The message at church today hit me hard. It was an awe-inspiring message, but the first time a sermon left me feeling heartbroken. The topic was “sexual immorality”, so I imagine it left a lot of people squirming in their seats, feeling the heat on the back of their neck. But it wasn’t shame or guilt that left me wiping away tears from my leg as they dropped from my downcast eyes. It wasn’t present sin hiding in my heart that urged me to stand up and go forward to the prayer team or to leave the auditorium and compose myself. What I felt was this crippling, overwhelming wish to go back in time. To turn back the years and accept Christ… really accept Christ into my heart much sooner than I had. To go back to myself as a teenager and focus my desires to acceptance from above and away from acceptance of my peers; to give myself the strength to say the word I remember longing to say but was unable to: no.
One thing that resonated with me was the fact that as teenagers, our brains form neurological pathways based on our experiences and observations. These pathways shape our future thoughts; the way we feel about certain subjects and the way we feel about ourselves. They shape the way we desire pleasure and our ways of seeking it out. I kept thinking that poor experiences I had as a 17 year old were to blame for my lack of giving my marriage and present relationships the energy they deserve. Although I have never explicitly believed that we receive punishment from God for our actions, I have often found myself thinking that certain unhappiness I have felt as an adult was my payback for choices I made as a teenager and young adult. I kept forgiving myself for poor choices and asking God for forgiveness, knowing that it was given before I asked. But I never felt redeemed. I am still haunted.
Today, in a satellite church held in the gym of an elementary school, I received the closest thing to a true revelation I have ever felt. It wasn’t until discussing it with a friend after the service that I could put it into words:
“I have felt before that I was getting punishment but I know I was reaping my choices and that it was nothing God was putting me through… it was something He was getting me through.”
Actions have consequences. When we choose to stray from God, we feel the effects of our sin. But it’s not God’s anger coming down on us that we are experiencing; it’s the loneliness we are feeling from pushing our Father away.
Memories from a relationship I was in 10 years ago are still aching in my soul. For a long time, I thought I was healed. I had chalked my choices up to adolescence, asked for forgiveness, and had forgiven the people I blamed for the situations that lead me astray. I thought those were the magic steps to putting the past behind me. Baptism was a step that I didn’t account for. The love I have felt since becoming a Christian has been the greatest warmth I have ever embraced. But it has also caused me to face truths that I didn’t understand or didn’t want to accept before. In the past few months, I have found myself pushing people away, knowing it wasn’t their fault, but not understanding why I was doing it. The decade-old heartbreak started raging in my mind. My husband playfully…innocently… tickling me suddenly looked like the boy that wanted to pressure me and change me against my will. Like I said, it was behind me. I couldn’t understand why it was bothering me now. And I feared it was going to cause irreparable damage to my relationships. I prayed that God would help me to forgive and help me to forget.
Today in church I prayed again for forgiveness and I prayed for healing. I didn’t feel a release of the pressure in my chest as I had hoped. But I did feel a call to do something I haven’t done before. I may be writing this prematurely as I do not yet have success stories to share about what I feel God is calling me to do; but I also felt God calling me to simply share my story. I love children. Working with children has become a passion of mine in the past few years and a setting in which I feel totally confident and fearless. Something that does strike immediate fear in me, however, is teenagers. I already worry at least once a day about how I will handle my own children (now 21 months and almost 4 years old) as teenagers. I have always claimed that I just don’t get teens. I look like one of them, but I don’t understand them. I didn’t understand them; until today. Today in that seat I was a teenager again, feeling the pressure from the world and longing to rise above it. I can’t go back and help myself make the choices that Christ wanted me to. But I can hopefully walk with others through their valleys. I can relate to what young people are going through because I have far from forgotten my own experiences. I can still feel the sting and I will pray that I can at least help to lessen that pain for others. I am SO good at talking, but I know God will help me to be great at listening; great at silent support; great at playing flip the bottle or fidget spinning or whatever it be that will allow me to reach young hearts.
To echo what my church often says, I am here to love God and love people. My healing that I so long for will only come by doing just that.
Do you have sin that is still crippling you? Do you have bad memories that are keeping you from experiencing your life as you should be? I encourage you to join me on my new journey to healing myself and helping others.
