what do you do when you’ve lost God?

Hey, I know the feeling.

The feeling that you’ve asked Jesus into your heart so many times you’ve lost count. The feeling of emptiness when nothing comes to fill that part of you that you thought was supposed to be for him. When no one answers back.

What even IS this?! you cry out. He’s not even meeting you halfway! What the heck, God?

Somewhere along the line, you realized that you were just talking to yourself. There was no one there listening; it was only your empty prayers, your carefully mouthed words, hoping that if you just said it right, he would hear and maybe even answer back. Or at least make it feel like he was there.

But…there’s nothing. You think, maybe it was never real. Not that moment when you were a little kid, not that dramatic moment at church camp, not even that moment you were sitting outside and thought you saw him answer you in the shooting stars across the night sky.

There is only darkness. And it’s so dark you’ve lost faith that there is a light, somewhere, anywhere.

I’ve been there.

I’ve felt the numbness that keeps you from getting out of bed in the morning, the emptiness that nothing can fill. I once lost interest in everything I loved, and questioned whether the Jesus I had seen and heard of was even the right one, or even interested at all in me. I both resented him and wanted him, but another part of me didn’t care at all. My soul was dry and shriveled up…not unlike the feeling David had when he cried,

“I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have you forgotten me?’”

I knew He had forgotten me.

For me it has been a long journey to get the kind of sight that can see behind me, but I can see now that several things contributed to how I lost God…:

  1. I became isolated from everyone and everything. People left me, by their own choice and by the choice of life, but I thought I was being rejected, so instead of bouncing back I withdrew from everyone. I got really dependent on a particular roommate, who I thought was the closest to God, and when she rejected me it was like God had, which confused the crap out of me.
  1. I had no idea how my idea of God fit into what was happening in my life. Where was God in all my friends leaving me? Where was God in my parents’ broken relationship? Where was God in my emptiness? Where was God in all the judgmental “Christians” at my school? Where was God in my grandfather dying and my friend getting diagnosed with cancer? Where was this good God that everyone talked about? I had no spiritual eyesight to see anything.
  1. I stopped taking care of myself, because back then I didn’t realize how your physical body connects to your spiritual body. I ate whatever and I didn’t sleep enough, and I was losing the ability to deal with anything happening spiritually.

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And when you are in that pit, it seems as if there is no way out, that even the very concept of a “way out” is so foreign to you it makes no sense for people to even speak of it. In fact, it wasn’t until I was out that I realized what had helped to get me out, these things that I’d done along that way that pulled me out of the pit little by little:

Pour out your soul – I got to the point where life felt so pointless and my thoughts were so dark they almost scared me to read over again the next day. I got to the point where I started saying things to God that I never thought I’d dare to, including curse words and all sorts of horrible doubts where I was sure my Christian parents would die if they ever read them. It was called being honest, and it was a long time coming. It was like I’d tapped into some sort of well that had been filling up for years- I was praying in my journal, I was praying my way out of bed in the morning, I was praying in the shower- and they weren’t elegant prayers that you’d hear in church. They were heartwrenching prayers. Honest ones. Yelling at God because he wasn’t responding. Over and over and over and over. I read the Psalms mostly because they understood me. I didn’t realize that much angst against God was right there written in the Bible. Somewhere in the middle of all that something shifted in the universe. Something shifted between God and I. It had become real.

Analyze your hopes– I started, for the first time, evaluating where I’d put my hope, because I wasn’t coming up with anything real. Sure, I looked forward to some stuff, I partied it up and that was nice, for a second. I started out putting my hope in “being good”- like my college and all the Christian people there- they must know what they are talking about, I thought. I’ll just try to be like them. In the process, I idolized my roommate and RA as the “perfect Christian” and that didn’t last long, let me tell ya. I made people into little gods. I became exhausted trying to be the perfect Christian. This couldn’t be what Jesus expected of me. Make sure you watch appropriate movies? Don’t talk to gay people? No way. So of course, I booked it in the other direction. The. Opposite. Direction. I started hanging out with the people my roommate hated and we would go drinking and smoking and break all the rules we could think of just to break them, because we were tired of keeping up with all the “Christian” expectations. We “put all our eggs in the sin basket,” as a friend of mine would say. We wanted freedom, but what we found was another dead end. I’d wake up hungover and empty again and again. I still didn’t feel free and my sin was starting to have consequences. We couldn’t find the happy medium. It was then that I finally realized that it wasn’t about the rules at all, that all God asks from us is faith, and in that I found freedom. I found it in my faith in the grace of God. Faith + Waiting = Righteousness (Galatians 5:5). I was a slave to religion, and then I was a slave to sin, but the only thing satisfying was this thing called grace, and I had never understood it until then. I had never understood that I could have a relationship with Jesus that centered on grace, and grace alone, and without all the religion, and the sin, which he already took care of, we (he and I) could have our own relationship.

