Some would describe me as a good person. I try really hard to be kind, treat people well, and love others. I mediate situations, I go to church on a regular basis, and I have an annoying tendency to do the right thing.
But when I look at myself the mirror, I stare into the reality that I am not a good person.
I am an awful person. I am petty, jealous, bitter, perfectionistic, inadequate, angry, grumpy, proud, snide, manipulative, self-absorbed, evaluating, judgmental, selfish, incompetent, codependent, and many more adjectives that would describe the average awful human. So for most of my life, to maintain an image of being good, I would try harder to be kind, treat people even better, and love others as much as possible. I would prevent arguments, become so involved at my church that I would be there daily, and hold myself to a standard of perfection in every action.
But earlier this year, I woke up one day with a crazy notion: I worship a good God. And therefore me being a good person doesn’t really matter in the long run. Because that is not how God sees me.
One might assume that this sort of epiphany would bring freedom and joy and giggles because, hey, for any Christian it kind of makes sense. But for me, this notion rocked me to my core.
Did you ever put on those goggles at the police station when you were a kid? The ones that simulate drunk driving? I feel like I’ve been wearing those my entire life. And that morning that I woke up, I opened my eyes and found to my surprise that the Lord had taken those silly things off. And I freaked out.
There was nothing in my life that I recognized around me, and worst of all, I realized that the reflection I’ve been looking at for so long and have been so ashamed of is not the version of me that my Heavenly Father sees.
Because, you see, when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, He bore God’s wrath. And theologically that sounds nice, but in a more image-based description, what that really means is that Jesus was ugly. Like, really ugly. He was my kind of ugly. He put on my mask of being a good girl and carried my bitter, foul little heart around in His chest and hung on a cross. When He died, was buried, and then woke up and starting walking and talking again, all of my crap got left behind.
For people who grew up Christian, this is logical. We learn it in talks from our pastors, we read about in Christian books, we even skim the surface as we read Scripture. But for me, I was living with the distorted image of my good girl self and my broken little heart. I was still walking around carrying this picture of me as the little girl who believed she was to blame for the end of her parents’ marriage, the child who thought she could somehow prove she was deserving of love and attention, the teen who believed that no one could see the scars on her arms, and the young woman who thought the only kind of love she deserved would always come with strings attached.
So when the goggles came off and I saw myself the way that God sees me, I was shocked to perceive that I am whole. I am perfect. There are no stains on my clothing, no blemish on my skin. A pleasing aroma comes from me, there are no tears on my cheeks or lurking in my eyes; there is no shame burdening my shoulders or pain creasing my brow. I am His. And I am perfect.
When Jesus died on the cross, He took our sin. That means that God doesn’t see it when He looks at each of us. This distorted image of myself that I had been carrying around was not in fact reality at all.
I had been deceived into believing that all my striving, all my attempts to live a good life would somehow continue to buy me God’s favor. That my outer goodness would somehow outweigh my inner garbage, that God would see my deeds even though He knows my heart and somehow maybe He would decide that they even out. My inner sense of brokenness drove me into a captivity of legalism. I started depending on myself and all the things I could do for God to get Him to accept me, to notice me, to heal me, to love me, instead of on Him.
But our God is better than that. He is a good God. He is a intentional God who works in all things for our good. He is a Shepherd who will not let us stray too far. He is a Father who welcomes us in with open arms. And so He took off my goggles and led me out of my Egypt, my slavery.
For so much of my life, the words I have said most frequently to the Lord have been “I’m sorry”. But in 2011, God showed me that it’s time to change that phrase to “Thank you”.