“For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.” (Luke 8:17)
So, let’s get it all out there. If you’re going to read my words and trust any of it there’s something you should probably know…
I’m not religious.
But I was. In fact, if you were to ask me just a little before New Years about my faith, I would have responded with a testimony rooted in families, pretty buildings, good deeds, a man who claimed to be the mouthpiece for God, and at the very end wrapped it all up nice and tight with a “Jesus Approved!” sticker on it.
Now before you minimize or exit out of the screen because of my recent acts of hypocrisy let me explain with the six simple words found in 2 Corinthians that laid all that to rest and changed my behavior and life radically—“My Grace is Sufficient for thee.”
I grew up in a Christ centered home. My family was very active and involved in church and did all we could to be worthy of God’s love as a whole. I loved Jesus from a very young age, I knew he died for my sins, maybe not understood why or how but I knew he did, which is why I followed all “His” rules, tried my best to honor Him with my actions and followed my appointed leaders blindly.
It was easy for me to be this way. I didn’t have many friends, and school never was very good to me and even though I really didn’t fit in anywhere I clung to the thing that made me feel special, and that was my religion. After I graduated high school I took it a step further and enrolled in a religious affiliated college, where I thought my whole life was pointing too. I’d forget all my past struggles and finally make good wholesome friends who shared the same faith and values. And who knew, maybe even meet a cute boy, but all in the process of finding myself and earning an education.
But that wasn’t the case. Sure I made friends, but only more people I’d compare my inadequacies and unworthiness too. Yes, I met boys but instead of making me feel liked or interesting they made me feel unwanted and out of control. I guess I was finding out who I was while being there, but I really didn’t like what I saw. And as for the education? The next three years would be spent blowing off classes and responsibilities, dropping out, going back, blowing off classes, getting suspended, wasting time, going back, blowing off classes and eventually getting kicked out.
Everything spiraled from there. I never felt adequate or worthy. Never seemed to do enough. My shame overwhelmed me and instead of turning to God and letting him take the burden, I turned away from him, I couldn’t even pray to him, call it my own stubbornness or call it my religious spirit but I believed I had to clean myself up first. I had to become better. I needed more Christ-like attributes. I needed to stop sinning. I had to stop sinning… But I couldn’t. The way I was, how I saw things, God was not the God of love and forgiveness. It was only after YOU made the conscious decision to stop bad behaviors that he would help you out on your pathway to righteousness.
And he didn’t help me through my struggles because I was constantly messing it up. Always living in his disappointment. And I took that very seriously which is why I couldn’t even put up the front that I was a good little church girl anymore because I would just be a liar on top of it all.
I went to church because my life surrounded it. I believed I belonged to the “One True Church” and even though I was screwing it up personally I had hope that if I just stuck with it things would turn around, I would turn around, and happiness would eventually find me.
But then the pressure of my age really started mounting.
Young people today spend most of their time enjoying their youth, being care-free, screwing up and then figuring it out eventually with no real sense of urgency.
But as a religious kid there is a lot of responsibility and life-changing decisions you have to make at such a young age. Your path is “straight and narrow” and if you deter from that at all, you could miss out on all the “blessings of God.”
Well, at the time I blew it with school so I basically had two choices, get married or serve my church and go on an 18-month mission. Well, I knew I wanted to be a Mommy more than anything but boys really didn’t like me and opportunities never came up so I figured the mission was the only option, even though I never felt called. I said I did to family and friends, but it was just to get them off the trail of bad girl with no clue. Besides, the mission had reformed other wayward kids; it could do the same for me.
But that wasn’t God’s plan. The next few years were nothing but mounting struggle filled with scary events that dimmed my hope and hurt my most loved ones.
When I was open with my struggles everyone just told me that it was the devil that was working on me. Like I was so important to the church and to God and I’d change so many lives on my mission, that Satan was working extra hard to lead me astray. My doubts couldn’t be my own doubts; they had to be the devils. So there was just another fun little brick to add to the huge pile on my shoulders.
Strangely enough, I never blamed God. I blamed myself because dammit, I just couldn’t get it right. Me. Me. Me. Me. All about me, and I was sick of it. I didn’t want to be me, because me was weak and couldn’t fix herself for God. I was tired of trying and always failing.
With life deterred I spent my time trying to find my escape. TV and the Internet ruled my life. That’s truly what I lived for. It made me happy, and everyone was always saying, “Heavenly Father wants you to be happy, Marissa.” Well, stories made me happy because they made me forget all about myself.
But then slowly, and un-expectantly, God started tricking me into reaching out for Him. He met me in the dull, slothful, place that I was and he said, “here, watch this. Here, read this.” And to my shock, they were things that solidified the doubts that people told me were of the devil. But things that proclaimed just how powerful and magnificent my creator was and just how much I’d sold Him short my entire life. Soon, I was reading the Bible. I was reading the New Testament, the life of my Redeemer. I became obsessed with this new God of Grace when I was taught that Grace was conditional that it was only given to me upon my own doing. And so, I always thought that I had to work my way into eternal life. But the Word of God painted a very different truth. That salvation was a free gift. God through Jesus Christ was offering that Salvation to me and there was nothing I could do to work for or earn my way into that gift.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)
“So, then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Romans 9:16)
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and this is not from yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-6)
“But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15:11)
And many, many more.
Jesus satisfied the law and freed his people from sin, oppression, burden, death. In his words in Matthew 5:17 “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”
Salvation was bought and paid for in the blood of Jesus Christ.
The gospel of Christ is the Gospel of Grace. It’s the gospel of good news!
It was no longer, read an article, watch a video. He was telling me, “Hey Marissa, now watch what I do with your life.”
I love my life, even all the struggle, because it’s His handprint. God was refining me, pursuing me, shaking me, loving me in those moments of complete inner chaos. I had to be completely broken down and humbled so that He could build me back up. I had to have nothing and be nothing so I could surrender myself to Him and His love.
He’s so much bigger and greater than I ever knew and yet, so much closer.
There is something really awesome that I read the other day that said, “The Bible isn’t a rule book. It’s a love letter. You’re not an employee. You are a child. It’s not about your performance. It’s about Jesus’ performance for you.”
Think about that last line. “It’s not about your performance. It’s about Jesus performance for you.”
Allowing Jesus to lift up my burden was as simple as knowing that I had absolutely nothing to offer him.
It’s as simple as Romans 5:8, “But God commandeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
I found out very quickly that the organized religion I grew up in did not align with the Word of God, which was difficult to grasp and heartbreaking when I understood. With the intimate relationship I now possessed with my Jesus I knew I had to denounce it, repent of it, forget the one thing that consumed my life since I was a little girl. And surprisingly enough, even though all my friends and my inner more cherished family members were apart of it (still are) God made it very easy for me to let go, because of who He is and His truth and love is so much better. Of course, He didn’t just leave me hanging. He gave me new outlets, people who understood, and He gave me Him.
It is a conviction of mine that individually we need to stop focusing on the doing, working, progressing, and more on the trusting, loving and following.
He’s done it. It’s done. His love is abounding and there for all. You’re not up for grabs he’s already spoken for you so let him into your life. Let Him lead and love. Jesus Christ is beckoning for us to lay down our works and lay down our burden and come to him and know he is the truth, the way, and the light.
Surrender your heart, surrender yourself to Him and he’ll change your life.
I’m not religious. But boy, do I love Jesus.