“If you’re the problem, a better version of the problem is still a problem.”
-Matt Chandler

Remember the lovingkindness of God– I was used to thinking about God in general, hearing about him, studying about him endlessly, etc. but I hadn’t ever really applied it to my life. I hadn’t sat back and looked at my life and looked to find God in it. It turns out that if I looked, he was everywhere and I hadn’t even noticed. I thought he’d left and yet he was there the whole time. I had to remind myself of this every day that my depression reared its ugly head. My heart is bent toward the negative, to see the worst in something. I have to talk to my heart, like David did, “Why are you so cast down, oh my soul? Hope in God!”

Preach the grace of God to yourself It’s one thing to talk about the grace of God, and another to apply it to your every day. I had to preach the grace that covers all sin, and the grace that keeps me from thinking that I do anything at all to earn the kind of love that is offered to me. Every. Single. Day. Even now.

To my friends and especially my high school friends struggling with depression, know that you are not alone, and there’s hope for your relationship with Jesus…no matter where you are at or how much hope you have left.

Listen to Tim Keller’s sermon Finding God to hear what inspired this post.

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young life and prayer

Why don’t we pray more in America?

A few weeks ago at church we were blessed to have Pastor Shodankeh Johnson come from Sierra Leone, Africa to preach several messages on prayer and fasting. It has turned our church around.

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Jim Rayburn founded Young Life on hours and hours of prayer. If you read the book compiled from his diary entries, you’ll immediately notice he spent hours per day praying and reading the Bible. It’s enough to make you wonder while reading it, when he did actual “ministry work.” But I’ve come to realize that ministry work IS prayer. We think it doesn’t work so we schedule our time for US to do things. We think it’s US who do the work, not God. Jim Rayburn knew that it was God who moved, so he prioritized prayer over everything else. He interceded for the work of Young Life, and for the teenagers.

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God really started teaching me about prayer in 2009, when he brought me a close friend with whom I spent countless evenings praying in one of our cars before we dropped the other one off. She was the first friend to consistently pray with me in my moment of need. At Young Life New Staff Training at Crooked Creek in Colorado in 2010. I will never forget the time all of us International Staff spent in the Prayer Room after one of us found out her father was dying far away in Brazil. I had only met this group of people a couple of weeks ago at Cross-Cultural Orientation, yet we became like family, all of us about to willingly give up our lives to go spread the gospel somewhere else. My British friend gathered all of us in the prayer room as we dropped everything we were doing to sit together on the floor in the room, taking turns praying out loud and grabbing Bibles to read a Scripture that came to mind, and someone brought out their guitar and without a word just starting playing “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?” To this day that song gives me goosebumps.

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Because of that night, days before my friend Steven went to be Jesus later that next year, I gathered my friends in a living room and brought my guitar and we prayed and worshipped as we waited for him to go. The beauty of a people that comes together to worship their God in the midst of pain and confusion can’t really be explained here.

When I was in Germany, I got to know a group of German Christians. In Germany, true Christians are hard to find. This Christian group knew this, and got together for prayer EVERY SINGLE DAY. They set a time every day that even if only two people could make it, they were getting together to pray. They didn’t spend an hour sharing prayer requests, or reading the Bible, they just prayed. They didn’t have an agenda, they didn’t talk about praying, some some even prayed more than others, but they just sat before God in someone’s living room, or outside by a bench in the street. Even hearing it in German was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Prayer was the air they breathed. They saw it in the Bible, so that’s what they did. Soon my American young adult Bible study on the military base started this habit together after mixing with the German group.

