh my goodness, that is what that means!” kind of moments.
Sometimes those moments would connect to another Scripture passage that I was familiar with. At other times it would connect to something that had happened in my life and I now could understand it better. Sometimes, it led to my heart breaking for the church and literally weeping for her. Sometimes, it led to joy about knowing just who I’d be able to share a discovery with because the insight was connected with a conversation I had recently had with a friend. Over time, I realized that my Scripture memorization was engaging in a Spiritual Discipline in response to God’s invitation. I was depending on the Lord for help. More fruit than I could ever have imagined was coming from it.
But even in the midst of the goodness, there were things I needed to learn about myself. I got more than half way through memorizing Galatians, and slowly, I started to become prideful about it all. I know. It’s awful. It’s very human. Gradually, I lost the energy and the desire to continue. I stopped. It wasn’t until months later that I was reflecting back on all of it and asking God what happened, that He revealed to me the pride that had come into my heart. I grieved that. I repented. I was more passionate than ever that any Spiritual Discipline should only be engaged in for the development of a closer relationship with the Lord and to watch out for pride.
“I was lost and God found me and brought me home to Himself.”
So now it’s been ten years since the very bleak day I described at the beginning, where am I now? I am still learning from God. He has been allowing me to truthfully see myself. God was thrilled when I admitted I was a mess and needed help. God knew we’d be taking a journey that would reveal my lack of trust in Him, my overconfidence in me and my driven nature to do things my way. He also knew my desperate need to understand what love is and how to receive it and how to trust Him with giving love to others.
As I continue to engage in my relationship with God, I now ask myself some fundamental questions… Does my life reflect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self- control? If not, why not? Lord I need your help. If it does, then I know exactly who gets the credit for transforming my life to reflect Him in those ways. Praise God, I’m no longer characterized by misery and confusion. I was lost and God found me and brought me home to Himself. For that I will be forever grateful! The journey continues…