(Originally written December 2015)
There’s something I never understood growing up: I just can’t do it. I never really grasped that no matter how hard I strive, I can’t make it.
I always tried to be good enough—actually, I tried to be the best. Self-disciple characterized most areas of my life. I made straight A’s all the way through college, where I graduated summa cum laude in nursing. To this day, I have never smoked anything, tried alcohol, or experimented with any drugs. I don’t think I’ve ever said a cuss word out loud. Once I learned about the importance of healthy food and exercise, I incorporated those into my life. When I was 12 or 13, I started having a daily “quiet time” reading the Bible, and I maintained that habit for a lot of years. My very first kiss was on my wedding day, when I kissed my husband, who was the only guy I’d ever dated. (I had promised God at age 11 or 12 that I wouldn’t kiss anyone except my husband). I tried so hard to be good enough. I needed to be good enough so I could earn my parents’ approval and God’s love. I desperately needed to be perfect. I actually heard these words several times growing up: “Laura, you’re not perfect, but you’re so close.” Message? Try harder, and then you’ll be good enough for my approval and for God’s love.
So I kept trying. I worked and strove to attain perfection, but no matter how hard I tried, I would always slip up. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t make myself love God. I couldn’t force myself to truly care about others or meet their needs like I knew I should. Those people I heard about or saw that were hungry or needed clothes or other necessities? Well, I knew I should do something to help, but I often did nothing. I tried to be honest and not lie, but I would catch myself bending the truth to manipulate things to my advantage. I was never close to my sisters growing up—when I was younger, I felt like they were just annoying competition or outright roadblocks to winning my parents’ approval. So I did not treat them well, even though I knew I should. I could never make myself less introverted or more extroverted. I still avoid parties or large groups of people when possible, and I’m still embarrassingly inept at small talk. But even though I could never reach the standard, I looked around at others and decided I was a lot closer to it than them. I reeked of pride, and pride is still an insidious part of me that reappears often.
I tried for so many years to make the grade, but no matter what I did, all that “good” was never enough. I knew, deep down, that I loved me above all else. I didn’t truly love or enjoy God. In fact, I saw God as Someone who only wanted sacrifice from me. He saw how I couldn’t measure up, so He would take things away or make my life more difficult as a way of refining me or making me more pure or perfect. So I was actually always scared of what He would do or allow to happen next in His ongoing effort to purge me. I knew I was supposed to love Him, but I had no idea how to love Him. I felt as if He not only was never satisfied with my work and self-discipline, but He was also always looking at ways to make things harder on me with the intent of making me good enough.
I also could never muster up true love for any single person, much less every person. I was, and am, very self-centered. I’ve always wanted things to be in my favor and usually don’t really care what that means for anyone else.
So I’ve been on an exhausting journey. No matter what I did, I could never be the person I was supposed to be, the person who would please God. It wasn’t until recently—in the past year, I think—that I confronted that terrifying reality and stared it straight in the face. I.CAN’T.DO.IT. I can never be good enough. I will never be perfect. All my work means nothing. All the “good” I’ve done, all the bad I haven’t done…none of it matters. I cannot earn God’s love. I will never be good enough to please Him.
And when I finally faced this nauseating, terrifying truth, something beautiful happened. I suddenly understood and felt that Jesus came precisely because I could never be good enough. No matter what I do, I cannot make God love me more or less. Jesus, Who IS perfect, came to give me His perfection. We made a scandalous, completely unjust exchange: I gave him my pride and selfishness, and every single ugly, corrupt, destructive word or deed; He gave me His perfection! Jesus, the perfect Son of God, showed me what love really is. He saw my desperate need and met it. And when I saw His love and believed Him, I finally loved God! How could I not love the One who saw my endless striving but constant failure, and rescued me?
So this morning I danced around the living room with my 2 year old son, singing along with the lyrics to Flawless by MercyMe. We both laughed and twirled and waved our arms, because I don’t have to keep striving! Jesus has made and is making me flawless! God loved me just as I was and rescued me, and now He is making me new. He is making me look more like Him, and I love Him, because He loves me. I’m finally beginning to understand grace. As we danced, my 5 month old daughter named Grace watched and giggled. And I sang even louder to my beautiful Rescuer, praising Him for His love and grace, and for these two (among many) precious blessings named Josiah and Grace that I never deserved but that He gave me anyway.