I grew up in a loving home but a legalistic church. The skirts were long, the music was boring and the Bibles were big. Everyone knew what to say and what to do. And you also knew what happened if you didn’t meet the expectations…
As a young teenager I began to really struggle with all of the rules, the pressure (I was a pastor’s daughter) and the constant image management. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents— I loved them. But I hated the pressure.
My Christian school was on the same campus as my church. So I was there 6 days a week- school, church, sports, youth group, church visitation… it started to feel suffocating and I began to feel an overwhelming resentment towards everything…even God.
One particular day when I was really struggling, my teacher called on me to answer a question that I clearly did not hear. When I blushed, embarrassed that everyone knew I wasn’t paying attention, he began to berate me in front of my classmates: “Of all the students in this class, you really can’t afford to not pay attention. Do I need to remind you, in front of everyone, what your grade is in this class right now?”
I couldn’t take it. I did the unthinkable. I stood up. He told me to sit down. I slammed my book shut. He told me to sit down again. I walked right past him and out the classroom letting the door slam shut behind me.
I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I had no idea what I was going to do next. And then I just began to cry, looking for anywhere to hide. I walked over to the church and right up to my dad’s office. And I will never forget what happened next.
He stood up from behind his desk, came around and put his arms around me while I sobbed. He didn’t ask me a million questions – why I was there, did I skip class, was I in trouble… In that moment, he wasn’t the pastor. He was just my dad. And that was exactly what I needed him to be.
I sat with my dad for the next hour or so and poured my heart out to him. He knew I had been struggling and I knew he had been praying for me. But in that moment, that moment of complete desperation and vulnerability, I told him all the things I was feeling. Things I am sure were hard for him to hear as a pastor and a man who had raised me to love God. But he listened. He leaned in. He teared up as I shared how deeply I was struggling. He made sure I knew something really important: He was my dad. And I could always come to him, no matter what.
That story has stayed with me all of my life and I have come to realize just how crucial that day was in shaping my view of Jesus and helping me determine what kind of relationship I would have with him because on that day, my dad became the very tangible presence of Jesus to me:
He listened to me. Mark 5:34
He had compassion for me. Matthew 9:36
He loved me. John 3:1
He gave grace to me. Hebrews 4:16
Legalism had begun to destroy my love for Jesus. I couldn’t find him behind all of the rules, the pretense and the religious games. But once I began to untangle the lies and remove the layers, I could see him…who he really was and what he really thought of me.
Through his word, I started to see how much he desired a real relationship with me and that what he wanted from me was to be my real self with him. And most importantly, whenever I was in doubt about his love or his feelings towards me, I could just look back at the Cross.
The Cross stands as my forever reminder that I while I am deeply flawed, I am deeply loved.
That my grossness is no match for his goodness.
That my shame is no match for his salvation.
That my lack of faith is no match for his lavish affection.
That my reckless behavior is no match for his relentless love.
He knows me. He sees me. He loves me.
And because of that I can come to him – just as I am.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence,so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
My confidence is not in my performance but in my position: I am his beloved.
And you know what? You are too.
So let’s fully embrace the freedom we have in being his beloved. We have his favor and he delights in us, which means that nothing – not legalism, depression, addiction, anxiety, fear or anything else – can separate us from the love he has for us.
Reflect on This…
- Consider for a few minutes the different kinds of expectations you carry for yourself and from others. How heavy do these weigh on you and how often do you find yourself thinking about them and working to out-perform them?
- Now, make a list of the the gifts that you inherit because of your position in Christ. Some have already been listed here: compassion, love, grace. How do these two lists compare?
- Is there anything pressing on you that you wish you could pour out to God? Before you do so, give yourself some time to allow yourself to picture him listening, leaning in, seeing you, and loving you.