Acknowledge your sin.
Before you can move forward in overcoming whatever it is that is hurting your heart, you have to accept your responsibility in causing it. I don’t know your situation. If you are reading this because something was done to you, and you are struggling with moving on from it, I am in no way suggesting that it is your fault. And I realize I am being vague so let me be clear: if you were abused physically, mentally, emotionally, or sexually; it is NOT your fault. Do NOT blame yourself for the sins and immorality of others. I could write an entire post, or several, on this subject. You CAN and WILL find healing in Christ. And you deserve to feel the love that Christ can wrap around you. Please seek that love and seek counseling.
In my situation, I have a clear person/people who transgressed against me, but I made choices that I deeply regret and that have been the seed of my ongoing pain. I have recognized my poor choices, and I have done the following two things over the span of 10 years:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
1 John 1 : 8-10
2. Ask forgiveness.
In the past 10 years that I have been walking with a heavy heart, only 2 and a half of those have I been walking with my savior. He was always there, waiting for me to go to His arms. I felt that I could do it without Him. That’s not to say that I did not pray or ask for healing. But I did not truly understand the power of forgiveness until I was baptized. I had believed in Christ my entire life but I did not fully feel his presence until I took that step. If you have not yet taken that step, please here me when I say that you NEED your Heavenly Father walking with you in order to heal. I finally began intentionally praying for forgiveness and for help with forgiving myself.
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2: 2
3. Forgive yourself and forgive others, if necessary.
As I cannot travel to my high school years and change the choices I made, you cannot change the past. You made a mistake. You made a poor choice. You dealt with the consequences. Maybe you are still dealing with those consequences and maybe even.. you will always deal with the consequences. You have to realize that the person you were is not the person you are. You cannot carry the burden of your choices and you can let Christ lift it from you by going to Him in prayer and asking for help to forgive yourself. It’s not something that’s going to happen instantly and it may be something you experience ongoing struggles with . But you have to make the choice to forgive yourself.
In my case, I had to make the choice to forgive someone else. Does this person know I forgive them? Probably not. Does this person even know they needed my forgiveness? I doubt it. I no longer know this person. So it was sometimes easy to believe that I could forever hold a grudge and it wouldn’t harm anyone. Wrong. I have recently seen the people that matter to me now falling victim to my feelings toward that person in my past; even though I have spoken my forgiveness several times. Forgiving this person in my past is an ongoing choice. Anytime I feel that sting from that past experience, I have to remind myself that it is the past and I will not hold a grudge from it. Holding hate in my heart keeps me from loving others and takes my attention away from my friends, my family, and my Lord.
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates their brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.
1 John : 9-10
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Mark 11: 24-25
4. HELP OTHERS
This is where I am now; or rather, where I hope to have the opportunity to be. I felt called to volunteer with youth at my church and to let my experiences mold me into a mentor. Now this is my grand plan, but that’s not to say it will happen overnight. I daydreamed about engaging in a deeply moving conversation with a teenage girl that involved lots of tears and hugging and ultimately leading her from the temptations of society. Cue the curtains. I know that may never happen. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know in what capacity I will help whether it be to actually be able to mentor in the way I imagine or if the extent will be helping a kid with English homework or proving that 27 year-olds like ultimate frisbee just as much as 17 year-olds. I can guarantee that there is great learning and personal growth in store for me. What I want to inspire you to do today is to take the first step. Somewhere in my grief from the service, God placed the thought of volunteering with youth in my mind and with no hesitation, I logged on to my church’s website and sent in a volunteer inquiry. I made the first step and I know God will lead me the rest of the way.
If you happen to be from a small town full of baptist churches like I am originally, you may know a simple truth I came to understand at a pretty young age: former addicts (this includes sex and alcohol addiction) can make pretty great preachers. I am humbled by the thought that preachers I personally know have their own demons that they have struggled with and may continue to struggle with. The poor choices of their past are not only something they overcame, it’s something they used to propel them into God’s most important work, helping and guiding others. Whatever you did. Whatever causes your pain. God didn’t make it happen to you; But He got you through it so that you can help someone else do the same.