My German best friend, who was part of this prayer group, changed the way I prayed as she lived life with me. I’d talk about something stressing me out, and she would just say “let’s pray.” And I’d be like, “Like right now?” and she’d say very matter-of-factly, “Well, yeah,” like it was obvious. In America, we like to say “I’ll pray for you” or just take prayer requests. These Germans just stopped and prayed. They knew the importance of actual prayer. Once when wewere driving to Berlin for a fun weekend trip, she asked, “Do you want to pray together for a bit?” I was taken aback. “About what?” I said. She just wanted to pray. Just because. We prayed out loud together in the car for at least an hour if not two (don’t worry I didn’t close my eyes while driving). The sense of peace that came over me was amazing. From then on I started praying with some of my high school students as soon as they shared something tough with me.

When I was in Italy, I met a Christian family who owned a vineyard and knew what it was like to depend on the Lord to bring them a harvest. They literally depended on God for whether they could make a living or not. This couple got up early every morning, drank espresso at the table, read part of the Bible, prayed, and sang a hymn together, just the two of them, before he went out to the vineyards and she went to the kitchen to prepare lunch. When I took my parents to visit this family, an older man working at the vineyard begged us to sing Amazing Grace with him, just spontaneously as we were hanging out, even though he only knew one verse. He just wanted to praise God with Americans. He then offered to pray for us, in Italian.

At singles worship night Pastor Shodankeh spoke on the power of faith and raising the bar of expectation for what God can do. At church on the weekend he spoke about how prayer and fasting was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry and a useful weapon in the hands of the early church and it is ALL OVER THE BIBLE, so why don’t we do it? Pastor Shodankeh’s messages were so impactful because he told REAL STORIES- stories of prayer answered in Africa when people prayed and fasted. Stories of the gospel spreading and miracles happening that could only have been The Lord. Our church experienced a sort of revival as our pastor came up and in tears he admitted to not being the man of prayer he needed to be as a leader of our church, and he committed to changing that. We immediately entered 3 days of prayer and fasting as a church and got back together Wednesday night for our monthly prayer night and it was a holy night of surrender to the Lord. We were all renewed to become a people of prayer.

As my pastor got up and choked up with conviction, so did I, because in the last 7 months I seem to have lost something I gained by living in another country and meeting Christians from other countries. I seem to have lost the spirit of prayer. I found myself initially praying my way through my transition with hope and expectation about what God would do through Young Life and in my own personal life… But somewhere along the line I stopped praying and started trying to control everything. It’s not because life and ministry has gotten easier, because it’s actually gotten harder. My response? Work more, do more, put the pressure on myself, stress out about money and the spiritual lives of students, etc. When my German friend visited me in the first couple months of my move she said to me, “I can see why it is hard to be a Christian in America.” Folks, it really, truly is. we need to be aware of how the enemy works in our country. He’s sneaky. He tells us that we don’t need God, that He can’t truly work the change we want to see in our lives and others’. That we need to do it ourselves.

So my response in the last couple weeks has been to get back to a place of prayer and fasting. And I have been seeing God work all over the place…

Instead of stressing about a students’ spiritual life, I set an alarm on my phone to pray for them at the same time every day. A parent has even joined me in this prayer for their kid. I was literally on my knees for these kids while we were at camp every day, sometimes with tears, and I want to pray with that kind of fervor for them at home.

Instead of stressing about how I’m going to pay my bills, I prayed for money, and it has literally been handed to me on two occasions. Also things got sorted out with my YL business card. I’m still struggling, but turning that struggle into prayer. I’m starting to trust Him more to give me my daily bread.

Instead of stressing about how on earth I’m going to find time to raise money for my salary for Young Life when I work 32 hours a week at this new job, I prayed and 2 people messaged me about supporting me without me initiating it with them.

With my new job at a group home, I’ve had to grow tougher skin. I’ve been driven to my knees because of it, and I know God is doing work in me and I pray in those kids as well. I’m now praying for opportunities to share Jesus with them, and bring them to Young Life this year. I can’t wait to see what God does.

God is looking for that man or woman who will stand in the gap of intercession with prayer and fasting for God to restore the nations. Ezekiel 22:30. Will you stand in the gap with me for teenagers in Northwest Georgia? For the seemingly impossible amount of funds we need to keep ministry going? For new leaders to go out into the schools? For current leaders to be leaders of prayer themselves? Do you believe that God can change a nation and a people towards himself?

