This post is link-up with Sarah Bessey’s blog, whose new book, Out of Sorts, came out this week. I am looking forward to reading her reflections on how she has changed “in response to the unchanging Christ.” Below is a glimpse at what that process has been like in my life.
I used to think God could love me more, but now I know his love never changes.
My journey with God intertwines with my struggle to overcome mental illness, specifically ADD, depression and anxiety. That struggle in turn colors my journey through school. Two years removed from being a student, I now recognize how much I let school consume my life. It was the source of my biggest fears and anxieties. My mental illness twisted school into my Goliath, my giant, and like the Israelites I was too scared to fight. I put immense pressure on myself to be perfect which only paralyzed me and led to numerous failures. While I may not have earned the best grades and fulfilled my academic potential, God used my experience with school to teach me invaluable lessons about who he is.
I hit rock bottom my junior year of college. My sophomore year caused some bruising and I hadn’t recovered when autumn rolled around. I attended my classes on autopilot that semester. I was desperate to leave, but I stayed because I didn’t know what else I would do. I was not doing my work, I was failing, and I was miserable. And I began to see myself, my whole being, as a failure.
My love for myself had become conditional, and that was how I began to see God’s love for me. It was so subtle, that if you had asked me, I would have told you I did not believe I could earn God’s love – it was a free gift. That is what I would have said, but that wasn’t how I was living. My worth and my identity are found in God, I would have said. But deep down, I was only worth loving if I was a perfect student.
Berating myself and tearing myself down quickly became a habit. I would go to class consumed with guilt over the assignments and readings I hadn’t completed. “You are a failure. You can never do anything right. You should just give up, because you will never succeed.” These are the messages I screamed at myself inside my head. Then one day I actually did my homework and came to class prepared, but the voices were still there. “You will never do anything right.” I had done my work, and I still saw myself as a failure. I knew then I had been placing all my worth and my identity in my grades.
During that semester I had been serving as a small group leader for junior highers. Almost every week that fall, the youth pastor ended his talk by saying, “God can never love you less than he does now, and he can never love you more.” Hearing that truth over and over again drove it deep into my heart. It was a spark that grew into a flame and drove out the darkness and lies that had nearly eaten me alive. Because I needed to love myself more, I had begun to believe the same of God. I felt unworthy and desired to earn back the love I thought I had lost. But knowing I could never be perfect kept me from trying.
I needed to hear over and over again that God’s love for me was at its full potential. When the truth that God’s love for me never changes finally sunk in, I was free. I no longer had to worry about being perfect. I no longer had to be fearful of not exceeding past successes. I could live in the knowledge that God’s grace and love are infinite so I should go out and do my best. And God wouldn’t love me less if my best wasn’t perfect.