Sunday, July 26, 2009

Perfect grace

I struggled with issues of acceptance until my early twenties; not only acceptance from others, but also accepting myself. As a result of not feeling worthy of being loved and accepted I developed issues with perfectionism and being a people pleaser. I always thought of it as name boards that people would hang around my neck; their conditions for my qualifying as ‘good enough’. Of course every person’s requirements were different. By the time I was eighteen I had no idea who I was; who Liane was, neither what I wanted. I would often hear the advice, “just be yourself”. But what do you do when you don’t know who that is?

The truth is that, no matter how hard I tried to be what each person wanted me to be, it would never be quite good enough to achieve what I was after: acceptance, and the conditions/requirements changed all the time till eventually it felt that others also didn’t know what they wanted.

I also struggled with this in my relationship with the Lord; trying my best to be perfect as to not disappoint God, to let Him down. Whenever I have sinned or made an honest mistake I couldn’t accept my failure and struggled very much to come closer to God again afterwards. “Sorry” just didn’t quite cut it for me, no matter how sincere I was. As a result I was my own worst critic, and I struggled having grace and forgiveness for myself. The same was true when I was experiencing seasons of hardship, feeling sadness, hurt and being out of control.

For me it resembled weakness and that was something that I just couldn’t accept. I struggled tremendously to work through those tough times because I had this constant war against my humanity in the midst of my crisis. I believed that, as a Christian, I was not supposed to feel these emotions because it showed that I ‘didn’t have faith’. After all, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, and I would reprimand myself to ‘get a grip!’

In saying this I am not in any way saying that God’s Word is not true or powerful, but I believe God means these words to encourage us that we can overcome, and not as a condemnation for imperfection, the latter being my experience. The enemy was using God’s Word out of context to try and bring me down, and for a long time I believed his lies. I had lived under this yoke for so long that I didn’t even realize anymore how hard it was to live this way.

God says we should love others like we love ourselves. What happens if you do not love yourself? You cannot give something that you don’t have. I started realizing that I was just as hard on others as I was on myself. For many years I didn’t have healthy relationships with people because my condition for acceptance was perfection. Needless to say I was expecting the impossible. And so the love commandment changed for me; no longer was it only something to do towards others, but something that had to start with me accepting God’s unconditional love and grace first and then responding in loving Him, myself and others in the same way.

I, however, struggled very much to accept that God really loves me unconditionally. My awareness of His knowing everything about me, including every weakness and flaw, made me feel very vulnerable before God and, at times, it made it difficult for me to just relax in His presence, enjoying Him and receiving from Him. I did not feel deserving. Whenever Holy Spirit would then confront me with something in my life that He needed to change I would feel condemned (instead of convicted) – that He was emphasizing my imperfectness – and would feel ashamed and discouraged to be with God, withdrawing from Him. The further I moved away, the worse things got for me.

God says in Rom 8:1 (Amp) Therefore, [there is] now no condemnation (no adjudging guilty of wrong) for those who are in Christ Jesus, who live [and] walk not after the dictates of the flesh, but after the dictates of the Spirit. God loves us just as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way, so when He does point out wrong in our lives, it is because He sees us for who will become, and not who we are. He wants for us to have the best life, and to have it, we need to become more and more like Him. Satan condemns, but Holy Spirit lovingly convicts.

I started feeling that God wanted me to push through the threatening urge to withdraw from Him. I began to not just feel encouraged to deliberately spend time with God, talking with Him, but to willfully praise and worship God during these seasons; to sing for Him as I often do when all is going well. Worshiping was difficult for me. I usually take a little time to work through emotions, so when I was upset I couldn’t just be cheerful in a few seconds, let alone worshiping God.

It didn’t feel ‘right’. However, I started choosing to obey Holy Spirit’s prompting, and slowly but surely, I started climbing the mountains of guilt for ‘letting God down’; mountains that have been part of my landscape for so long. Eventually I started taking the attitude of deliberately ‘spiting’ the devil and precisely doing what he didn’t want me to: spend time with God, ignoring my bad feelings. I started realizing that close to God is where I desperately need to be all the time.

I thought of David who had a very intimate relationship with God despite of everything that he had gone through and done. David knew how to be real with God in the good times and the bad. He loved Him, danced before Him, praised Him and shared his discouragement and sadness with Him, all with great abandonment. It helped Him remember who his God really was and that he would make it through every time. And when he sinned he realized that it was vital to run TO God, and not FROM God as to not give the enemy a foothold.

God says that we, the branches, must abide in Him, the vine, in order to experience life. Apart from the Vine we can do nothing. 1 Pet 5:8 says Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour. If I allowed satan to drive a wedge between God and I, I would have allowed him to separate me from my very source of life. Then when I would start withering spiritually I have become easy prey. When Holy Spirit showed me this strategy it stirred a determination up inside me to stay close to God at all cost and to banish the feelings of guilt and inadequacy that threatened to come between us. I almost felt like I had discovered that another woman was after my husband, and trying to separate us from each other. It stirred a passionate determination in me to become that much closer to him so that she couldn’t get between us. I felt a new union, a new commitment in my heart to my relationship with God, and I felt a precious reassurance that He felt the same way, that He was pleased. (James 4:8 Come close to God and He will come close to you...)

I’ve often told people that nobody’s perfect and that God already loved them as much as He ever will. They could never do anything that would make Him love them more or less. For the first time in my life I started telling myself this, and slowly, but surely started believing it more. At the time I also listened to a lot of teaching about righteousness and how we are only ‘good enough’ because of what Jesus did. We are the righteousness of God in Christ (Rom 3:22). He is in fact perfect enough for the both of us. It took so much pressure off me to realize it in this way, and it enabled me to come before Him with much greater boldness. I was able to be more relaxed now, to be myself, to be vulnerable.

More recently God started putting such an urgency in my heart about trusting and obeying Him. Initially I thought it was very precious and I really want to grow spiritually. I don’t want to do as the Israelites did complaining and refusing to trust God even after all the miracles He had done for them. After a while though, I started noticing that I was again feeling a lot of pressure at the thought of doubting even just for a moment. I started feeling that same fear that I will miss my ‘promised land’ if I dared fail. Again Holy Spirit had to remind me that I am not perfect, and that He is well aware of that, but His grace is sufficient for me. God sees our hearts. He is not looking for perfect performance, but a perfect heart; a heart that sincerely seeks God and His ways.

Joyce Meyer often says that God knew what He was getting when He got her. The same is true for every person, also for me. Despite of all of my shortcomings He can still do great things through me if only my heart is willing. He is the Potter...
Now I can just be me. I am not perfect, but I thank God that His grace is!

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