I have always been a compulsive people-pleaser, and come from a long line of probable people-pleasers. I am the kind of person who loves to be perfect…who loves to be liked...who follows the rules diligently. I did everything I was supposed to do: get good grades, follow all the family traditions, participate in lots of extracurricular activities, play two instruments, go to church, etc. And I didn’t do anything I wasn’t supposed to do: drugs, alcohol, sex, all the old clichés. Come middle school, I didn’t even realize that this mindset was slowly suffocating me with my first big battle against anxiety, and stomach ulcers to boot. By my freshman year in college, however, I was still pretty sure that, despite all this, I was a “really good Christian” and had things (mostly) together.
Then, Jim Beilby’s “Christian Theology” class nearly knocked me out of my chair my sophomore year at Bethel University. It opened my eyes to an image of God I had neither heard of, nor considered: the idea that I am not a “good person” at all, that God’s grace saved me while I was entrenched in my sins (Rom. 6:11), not because of anything I did or will do. How offended was I, as a severely Type A person? Very. That is, at first. Yet soon, my heart softened and found the freedom and immense joy that comes with not being in charge of my own salvation. Lord knows none of us could ever be “good enough” to earn that anyway. God saved me and there is nothing (let’s just be clear: nothing) I did to deserve that. I didn’t earn it by being a “good person”, or by saying a prayer, or by being baptized, or by getting confirmed, or by being “spiritual enough” (Eph. 2:8-9).
The Lord grew this understanding in my heart throughout college and into my first year of post-college “real life”. It was a challenging year in so many ways. I got married and we bought our first apartment and first car together, I started my first job, and we became involved in a plethora of weeknight activities. At that time, my family also started going through some real upheaval as both individuals and traditions started to change. Though many wouldn’t know how badly I struggled (as I still tried to maintain my “perfect” mask), I suffered from severe depression and social anxiety that made teaching intensely draining and interactions with my increasingly distanced family members just short of debilitating. Yet, only a year or so later, I can see how the Lord is using the loss of some relationships to heal previously fractured relationships and help me take another step in breaking free from the lie of “being perfect”. Now, admitting my weaknesses is freeing and a testament to how the power of Christ works in me despite my shortcomings (2 Cor. 12:9).
I’ll end with this thought: Stories are central to my job as a teacher. Teaching students how to read and make sense of stories gives me so much joy. One of the many things my students must be able to do as readers is to identify the main character in a story.
And it’s funny, because now I realize I’ve been doing it wrong all these years, myself. I thought the main character of my story was me. But it’s not. My story…and your story…are not mainly about us at all. They are all about God and His daily, saving grace.
“If I told you my story, you would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine.” - My Story by Big Daddy Weave