Recently, I’ve come across several devotional articles and videos from a tangential acquaintance I knew from my high school and college years. The two of us have never had a relationship of any kind, but we have several mutual friends—many of whom I was quite close with in my younger years. Bottom line, I’ve been privy to “inside information” about this person and her not-so-kind behavior when we were all young, insecure teenagers trying to find our way.
Immediately, I felt my insides recoil a bit, and in truth, my first thoughts were quite judgmental:
This girl? This girl is going to tell me something about God and how to walk by faith? Really??
Just after these hard-hearted thoughts clouded my mind, the Holy Spirit struck me with conviction at such a reaction: my judgments of her were based on information dusty with the passage of time and second-hand in nature! Even so, I was amazed at how difficult it was for me to let go of my strongly held beliefs concerning her sincerity and motivation.
Enter, a much-needed lesson in grace! As usual, in His goodness God used this musing as an opportunity to turn the spotlight around and shine it brightly into the dank, moldy places in my own heart.
I began thinking of myself and who I was as a high school girl and young college student. And of course God pointed out the obvious, brightly lit neon sign in the room: am I the same gal today that I was all those years ago? Have I not grown and aged and matured and developed a deep and sincere walk with my Savior? Of course I have . . . so why would I now balk when it appears that God has graciously accomplished the same type of change in someone else? The whole thing got me thinking about those times in our lives—whether past or present, whether a short season or a long one—when we weren’t the best versions of ourselves.
I was certainly not the best version of myself in those tumultuous years of high school and college. A move to a new town and a change in schools sent me reeling into a pit of insecurity and a belief that I was unlikable and unworthy of friendship. I felt rejected by my former classmates and rejected by my new ones. While I do not think of those circumstances as an excuse, I see now how the double dose of pain helped morph me into a person I didn’t really want to be. I treated people in ways I wouldn’t treat them today. I dated people I probably shouldn’t have dated. I made decisions I would make differently now, could I go back in time equipped with the knowledge I have as an adult woman. And, I’m pretty confident that—truth be told—this other person could probably say the same thing . . . so where does that leave us? Are neither she nor I equipped or qualified to speak God’s truth or help other people in some way through our own stories?
No. While my enemy taunts me with my past failures and causes me to question another’s motivation on account of hers, I believe the truth is that we are equipped because of those times in our lives, not in spite of them . . . if we allow our Heavenly Father to cover those times with His forgiving, restoring grace and we learn the lessons He’s trying to teach us. The Bible is unquestionable in describing the grace and forgiveness of our God. In Psalm 85:5, King David prayed, You, O Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to You. (NIV). And Psalm 103 contains some of the most beautiful language in all the Bible, in my humble opinion:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103: 8-12 NIV).
I firmly believe that no matter what your past—insecure gossipy teen, prodigal drug addict, and everything in between—God has a purpose and a calling on your life. He has a ministry in His kingdom carved out just for you. Our great God is brimming with unfailing love for us, and with Him is full redemption (Psalm 130:7 NIV).
The full weight and magnificence of His redemption has been sinking into my heart in deep and new ways in these most recent years (if you haven’t read Jerry Sittser’s “A Grace Revealed,” go and get a copy of it now!). It’s becoming so clear—in my own life, in my husband’s life, and in others—how God is able to take our past hurts and failings and transform them into something beautiful. Our greatest shame and disappointment can become the fragrant spoils of redemption, those treasures of darkness (Isaiah 45:3 NIV). This change in perspective is allowing me to see my past as fertile soil where God can sow seeds of restoration and harvest a bountiful crop of opportunities in which His glory can shine in my life. Isn’t that an amazing thought? That we are somehow able to bring a scintilla of glory to Him?
Rest assured, our enemy is on the lookout to instill doubt in our hearts and silence us. One of my favorite passages Sittser wrote in the above-mentioned book is this: “If you dare to surrender yourself to God, He will take up the story of your life and integrate it into the great story of salvation, turning it into something so extraordinary that you will be tempted to think that it was all a beautiful dream.” I love that concept!
So on that note, let us be Spirit-filled and treat ourselves (and others!) with the grace that He has so richly poured out on us. Let us dare to surrender ourselves fully to Him! And for those of you who knew me when I wasn’t the best version of myself, I ask for your grace. I pray you will see my heart and know that God has been molding and shaping and redeeming me over all these years. And I will be faithful to do the same for you.