It took me a long time to realize the power of God’s holiness and forgiveness. Once I did realize this, and only then, did I begin to develop and be impacted by a personal relationship with God.
I was fortunate enough to grow up with a great mom who made sure we were in church twice each Sunday and on Wednesday nights, too. She was a great example of a godly woman. We could have learned right from wrong just by watching how she lived her life.
I grew up surrounded by people who loved the Lord and who spoke of him as if they really knew him. They seemed eager to spend time with him, loved talking about him and they saw his hand in their everyday lives.
I knew about God. I knew the scriptures and I could answer most any question you’d hear tossed around in Sunday school. I would probably win against you at Bible Trivia. I believed every bit of what the bible said, too. But I didn’t love God the way others did. I wasn’t eager to spend time with him. I knew a lot of facts about God, but I didn’t know God.
When I was a very young girl, I was sexually abused on more than one occasion. Looking back, I can see some ways in which this effected all the days that followed. I have always been able to approach or walk away from any situation without it really getting under my skin.
Situations like when I was abused and other big events like when I had ovarian cancer. I knew it was happening and I heard what the doctor said about my future, but it was like I was inside a glass case and all the bad things were caught on the other side of the impenetrable shield.
Looking back as a grown woman, I believe that this may partially explain why I had such a disconnect between what I knew about God and how that knowledge should have changed my heart.
I can also see how the sexual abuse manifested itself in my life in other ways. I became very promiscuous. I knew it was wrong and in truth, the shame of it made me physically ill at times. I never considered that I didn’t have to do it.
I think that somewhere deep down inside I believed the lie that this was what I was good for and that I didn’t really have a say in what happened to me. I felt responsible for the feelings of everyone else and never wanted anyone to feel uncomfortable or to feel badly. I wasn’t as good at protecting my own feelings.
Shame followed me everywhere. I was rarely apart from the oppressive guilt. Sometimes, I’d be reminded that God was merciful and forgiving and that he would always love me and that I’d never be taken from his hand. I’d let that wash over me like cool water on a sun-scorched day.
But it didn’t make me love him. Not yet. I wanted to love him, I really did. I could list many reasons why God was worthy of my love. I just couldn’t keep the reasons from bouncing off of the glass instead of sinking into my heart.
When I was 19, I became pregnant with my first child – a sweet, sweet boy. A few years later, I met a guy in a local bar near my hometown. He had never heard of any of the things I had grown up hearing about. He thought churches were simply where funerals and weddings took place.
His life was as different from mine as one could imagine. He did things that I didn’t even see people do on television. Maybe in some movies, but only in the really, really bad movies. He was the Bad Boy and I was the backslidden church girl hanging out in a bar on a Thursday night.
We went on a few dates and one morning (for reasons which now escape me) I told him about Jesus. And the crazy thing is that he bought it. He bought all of it. He believed what I said about the Lord even though my life reflected none of what I claimed to be true.
But it was all true – every bit of it. I laid out the gospel for him and even threw in the reality of hell. And then something amazing happened: He was completely transformed.
He behaved differently. His mannerisms changed. He even looked different. His language took a little longer to clean up, but eventually the four-letter-words were replaced with clean speech.
I realized one day that here was a guy who just found out about God and as a result his whole life was changed and here I was – a girl who was raised to know about God – yet nobody would ever be able to tell me apart from the sort of girl who hung out in a local bar on a Thursday night.
Knowing about God hadn’t changed me at all.
I tucked this away somewhere and moved on. In less than a year after meeting him, we were married and we moved out-of-state. A fresh start for both of us. He wouldn’t have the temptations of his old life and I wouldn’t be “the girl who used to (fill in the blank)”.
We started up a ministry to street kids and it was a huge success. I saw a lot of lives changed and we saw God do amazing things. We taught these kids about God and they came to love him. I still didn’t, but I still wanted to.
Fast forward 15 years and 5 more kids. We’re back in my hometown. I’m driving across town to pick up my oldest boy from a youth group event at an ice arena. I’m listening to a CD and a song comes on that I don’t care much for, but I let it play long enough for it to get to a part where a man starts quoting some scriptures from the bible.
I don’t know where it is in the bible, but I recognize the passage. For some reason, I find myself completely moved by the words and I end up rewinding that portion and listening to it over and over again. I’m moved almost to tears.
I pick up my son, come home and the next day I look up the passage.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
I cried for the next day or so. I wasn’t really sure why, but I couldn’t seem to stop, either.
Eventually, I started to study the passage and through my studies, I learned what it means that our God is a holy God. I never understood this before. I knew that God was loving and that he was forgiving. But until I knew what it meant that he is holy, these facts never felt very personal.
Suddenly, I’m seeing my “cute little sins” for what they really are because I’m seeing them against the terrifying backdrop of God’s holiness. And that’s when it all becomes personal to me. Understanding a little about God’s holiness made me understand my own sinfulness. Understanding the depths of my own depravity caused me to become overwhelmed with gratitude for his grace and mercy.
And the glass shattered.
Now I get why people love him. I love him. My heart is full of joy and thankfulness for the price he paid just so I can be in his presence and worship him.
There’s a passage in the bible about a woman who lived a life like I lived and she fell at the feet of Jesus and wept, wiping the tears that fell to his feet with her own hair. Some people were horrified at the display, but Jesus pointed out what I know is true: The one who has been forgiven much, loves much.
I’m 40 years old as I write this and I still haven’t forgotten the pain of my childhood or the shame of my younger years. Actually, when I do recall these things, I can really feel them now because my heart is tender and exposed. But the memory doesn’t cause me pain; it simply causes me to fall to my knees and thank him for his amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.