27 October 2015

on the road to grace

As children grow, they go through different developmental stages, and one of the early stages is the belief that you, alone, affect your environment.  Young children are completely self-centred, little gods and goddesses, if you will:  "my world revolves around me."  This is a natural part of the developmental process, and children obviously (or hopefully!) grow out of this stage as they begin to understand that outside, uncontrollable forces have an impact on them.

As such, very young children who have been affected by trauma naturally assume (not cognitively) that they are responsible for the things that happen to them - whether it's abuse, natural disaster, parental discord, death in the family, etc.  For me, this translated into "in order to keep my world safe, I need to be a good girl," and when bad things continued to happen, "I am not being good enough."  And so, a perfectionist was born.  This affected all areas of my life:  as I grew older, I tried to be helpful at home, at school I was a diligent student, I took on leadership roles, went to church and youth group, etc.

It deeply permeated my relationship with God.  I was a wee girl when I decided to "ask Jesus into my heart."  If you are not a believer in Christ, let me explain in a very short nutshell (you'll have to read the Bible to get the big picture!).  At the heart of Christianity, there is relationship.  God created man for relationship, but man decided God could not be trusted and went his own way, which is sin, thus breaking his relationship with God.  God can't abide sin, because he is JUST...but he is also LOVE, and so he made a way to redeem us, to bring us back to relationship with him.  Rather than give up on us, Jesus came to stand in our stead, to take the consequences of sin - because justice demands payment for disobeying the law.  The Bible says that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  So Jesus lived a perfect life and died the terrible death of a criminal (read about crucifixion; it's one of the cruelest ways to kill someone), and then, miraculously, he rose again, which conquered death and fulfilled justice's demand.  Christians believe that "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).  This "saving" is a free gift, and we can do nothing to earn it.  All we can do, really, is open our hands and accept it.

So, I accepted this gift when I was four.  However, rather than accepting the gift of salvation in the heart of grace with which it was offered, I accepted out of fear.  I was well acquainted with JUST God, but not so much with the other side of the coin, the God who LOVES.  So, with all my little heart, I set out to please this exacting God who demanded a pure heart, right living, and faithful service.  I longed for acceptance and love but never felt that I was good enough to earn it, not understanding that God already loved me completely, just the way I was.  I grew up reading the Bible, going to church, hearing all the verses in the Bible that talk about God's deep, personal love and abiding grace for us, but it simply did not compute.  I had no concept of being loved as Jes, an individual; rather, I had a vague idea that God loved me as part of creation, as part of the masses.

As a perfectionist, I could never, never measure up to the perfect standard.  My earliest picture of God was of tiny me standing at the foot of a looming, concrete chair, with huge God leaning over me and asking in a booming voice, "WHY DID YOU..." while listing every single thing I had ever done wrong (at the ripe age of six, I was already weighed down with heavy guilt), and me cowering, having absolutely no answer.  What a sad, burdensome load for a small child...and even a grown woman to carry!

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