Most of the time when you hear people talk about Christianity and their new life in Christ, you hear a lot about outward behavioral changes. Maybe they’ve given up drinking, or stopped swearing, or maybe they spend more time with their kids when they used to camp out at work. And those are all good things. But by themselves, they’re nothing more than behavior modification. Before each change took place–each genuine change–there was a change of heart. A healing. A restoration. A breaking free from bondage.
The Bible says that Jesus Christ came to set us free. Free to live authentic lives. Joyful lives. Peaceful lives. As I look back over all the things God has done for me, that is what I value most of all–the emotional freedom. The soul-soaking peace that comes from knowing you are deeply loved. I’m often amused as I think of all the creative ways He’s changed me. Although, not all of them were pleasant. In fact, the ones that penetrated the deepest and brought about the most healing were painful. But looking back, I wouldn’t change a moment. I wouldn’t take back a single tear.
The biggest change in me, and in my marriage, occurred about four years ago when my husband and I found ourselves without a job living in a five hundred square foot temporary apartment. At the time, my heart broke. In under a year, we’d moved from California to Louisiana to Texas then to Missouri. This may sound insignificant to some, especially those who love to move, but it shattered me. Not just because of all the relationships I would be leaving–attaching to one church, only to say goodbye once again. Watching close friendships dwindle to an occasional email. Watching my daughter long for close peer relationships only to move again the moment they were formed.–The majority of my pain came from the emotional garbage each move stirred up. And perhaps if I hadn’t been a Christian, that painful time would have made me bitter, but it didn’t. To be honest, I’m grateful for every single tear I shed. Because looking back, God did so much in my heart during that time, I’ll never be the same. My marriage will never be the same. Our family will never be the same. And I thank God for that.
Prior to this time, I had quite the collection of baggage I lugged around. It colored my marriage, my friendships, even my day to day. I think fear was my dominant trait. Trying desperately to avoid experiences from the past, I had everything down to an agenda. A plan. As long as we had x amount of money in the bank, went on x amount of dates, and had x amount of family time, everything would be okay.
And my husband had his own baggage he lugged around. As you can imagine, our closets were jam packed! And his driving trait? Fear. Same as mine, only instead of running from his past, he was dodging his future. As long as he worked enough hours, got that next promotion, and came up with enough innovative ideas, he was great.
Everything was just peachy.
And most onlookers probably would have agreed with our superficial assessment. But God wasn’t fooled. As the Bible says, man looks on the outside but God looks at the heart, (1 Samuel 16:7) and no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t hide the dark shadows, the thick cobwebs, and gigantic tears. So what did He do? Like a loving, gentle Father, He began to clear those things away, broom sweep by broom sweep.
If He would have asked me how I’d best like to deal with everything, I probably would have asked for a band-aid. Maybe I’d tidy things up a bit, stack all my luggage in one corner, splashed an extra coat of paint on the walls to go with the smile painted on my lips, and call it good. But God wanted more. God wanted me to be free.
The Bible tells us that Jesus came that we may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10) I’m not sure if we really understand what that means, but I do know this: A full life is not one clouded with past hurts. A full life is not controlled by fear. A full life is not tainted with bitterness or anger. A full life–a spirit-filled life, a grace-changed life, is a life of freedom, of peace, and joy. That, my friends, is the life Jesus came to offer us.
But sometimes the getting there is hard. I think if we were honest with ourselves, we have this vision of God sitting up in heaven magically twinkling his nose, instantly zapping our heart to wellness. Now, I’m not saying that instantaneous emotional healing doesn’t occur. I’m just saying I’ve never experienced it. My healing has always been the sweat and tears kind–the result of God bringing me to a place where I would experience anew my greatest fears and deepest pains, but with a twist. A twist of grace. Like He did with our four moves. When all else was taken away, and God showed up and held our family together–actually made us stronger, I realized that I no longer had to. And when my husband’s worst fear, unemployment, occurred, and God stepped up and provided for his family, he realized that he no longer had to. Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that a husband should not provide and I am certainly not saying that a woman should not maintain her home. What I am saying is that the responsibility ultimately lands on God. We are called to obey. He has promised to take care of the rest. And sometimes it takes Him stripping everything away, bringing us to the place we fear the most, so that we can see His hand.