My Life as a Good Christian
I asked Jesus into my heart at the age of 6. At that same age, I was baptized. I was relieved I wouldn’t go to hell if I died. That used to be my testimony.
But here is the rest of it.
I continued to grow up with a love for church and Jesus, and a desire to be “good.” But it didn’t mean that I was truly saved.
I went to church my whole life. I appeared to be a “good” girl, and grew into a “good” teenager. I was active in children’s ministries as a child, sang solos in worship services and children’s musicals, and attended youth groups and camps as a teen (was even nominated as president of the youth group and preached a sermon in church one year). By all outward appearances, I was really “good.”
My senior year of high school, I went to a Christian music band’s concert (anybody remember Geoff Moore and The Distance?), and felt guilty for being mean to my younger sister, and being disrespectful to my parents (yeah, that’s about the worst thing I ever did growing up). So I cried, and went up front at the end of the concert and “rededicated” my life. Shortly after, I spent the night at a friend’s house and saw her having nightly devotions, and although I had grown up in church, I had never heard of the idea before, nor had I ever seen anyone doing that. So I started having nightly devotions too.
In college, I was still a “good” person. I participated in lots of Christian groups on campus, went on mission trips, and consistently attended church. I still hadn’t drunk any alcohol or tried drugs, had sex, or done anything “bad.” Someone had given me a devotion book for college students as a high school graduation gift. I began reading that. When I finished it, I bought more devotion books, and read them. I still hadn’t read my own Bible yet.
I got married a few months after college graduation, to my college sweetheart of all four years. We rented a tiny one-bedroom apartment, and found a little church we joined and attended together, and enjoyed married life as a “godly” couple, participating in church activities. I volunteered in the church nursery, because that’s what everyone else did who was married and wanted children but didn’t have them yet. I began work as a public school teacher, because I loved kids and I wanted to “help” others, and teaching gave me the perfect opportunity to do that. But I still hadn’t read my own Bible.
My whole life, I had talked the talk. I was “godly,” “good,” a “people-pleaser” and an outspoken “Christian.” I knew I was saved and would go to heaven when I died. I didn’t doubt that. After all, I had “made a decision” and I had been baptized. That was all there was to it.
The Dark Side of Me
But, there was a dark side to me, one that I didn’t realize had anything to do with my salvation, or had anything to do with my life as a Christian kid. You see, I struggled with severe depression from middle school through high school. I was a loner. I hated myself, and I hated other people who made me feel like an outcast and invisible. I thought more than once about suicide, and I would purposefully hurt myself, hoping someone would notice the bruises and show love to me, but no one noticed. I was miserable inside.
As I began to read devotion books (and in effect, my Bible too) in college, my attitude about myself changed. I began to see that I was loved by God, and I began to meet a few authentic Christian peers (not fake ones I had known my whole life) who loved me and accepted me in a Christ-like friendship based on acceptance and grace. My boyfriend (my future husband) and I grew together in faith and I experienced his friendship and love for me was based on who I really was, the good and the bad. Having a few true Christian friendships, experiencing true God-honoring love (a relationship with a boy who didn’t just want sex – yep, we were still virgins when we got married), and beginning to pray and spend time with God daily, helped me to grow out of my depression and self-hate.
After marriage, I continued to read devotion books, listened to Christian music, read Christian fiction and nonfiction, and could spew out all the normal Christian cliches and responses to any issue. I served at church, attended fairly regularly, and lived a “Christian” life. I witnessed and shared (what I thought was) the gospel with others, acting all godly and “happy.” I was a pro at hypocrisy, but didn’t even realize it. I just thought that was how Christians were supposed to act, so I copied the act. And I was very good at it, so good that I even fooled myself.
But inside I was a wreck. After working as a teacher in the public school system for several years (at a highly “Christian” school community), the high stakes testing, general stress, low pay, micromanagement, and disgruntled parents (at my inability to accept their children’s misbehavior and disrespect) began to get to me. No matter how hard I worked, or how many long hours I put in, or how many parent-teacher conferences to try to people-please, I failed. And my heart failed. I just wasn’t “good” enough. I began to have self-doubts again. I began seeing a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive disorder. He claimed I’d had OCD my entire life and was misdiagnosed as a teen. I was put on a high level of psychiatric medication, and began to see some relief, but not completely. The fact was that my heart was still wretched, and no medication or psychotherapy would heal it.