For me personally, this journey to having more prayer in my life has meant and will mean a lot of changes and re-prioritizing. 

But here’s the thing: imagine what could happen if we ask God to change things, to change others, to change US, to change this area, to change lives. To reach the unreachable. Do we believe He is as big as He says He is? That He can still work the way He worked in the Bible? That Jesus was on to something when He spent so much time in prayer to His Father? Father, may we believe this and may it change the way we live our lives in total dependence on You.

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P.S. If you feel called to join my prayer team, whether it’s the long distance email one or the one I feel like God wants me to start here locally to pray for teenagers in NWGA, please let me know.

P.P.S. I’m currently re-reading this incredible book on prayer, the best book I’ve ever read on the subject, highly recommended:

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thin margins.

Putting yourself in a place where if God doesn’t come through, you’re screwed.

I forget where I originally heard that, but it stuck with me. That’s what we talked about in church today, in 2 Samuel 15 where David is suddenly back to his normal, God-fearing self after his devastating mistake with Bathsheba, and repents yet is on the run again because of something he cannot control: his son Absalom is trying to take over. Knowing that he was going to have to suffer consequences for his sins and being ready for whatever that meant (because real repentance relinquishes all the rights to control the circumstances of the consequences…love that), he prayed and wept as he left his home.

He found himself again in the wilderness, fully dependent on God to provide for him and guide him. The first mention in 10 years of David praying to God is right at this moment of exile. This is where David thrived. In the wilderness. I love the irony of that.

For whatever reason, God always has me in the wilderness.

You would think I’d get a break, maybe some time where I am sitting there with a substantial emergency fund saved up, or a picture of what’s going to happen in the next few months, or get involved in a project that has a guaranteed good outcome, or at least an outcome that couldn’t potentially leave me homeless living in a box someday.

For some reason, he chooses to let me live with “thin margins.” I love that concept that Pastor Frank taught today. I have come to believe that letting me live with thin margins has not only been Christ’s greatest mercy to me but in a strange, counter-cultural way, I can honestly say this is my favorite way to live, which seems weird, considering I’m saying I love living like I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, or how I’m going to survive the year, month, day, etc.

Many people long for financial security, even thinking their motives are right because “God wants them to live in prosperity.” I believe God wants the best for us, but He does not always think the best means wealth. Most of us, when given wealth, will become slaves to it. God trusted David with wealth, yet did not always give him prosperity. He was always on the run, life was never comfortable for long for him, always full of adversity. There are other ways that God helps us to know him better, like when he gives us the gift of adversity.

My whole life has been full of thin margins. I left my familiar homeschool world simply because I felt like God said to go to public school. When I graduated high school, I walked into a future that no one else around me had chosen, at a college 12 hours away that I couldn’t really pay for and only knew 1 person. When I graduated college I entered a year of fundraising what looked like an impossible over $33,000/yr, while working a minimum wage job and barely surviving. Before I left for Germany, I experienced some devastating losses that I felt like I’d never come back from. Then I successfully moved to a country across an ocean without knowing a soul or even knowing how to do the job I was called to. I lived solely for 3 years on others’ donations and whenever I lost a donor, the margin shrunk. Job security within the shrinking European military world was shaky at best and I was reminded of this shrinking margin at every staff conference. I had a huge scare when I defaulted on a student loan and would’ve gone home if it weren’t for a very generous friend that God sent to me, like God sent Hushai to David in 2 Samuel 15.

Recently I came back to the states and left my entire life over there not even knowing if I would be making enough to live or if the ministry I would try to restart would even survive long term. Some people wondered if I should’ve just stayed over there, or should’ve gotten a back-up job. Thanks to generous donors who have continued or started giving to me in this new endeavor the Lord has called me to, I am surviving on part-time salary right now. Last month, though, the paperwork didn’t go through for my raise that I was desperately waiting for, and thus I have spent the last month barely making it, and even in this current week I have been struggling to make it just seven days until my new paycheck. I have no security in money right now because I don’t have any money, or even health insurance. I don’t even know if Young Life will make it in Northwest Georgia, though so far the Lord has confirmed over and over, we still are working towards what we would consider “making it” and will probably be for awhile.

