This guest post was written by Belinda Croft.
As I stood at the entrance to our favorite night club, I looked across the road at man standing on a wooden box yelling at the crowds of party-goers walking by: “Repent now! Your sins will send you to hell!” I shook my head and looked down as a mixture of feelings washed over me. I was angry at God for not being as loving as my heart so desperately needed. I was angry at this man for yelling at people. I was mad at the conditions placed on my behavior.
After leaving home at 19, I spent many years trying to be a “normal person” and finding out who I was. I risked my life and safety many times. I wanted community and desired to live life closely with my friends. It didn’t come boxed clean like my crisp Christian life had done in the years before, but I had community. We talked about the depths and rawness of life. We spoke unbridled and without judgment of our thoughts and ideas on spirituality and “god.” We cried together while binging on junk food and mid-range bourbon. We shared pain and joy and I wouldn’t take back those years for anything.
My experiences and the people I met have given me compassion and understanding for those from all different walks of life.
The crisp Christian life
Deep down I always knew God existed, but my perspective was that He was disappointed with me, due to my constant inability to please Him. And while I was out galavanting around the countryside, He had no choice but to remove Himself and His love from me because I was disgusting in that rebellious condition. God could not be in the same place as me–a sinner. I very much had a “sinners in the hands of an angry god” view of spirituality and religion.
I spent many years numbing that false belief. Who would want to feel that judgment from the almighty God who created them? It never made sense within my heart. I felt hypocritical and frustrated that God would be so conditional. I spent many years searching for truth.
When am I good enough?
Where do we get this idea that God suddenly can’t stand us when we are experiencing the world that we live in? Does He detest our search for truth and what that entails? The thought that He is a Father having to discipline us with his belt has never sat well with me. The belief that we must be polished and clean has only caused me frustration. When am I clean enough? When am I acceptable? Is 99% holy good enough? What about my neighbor? He’s only 5% holy, so surely that isn’t enough. Or is it?
I found out I was pregnant while I was in the height of party mode. I moved in with my Aunty for a few months and eventually moved again to be closer to my Mum and Dad. Hesitantly, I returned to church.
I cleaned myself up, popped on my Belt of Truth and Sword of the Spirit, and went to wage war. I went back into institutionalism and ticked all the boxes. I was led through prayers of cleansing and had to confess much of my time with the “outside” community as the work of the devil.
The road to truth tends to go via Pharisee Lane and then left onto Self-Combustion Boulevard.
I tried not to drink. I tried to cut people out of my life. I abstained from all things “sin.” I prayed, fasted, read my Bible, attended prayer counseling, and tried to get back into a community of authenticity and rawness. I was striving to be holy. Striving to get more of God. Striving to make myself clean and righteous. Beating myself up when I failed, I then hid for a few days until the shame passed and then carried right on striving. So I went back through the motions again. Belting up, grabbing my sword, failing, crying. Where was the joy? I was desperate.
I was exhausted from the religious gymnastics. Paul talks about a struggle with the law in Romans and I have felt this deeply. The law and our religious condition exacerbates sin and we keep failing. And suddenly, depression and anxiety arrived.
I met the man of dreams at church. We had spent a couple of years as friends going through these same motions alongside one another. Then one night it became clear that we were going to be together forever.
Life wasn’t rosy in our first few years of marriage. We moved, finding work was difficult, and the spiritual battle in our minds continued. We were tired of fighting. We were tired of striving. We were turning on each other. And then my husband collapsed in a heap. He said, “I am so tired. I can’t fight anymore.” I was a mess. “No! You cannot stop fighting! If you don’t stand up then we all go down to the devil!” This was happening in my mind–sometimes I expressed it.
I needed to find the joy and freedom the Bible was talking about. I kept signing up for self-help, self-cleansing, self-awareness, and self-sacrifice. It only drove me into more frustration and I was close to giving up on the whole charade.
I know “the church” desperately wants to be a place of healing, love, and authenticity. But in its desperation to clean people up single-handedly, the control and rules rise up and the authenticity can only be handled for so long. I felt I must go quiet and pretend to be healed, joyful and with no further questions. The rules weren’t working. The processes were failing. The words and confessions meant nothing.
The combustion into glory
And then, Jesus became very real. I can’t explain well what happened. It was like a veil had been lifted from my mind and heart. The person of Grace was realized within me and love washed over me.
Nevertheless, I didn’t fall into grace without a fight–I argued, I wriggled, I squirmed, and I questioned. Eventually I had no words left. I just fell into the strong, restful arms of Jesus. It was such a relief. And I was so glad my husband had combusted before me, as we both had this revelation together. We cried. We had never felt so much joy. I even struggle to write this because my words cannot do this time in our lives justice.
I had never known this God. Immediately I stopped striving, pretending, begging and manipulating Him. To this day it is still a process of unraveling the Pharisee mindset I had developed and learning how to rest in the finished and perfect work of Jesus.
Romans 5 says,
“Concluding then that our righteousness has absolutely nothing to do with our ability to keep moral laws, but that it is the immediate result of what Jesus accomplished on mankind’s behalf.” (Mirror Bible)
What is Grace? Jesus. Grace is a person.
He has been with me right through my life. I was never distanced from Him, no matter what I did. My perception of Him was very wrong. My understanding was very warped.
His love NEVER fails.
This party girl will keep on partying. But now, she’s partying in the glory of the Creator and Restorer of mankind. He is trustworthy. He is very kind and He is not what you think …
He is much, much better.
About Belinda Croft