Written by Mary Greene, Art by Michelle Wong
It took becoming an adult to see how much I needed to grow up.
For years leading up to my 18th birthday, I’d cherished a shining image of Adulthood, born of a lifetime of exposure to mature, Christ-centered adults and a natural tendency to form high expectations. This was going to be my Golden Age. Of course I would be sure of my decisions; I would know exactly what decisions I would need to make. Of course I would be respected by my peers; I would have a confident attitude and interesting things to say. Sure, I would make some mistakes now and then, but I would be headed in the right direction. Once I became an Adult, I would just know.
As one can imagine, this didn’t happen. Far from suddenly transforming, I felt like I hadn’t changed at all. Why was I still crippled by feelings of doubt and incapability? Why was I still afraid to approach people? Several months of introspection brought the answer: I had promised myself something that could not be fulfilled. Sick of the childhood version of myself, I pinned all my hopes on an instantaneous and automatic transformation in myself that, without requiring effort or discipline on my part, would somehow empower me to live up to my standard of Adulthood now and forever.
It was only through this realization that I began to unearth a much deeper, more critical problem that had begun long before. I had always felt that something was very wrong with my relationship with God. Rather than joyful and forgiven, I felt fearful and ashamed. And I finally understood: I had placed my hope of deliverance from cancelled sin, not in God, but in my identity as a “Christian.”
When I became a child of God the summer before 8th grade, I believed that an unquenchable passion for Him and His truth had been lit within me that would radically and permanently transform me into a super-Christian.
I prayed and read my Bible with intense eagerness. I was so Christian! But, after a short while, the passion that I had thought would stay forever had ebbed away. I worried that I had somehow failed to pray the prayer in a way that would impart sustaining grace and determination, a fear constant through many fervent rededications. I must have done something incorrectly.
Well, I had, but not quite in the way I dreaded. In the same way that I had placed the hope of total and instantaneous escape from my childish shortcomings in my becoming an adult, I had assumed that, when I became a Christian, God would rid me largely of my sin and instill in me a fire that would make it easy to obey God’s will and practice spiritual discipline. I recognized that I was powerless to effect this change on my own. However, instead of entrusting time and time again my powerlessness to Him, I wanted it to be all over right away.
Now that I understood, I could identify the horrible thoughts and feelings that had swarmed over me for such a long while and reveal their true nature. These were lies. These were not what God had promised me in His Word.
What had God promised?
I love you (John 3:16). Come as you are and find rest (Matthew 11:28). Surrender yourself, all of yourself, to Me (Romans 12:1-2). I hear your secret pleas (Matthew 6:4). Rely on Me (Proverbs 3:5-6). I am big enough to handle anything you can or cannot do (Numbers 11:23). Nothing can separate you from Me (Romans 8:38-39).
It’s okay to not be okay.
That statement above does not mean several things. It does not mean that God doesn’t hate sin. It does not mean that His forgiveness of our sin makes it acceptable for us to keep on sinning. It does not mean that He has lowered His standards of holiness to be within our reach.
It means that He knows we are but dust (Psalm 103:14). From it He formed us, and to it we will return. Even after forgiveness and cancellation of sin and adoption into God’s family, most of us remain on earth for some time before we are freed completely from sin and enter eternally into the presence of God. He could sanctify us as soon as He adopts us. However, in His faultless plan, He requires that we grow in stages of Christ-likeness. He works tirelessly for each of His children to begin the process of sanctification on earth, and He desires and expects that we receive His help and put forth great effort of our own. No matter how many times we run away, He will accept us upon our return.
Only an all-powerful, all-just, and all-merciful Father can allow and help us to grow in holiness. How comforting! How freeing! We don’t have to get it right immediately; we simply can’t.
We can trust Him with our dustiness.
Written by Mary Greene, Art by Michelle Wong