However, the way I have learned to depend on God throughout my life and right now has been priceless. I honestly do not wish for wealth, or security of any kind, because like David, I thrive spiritually in these times of thin margins. When things get comfortable in my life, when I have money, or think I know the future (“If we knew what was in the future we would never live in the present” -from Heritage’s graduation speech yesterday), or am involved in an already successful project, or things are just “easy,” I tend to fall away from the Lord. I tend to put confidence in myself and I tend to be vulnerable to sin.

When my margins are thin, when God just has to come through or I am in big, big trouble, I am on my knees like David. I am asking him for help and guidance like David. I am depending on him, leaning on him for everything. I am seeing answers to prayers, I am reading His word, and I am seeing others’ through his eyes. I am so thankful for thin margins and wouldn’t have it any other way. As we sang “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” today I cried tears of gratitude for what most people dread and try to avoid their whole lives: thin margins.  I pray that I would always put myself in a place of thin margins; where if He doesn’t come through, I’m screwed. Because He always, always will.

He is, after all, the Provider.

A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

On Wednesday, I put one of my closest friends on a plane and sent her back to Germany. We got to the airport early, so we procrastinated on the goodbye of course, and we sat together reminiscing and talking about the last couple of months which had been the most tumultuous in our friendship yet. It turns out that if you put two people together, any people, going through culture shock at the same time, 24/7, you get some serious tension. We had never really fought before, but we sure made up for lost time these past few months as we tiptoed around each other and everything changed. I can’t explain how it happened, but after only the first couple weeks, I got so sick and tired of the tension that while she was lying on her bed I just crawled in next to her and said I’m sorry, that I didn’t know why things were so weird between us now, and she was relieved that I’d said something. We laid next to each other, wondering out loud what was going on. We shed tears of frustration, not just at each other, but at what was going on. We didn’t understand it nor did we know what to do. Even with the conversation acknowledging how hard it was, it didn’t get any easier. But even with both of our sinfulness, in the end, this friend was gracious enough to ask me out to breakfast to tell me that she still loved me. That despite the hard times, she was choosing instead to remember the great times, and assured me that even after this speedbump, however huge it felt, we were going to be okay. I cried over my pancakes, knowing I didn’t deserve it.

A good friend of mine likes to ask her friends a peculiar question when she wants to know how they’re really doing: “When was the last time you cried?” If the person couldn’t remember, or it had been a long time since their last cry, she knew she had reason to be concerned about them.

There really is no way to explain in words what it feels like to walk away from someone who is walking into the security line in the airport. To leave them there, knowing the next time you see each other will not be soon, and they may even have children and a husband next time, or maybe you won’t see them again at all. The same applies to getting on a plane. Goodbyes have been so much a part of my life in the last few years but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel acutely the pain of each and every one of them as if it were the first goodbye I’ve ever said. You never get used to it. When I left her at the airport and walked back to my car, I knew it was okay to cry because that’s what people do at the departures terminal of the airport. No one will think I’m weird. But unfortunately I couldn’t stop. I got into my car and BURST into tears. And I mean tears. Sobs, actually. Heart-wrenching ones that I immediately realized I had held in for the last 3 months because they came from deep inside and nothing could stop them. If you’ve ever seen that episode of Grey’s Anatomy when Christina, the “strong, emotionless” character, loses her baby and shows no emotion for days until something happens and suddenly the dam bursts and she can’t stop crying, she’s hyperventilating and yelling “make it stop!” in between sobs…well, that was me, in the airport parking lot. In these last few months I’ve lost my “baby.” My whole world. All my friends. My job. My everyday life routine. My surroundings. My expectations. Even my expectations of myself. Friendships that once were so good were damaged because I was more selfish than I thought. I even lost Jesus in all of that. And I didn’t let myself feel the intense loss until then. I pretended to be strong. I love my new life. Transition was going to be easy, I thought. I’ve got this. I don’t need help. I don’t even need God’s help.

I suddenly noticed a security camera and didn’t want people coming after me thinking I was losing my mind, even though I kind of was, so I got things somewhat together, put my sunglasses on, and drove away.

