By Patty, Grace House Resident
I pushed against religion for as long as I can remember. Deep in my heart, I wanted to have a genuine relationship with God. But I wanted to believe and have faith in God because I believed, because my beliefs were mine; not because it was something my friends were doing or that my mom wanted me to do.
When I was six years old, the church asked our Sunday School class if we wanted to get baptized. All my friends were going to do it, but I had reservations. I talked to my teacher who asked me if I believed in God. I couldn’t answer. I was unsure and didn’t want to commit to something and get baptized unless I meant it. So I didn’t get baptized. I did continue to go to church with my family, never believing, but just going because my mom made me.
As I got older I became more of a skeptic, more of a cynic. I started to believe that religion was created as a means to control society, to implement rules, guidelines and principles to live by. I also felt like religion was created to comfort hurting people, which isn’t a bad concept, but isn’t real either. My heart became hardened to religion and religious people. Even if I had wanted to believe, I felt I was inadequate, unworthy and not good enough to be “Christian.” I wouldn’t feel accepted if I tried. I’d done too much wrong and hurt too many people. I felt unforgiveable, untouchable, unclean and unwanted. If I didn’t like who I was and wouldn’t want to be around me, why would God? So I turned away from God and stayed far removed. If I shut out God, then I could justify all the bad things in my life. I didn’t want to become a Christian because what kind of Christian would do the things I did?
In my denial of God, my imposter self was born. I could do whatever I wanted because there was no God to judge me. However, in believing this, I did not have God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, leaving me feeling desolate indeed. Out of fear of failure, I did the bare minimum to get by in life. I convinced myself that was all I needed. Due to this attitude, I became extremely self-conscious, and in an effort to compensate I invented the façade that I didn’t care what others thought about me. I have never gone with the social norm. I’ve always prided myself in being a unique individual that was not affected by the opinions of others. This belief fueled my behavior until I stopped caring about everything.
Life itself was insignificant and meaningless. What was the point in trying? I started using drugs and alcohol to numb the effects my feelings and behavior had on me. I had a lot of superficial friends and relationships. I always had to be where the party was to feel accepted. I liked to have a lot of people around because when I was alone I would start thinking about the reality of my painful situation. I needed people to distract me from the truth.
On the outside it may have looked like I was succeeding: I went to college, was on the Dean’s List most semesters, graduated, got great jobs. I was a single mom, providing and taking care of my son. I had a significant amount of friends in an effort to prove to myself that life held significance, but inside I was feeling totally unfulfilled, unsatisfied and never happy. To other people I looked great, but the truth was I was miserable, coping with daily life through drugs and meaningless relationships. I didn’t know who I really was, much less allow others to truly know me.
When I landed myself in jail, I didn’t have drugs and alcohol anymore. I was sobering up, thinking clearly and having to face things I’d been running from for a long time. I am so thankful my mom sent me Brennan Manning’s book, Abba’s Child. I started recognizing this false self I had manifested. I started dealing with the “I don’t care,” “Why try? I’m a failure,” “I do what I want,” and the “I don’t care what you think about me because then I don’t give you the power to hurt me.” It was in this intense soul-searching, along with the help of my family and the church services offered in jail, that I finally stopped projecting my false self on God. I stopped believing that how I feel about myself is the way God feels about me. I was finally able to acknowledge the imposter and come to terms with my feelings about God.
Without the haze of drugs clouding my judgement, I was able to be rational. God’s plan for salvation suddenly seemed so natural and right once I finally understood that Jesus died for me, that I was already forgiven, that I can’t do anything to gain it or lose it. It’s grace: an undeserved gift. So laying in my bed in jail with Abba’s Child on one side of me and my Bible on the other, I prayed to God the salvation prayer! I was a believer! I was saved!
It had been a long, rough journey to salvation. But after I prayed that prayer, there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel and it was not a train barreling down the tracks toward me. It was freedom! Escape! God! Drugs are no longer my escape from the pain and darkness; God is. He walks beside me, and if I stumble and fall, He picks me up. I’m not self-sufficient, I rely on my capable God. I trust in Him.
It was reading Abba’s Child in jail that really helped me understand who God is. I began to establish roots in Jesus. I wanted my own genuine, authentic relationship with God that was mine. I was learning to love myself as God loves me, becoming more confident in myself each day. I finally understood how worthy I am of a relationship with God. How badly I wanted this relationship with God; but more than that, I needed it! I didn’t want to be this miserable person anymore. I wanted forgiveness. I didn’t want to wallow in my pitiful depression anymore. I wanted to start living, to come out of hiding. I wanted to love myself the way God loves me: compassionately, intensely and freely without restrictions. It was in my fear of not being good enough to be a Christian that I ran from God. I refused to have a relationship with Him because I felt unworthy. But through Abba’s Child, I was finally able to recognize that I had it all wrong. No one is perfect, we all make mistakes, but God never stops loving us. He can’t. It is not who He is.
I cannot impress on you enough how much this book touched me, shaped my beliefs, helped me to understand who God is and helped me reclaim my identity in Jesus. In doing so, it helped me to cast aside self-doubt and self-hatred. I love me in Jesus, all of me! It was in reading this book that I committed my life to God. I am Abba’s Child! Thank you, Jesus!