I came at Christianity backwards. Well, more like God came to me. Unexpected and unannounced.
The stories I used to believe about myself were awful. Depressing, really. I can’t even look back through my old journals without feeling a complete sense of despair.
I told myself stories of how dumb I was. How ugly. How boring. How awful. I was never good enough. Even in my relationship with God I wasn’t good enough.
I used to wonder why I wasn’t in love with Jesus the way other people seemed to be. I felt really guilty about it. In fact, I felt pretty guilty about everything. How I wasn’t nice enough. Outgoing enough. Christian enough. Happy enough. (anyone sensing an introvert complex yet?) Instead I was too shy. Too scared. Too selfish. Too….human.
When I came back from a study abroad experience in Costa Rica, I was wrecked. After a semester of poverty tours, angry rants, and guilt trips, the conflicting stories became too much bear.
I stopped telling myself any stories. The stories reduced themselves to apathy, disengagement, disconnection.
But out of the frightening silence of the months I spent in numbness and isolation, unable to find my worth and validation in my schoolwork, my religion, or friend’s and family’s approval, came an acceptance of self that I had never known. The emptiness of not caring, though scary and unproductive, gradually opened into space for peace and self-acceptance and even joy.
Only when the stories of self-hatred, doubt, and condemnation were silenced, could God actually speak. Although I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) identify God as the source, something began to tell me stories of love and grace. That maybe the salvation of the world didn’t hinge completely on me. That maybe there was something good and worthy inside of me after all.
Only after I began to hear this new story did I actually start to live like I was loved, like I was forgiven. And only after months of living in the kind of freedom I’d never dreamed of, did I finally begin to believe that maybe there is a loving God. That maybe it was the God of love who made me free, who was there loving me all along.
Don’t worry, it sounds weird and new-agey even to me. But the beauty of God is that he knows me. He knew I didn’t need another formula or piece of intellectual information to believe in. He knew I needed to experience his truth and freedom before I could ever believe it.
My relationship with God is inseparable from my journey to love myself, to believe a better story about myself and this world. The verse, “We love because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19) could not explain it any better.
And that is the new story I’m learning to live.