It felt good to let it all out, but more than that, ever since that day, I have been having encounters with Jesus that I can’t explain. In some deep and mysterious way, I let him in that day in the parking garage more than I have in a long time. I yelled at him in the car. As long as we’re getting personal, I might as well tell you that I told him, out loud, in between sobs, it wasn’t “make it stop,” but instead, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this again, please, don’t make me do this”. The fear was overwhelming. I felt so scared in that moment. C.S. Lewis once said that grief feels so much like fear. Yeah, I chickened out about life. Me, the “strong one,” “laid-back Laura,” and all I could think of was how much I was losing.

I have lost so much in pursuit of what He wanted me to do, yet…somehow… he is becoming more than enough. That moment in the car was my garden of Gethsemane. That realization, knowing that Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, understanding what’s happening to me, gives me strength to endure, to grieve, to trust him with the place in my heart that hurts, admitting that I am not okay, that some days I am, but some days I’m just sad and confused and lonely and it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under me. But the gospel has captured me again suddenly. I’ve had this picture in my mind of him all week of him carrying his cross, stopping suddenly to look at me in the crowd of mockers, with eyes looking deep into my heart knowing my brokenness, yet looking at me with more love than I’ve ever felt, and even turning to continue the walk of the will of God for me. I can’t get that picture out of my head and it is driving grace and love and peace into me every day. Is this what it means to suffer with Christ? Is this what it means to build your house on Christ the solid rock and not on everything I’ve lost?

Grief has surrounded the community I’m in right now, and death has come to this area many times. I feel sick of it. Sick of death, loss, sin, pain, brokenness. I’ve been reading the Psalms this week, perfect pictures of joy and pain, hope and sorrow, begging God to show up in the midst of everything that is up and down right now. I don’t understand it, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know that He is with me and He has proven that He loves me. I don’t know how to fully trust Him right now in all of it but I am trying. I think that’s what we are all trying to do.

Ellie Holcomb wrote this song based on several Psalms, for a depressed friend. And for me. May He be near and real in all of our pain.

I don’t want to face this valley
I don’t want to walk alone
You say that you’ll leave to find me
Well I am begging you now to come

Don’t think I can face the morning
The heaviness is on my chest
You say that you’ll lift this burden
Well I am begging you to bring me rest

Chorus:
So come and find me
In the darkest night of my soul
In the shadow of the valley
I am dying for you to make me whole
For you to make me whole

I can’t keep myself from sinkin’
From drowning down in all this shame
My throat is worn out from calling for help
And I am praying you’ll remember my name

I know I can’t fight this battle
Been surrounded on every side
You say that you will deliver me
Well I am praying that you’ll restore my life

Chorus

Answer me out of the goodness of your love
In your mercy turn to me
I know it’s you that I’ve been running from
But I’m seeing it’s you I need, need
You’re all I need

“‘In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,’ says the Lord.”
-Isaiah 66:9

guilt v. remorse and other real talk

I can’t sleep, but I refuse to believe it’s because of the coffee I consumed after 6pm. I’m not that old, right?

Instead it’s probably because something is rattling around in my soul and needs to come out.

Recently God has been convicting me to be a little bit more vulnerable. I wouldn’t say I’m a closed off person, but I’m not exactly an open book either, especially after having so many people go in and out of my life while I was in Germany. It just gets exhausting opening yourself up after awhile. (You military families can relate.) While I was at Southwind Wyldlife camp a couple weeks ago, I started feeling sorry for myself as I was surrounded by so many people yet I felt lonely, and God kept pestering me to be more open so that He could become an even bigger Savior, and I could have some actual real friends who knew me. I ignored Him, naturally, but unfortunately He got me again- I just read Henri Nouwen’s words in In the Name of Jesus about how Christian leadership is not about pretending to have it all together (if we are honest, NONE of us fit in that category so really all of us are just pretending) but about showing others how Jesus is walking with you in the midst of your brokenness.

Something I tend to fall into a lot- the biggest “thorn in my side” that I carry- the lie that I am constantly tempted to believe- is that I’m not good enough. I could go into all manner of reasons why, but I’ve already done that in counseling and you don’t need to hear the gory details. The point is that guilt eats at me like you wouldn’t believe, it even caused me to spiral into a deep depression in college, where Jesus thankfully and mercifully met me, but even now I forget. Even now I am constantly in a battle in my mind where I have to preach the gospel to myself every day, otherwise I fall into the trap again, into an endless cycle of guilt and shame, and it takes a long time for Jesus to dig me out of it, and usually some relationships are ruined in the process and habitual sins creep back in.