The Change in My Heart
I just wasn’t happy inside. I went to church, smiled, talked the talk. But I didn’t believe it. Everyone at church began to seem fake again. I began to doubt anyone really believed what was preached – who out there was smiling, talking the talk, …pretending, just like me? Did everyone feel this way, and just no one talked about it? Maybe being a Christian just meant that you could be around “happy” people who made you feel like you were a “good” person. Maybe God wasn’t even really real, just something that people made up so they could “fit in” and “feel good.” Maybe I was just doomed to be one of the few enlightened people who saw the fakes and just had to pretend that I didn’t notice (since I knew I was also one of them).
But then I met two people who were real. Two people who I saw through their life that they truly loved God. These two women had a profound impact on me. One of them struggled with a very sad and tragic event, and still praised God in thankfulness and expressed peace that surpasses all understanding. It was a peace that I couldn’t understand if I were in her shoes, and it left me feeling like I was missing something in my relationship with God. The other woman was a sweet older lady, who loved God so much, and had such an intense desire to glorify him through her life that she spent over two years counseling me, guiding me, and helping me to sort through my issues, showing me my own sin (gasp! me!? a sinner?) and spent time in God’s Word with me, without pay, week after week, never giving up on me and my questions and doubts. She taught me how to be a true child of God. She taught me about true salvation. She guided me in how to be a good wife and mother. Her Bible was so marked up on each and every page, and I would just stare in astonishment at her, that someone could love God and His Word so much. I had never seen that before.
Although I was baptized at age 6, and rededicated my life at age 17, I was 33 years old when I was truly saved. Saved from my sin, my selfish, wretched, hateful heart – recognizing my need for the Savior. I actually heard the true gospel for the first time, after so many years in church. I began reading my actual Bible, and put down the devotional books, self-help books, and Christian fiction to focus primarily on reading God’s Word for myself. I finally understood my need and my weakness, my inability to keep pretending and being a “Christian” it on my own. I actually got down on my knees, and prayed specifically for God to lead me, asking Him to take my whole life into His hands, and committed to follow His will, and stop trying to control things myself. I gave everything to God, and asked Him to forgive my hypocrisy and my sin. I finally saw myself as a sinner – I saw my sin of selfishness, and a cold, dead, and hateful heart. I asked God to take those things away and make me new. And I asked Him to grant me that so very strange thing to me – the peace that transcends all understanding, so I could finally experience true joy as a child of God.
And it was truly amazing to me, and instant… He granted my requests! I no longer felt depressed or anxious. I no longer needed psychotherapy or medication for “OCD,” I no longer had a hate in my heart for circumstances of life, myself, or others. Yes, it was instant. I mean, that very minute! I can honestly say now that God lives within my heart. He helps me when my sinfulness rears its ugly head again, and I have a joy and a peace that I never knew before. I have a love for others that can only be of God. I no longer live in fear of man (a people-pleaser), but I live in awe of my Father, and in reverence for His grace and His power in my life, and in deep, tearful gratitude for what He did, for ME – even knowing all I did (and still do) in sin against Him. It’s a peace and joy I can’t express in words.
I’m still able to be hurt, I’m still weak, I’m still sinful, and I’m still depressed and anxious sometimes. The hardest part is knowing that I’ve hurt so many friends and family, and led them astray with my hypocrisy, and knowing that they can’t forgive me until God grants them that ability. But God gives me strength that I need to overcome all that. And he gives me the ability to keep trying, to love and serve Him, and the desire to glorify Him in all that I do.
I pray that God would grant that understanding for everyone. I hope my testimony stirs up a desire, in those who read it, to seek God. Ask Him to be your Savior, and seek to learn more from His Word about what it means to be a real Christian. I hope that it also stirs other Christian women to honor God’s pull on your heart to mentor younger ones, who are struggling in their faith. Show them your marked up Bible, share with them your testimony. It may be you that he is calling to lead them to Him, and to experience true salvation.
“May the LORD bless you and protect you. May the LORD smile on you and be gracious to you. May the LORD show you His favor and give you His peace.” ~Numbers 6:24–26