For most of my life, being a Christian meant observing the rules. I didn't feel quite good enough, but surely if I could just do the right things, and do them properly enough, I'd be acceptable. But about twelve years ago, that began to change. It's been, and continues to be, a very long process with lots of hiccups along the way, but I'm coming to understand that following Christ is not about rules.
God created me. He loves me. Before I ever decided to "be a Christian", God wanted to be in my life.
Having Jesus doesn't mean life is easy. He doesn't promise that with him, all will be well. I experience grief, pain, loss, and hurt. I deal with the reality of disappointments, not getting what I want, and worry about the safety of my family.
The difference that Jesus makes for me is that I'm not alone. When I receive bad news, when I'm angry or afraid, when something bad happens, when I can't be with people I love, I'm not alone. I'm not guaranteed protection in this world. But I am guaranteed that in all things, I have the presence of Jesus.
I've been in screaming emotional pain, so bad that I don't know how to take the next breath, so bad that I can't speak. In those moments, when I just want to die, I experience his presence. There's no way to explain it, except that somehow, the next breath comes, and then the next, each a little easier than the last. The pain remains, but I'm able to stand up under it for the next moment.
I've felt completely isolated, cut off from all who love me, misunderstood and judged, like I'll never be able to approach community again. In that moment of absolute aloneness, I've felt him drawing near, assuring me that I'm not a plague, that I am indeed, loved.
I've felt the despair and utter hopelessness of depression so deep that I can't think of one good reason to live; I can't bring myself to worry about the person who might find me, I can't see my way through the fog to the idea that anyone might miss me. I can't care that I might be selfish or self-absorbed. And somehow in the middle of that pit, God's presence has come and lain beside me.
Relationship with Jesus means there is one person in my life who understands me completely. I am wholly known, and wholly loved. Jesus knows the ugliest parts of my heart and soul and accepts me. He doesn't love me because... or if... or when.... He loves me. Period.
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