Recently since being back from Germany I’ve been in a couple of situations where I just messed up. I was tested, and I messed up big time, and I hurt some people. I could easily blame it on readjusting, or being tired, or sick, or whatever…I was truly so busy when I arrived that I wasn’t listening to God, practicing solitude, or paying attention to how I was doing, or treating others. But in all honesty (we’re being vulnerable here) I know it’s really the sin deep inside me, just revealed now on the surface because of all the stress I’ve been under. I’ve been selfish and unloving and distant and a complete jerkwad, basically, because I wanted to. Because I wanted what I wanted and was willing to run over people to get it. I was on the throne. Serve me. Love me. Give this to me. This is what I am expecting. Blah blah blah.

As I was getting real with some people in my prayer group tonight at church, one of them put it like this: I was “clotheslined” by my own self-centeredness. You know that opening scene in the movie Ghost Ship where this line snaps and cuts all the people dancing on board in half instantly (you’re welcome for that mental image)? That’s what I feel like happened to me. Here is where the battle gets bloody…right in between guilt and remorse.

When I screw up, because of that inner struggle with not feeling good enough, if I don’t immediately give it to Jesus, I tend to beat myself up big time. I call myself all sorts of names, and I get really down on myself. If I’m not careful, depression rears its ugly head again and I become even more distant from people. Guilt is good only if it leads to true remorse.

I’ve been doing a little reading, and a lot of praying, and a lot of listening to God in the quiet in the last few days (finally) and realized there is actually a huge difference between guilt and remorse. Huh. If you’re feeling guilty, you’re essentially just feeling bad because you were bad. “I should’ve _______ but I ________, I’m such a bad person.” But if you feel remorse, you are more focused on how your actions hurt the other person. Guilt brings about zero change. Guilt is selfish. It’s me-focused. All about how I feel, I-I-I-I. It’s surfacy and behavior-focused. Remorse is focused on the other person and never wanting to hurt them again. It’s about changing. It’s about letting Jesus change your HEART, not just your behavior. Where you become a servant, because you are no longer looking for identity and affirmation in another person, you are free to love. You forgive yourself, because Jesus died for your forgiveness. That’s remorse.

They say that returning missionaries struggle with wanting others to serve them. They want to be noticed, appreciated, listened to, but usually the opposite of what they’re expecting happens, and so they get angry. You attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who did not come to be served but to serve. EVEN WHEN YOU’RE COMING BACK FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY. People aren’t going to call you to hang out, you have to call them. People are going to forget you live here, you need to forgive them and get over it. It’s not about you, it’s about serving others and it always is, but you can’t do that without a focus on Christ and by being filled with His love first. My focus has definitely veered off of Jesus and onto myself, onto my desire for affirmation from others to tell me I’m good enough. In the topsy-turvy transition and exhaustion and grief of the last several months, I’ve forgotten the cross, I’ve forgotten the work is already done for me, I’ve forgotten the freedom that comes with knowing that Jesus has covered for me and it’s finished. Period. I’ve forgotten that it’s not all about me, that the world does not exist for my benefit, and I’ve forgotten that it’s okay to not be okay. I often thank God for my experience of depression in college because if I hadn’t gotten real with God, we wouldn’t have had a real relationship. So I’m getting real, with Him and with the people that matter the most to me, remembering that, as another good friend reminded me in a recent “getting real” conversation, the two most important things when it comes down to it are really Love and Truth.

“I believe you and I are in far greater spiritual danger than any of our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in Iran, and in other parts of the world where the cost of following Jesus might end in your physical death or in the torture of your own life or those you know and love. There is no great angst coming in to worship this morning. There is no, “Please, God, encourage my spirit. Please, God, protect us. Please, God, move.” No, it’s just comfort and a cushy chair and, “Give me a good coffee. Man, it’s a little cold in here.” It’s dangerous. It can just be an add-on. My point is this. Whether or not Christianity sits at the center of a culture, has been pushed to the margins, or is illegal, the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be stopped.”

-Matt Chandler