As a young believer in a faith-filled family, my early relationships were developed within my home church. However, during junior high, after being betrayed by some of these significant relationships, I withdrew, and from then on, pursued friendships outside the church.
As one would expect, this led me to make some unhealthy and sinful choices during high school and even into my college years. I finally had enough of the world! I renewed my earlier commitment to Christ, and soon became involved in a growing and relevant movement within the body of Christ.
Even so, my defensive walls were thick. Although I developed a couple key friendships, I approached each new acquaintance with the suspicion that they may damage my wounded self. I carried around a lot of shame related to my past sinful choices, which influenced how I saw my heavenly Father — already distorted based upon the rejection I felt from my earthly father.
I believed my value was based upon my ability to perform adequately as a Christian, and therefore, I did not have a personal understanding of the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the Cross. From a detached, walled-off place, I observed others and believed the lie that everyone else had God’s approval based upon what I thought to be their seamless ability to receive His grace.
Over the years, I’d had members of ministry teams pray for me, but had only shared bits and pieces of my shame. Progress was slow. Friends who knew of my self-reproach puzzled over why I struggled with so much insecurity. Yet even their acceptance of me did not set me free from that shame.
In God’s mercy, I was encouraged to become involved in the Living Waters program in 1996. There I experienced God in a new way, and began to be set free. The women in my small group ministered God’s forgiveness and acceptance; I found that they did not reject me, even as I became truly known by others in my brokenness! They spoke words of knowledge regarding God’s love for me and pointed me to the Cross, where my true self as a child of God became reestablished. This new understanding of my true self in Christ grew as I received and accepted an accurate reflection of how He saw me.
Following four years of involvement with Living Waters, I returned to graduate school. I started off with confidence in what Christ had accomplished in me, which initially enabled me to face the many who challenged my true self with their own false interpretations. However, because I worked full time while attending school, I was left with little time to engage in the necessary relationships within the body of Christ.
As my isolation grew, I began to struggle with familiar self-doubts. God showed me that in isolating myself, I had limited my partaking of the gifts that His body offered to equip me to confront the spiritual warfare at hand. That made me susceptible to old weaknesses. By the time I graduated, I was floundering, questioning everything I had ever experienced in my walk with the Lord. I Peter 5:8 says that the enemy seeks to devour us, and I found this to be true as I was cut off from the nourishment I had begun to receive from being in right relationship with God’s people.
The next few years marked an upward journey to rebuild these relationships. Two factors entered into making this task more difficult. My new career kept me very busy. And over the years, most of my close friends had married and begun to raise children, which left them limited time to spend with me. Looking back, I wish I had not allowed the rupture in these relationships to occur, because the restoration process was all the harder. It highlighted for me the importance in continuing to build healthy relationships within the body of Christ.
Throughout this time of struggle, I knew I needed to fully reengage with the Body of Christ. I had not been involved in Desert Stream for 7 years by this time, but had a desire to start back at the point where I had received the healing that had set my true self free. As I was awaiting a flight in the airport of another city, I was praying that God would open a path that would allow me to become recommitted to the vision He had established for my life.
I think I experienced a level of what the prodigal son might have experienced that day when, as I was making this commitment in my heart, Andy walked through the airport. It was as if my heavenly Father, who saw this hunger in my heart for connection with His people, had come running toward me to welcome my return.
Looking back over the past year, I marvel at how God has taken me from the time of rejection and disillusionment in my early teens—feeling unaccepted within the Body of Christ, and consequently, unaccepted by God—to a place where I can participate fully within His body. I have realized that my spiritual offering is needed and valued by others, and also know that being in relationship with others augments my own spiritual growth. In this, I recognize our interdependence with each other, and know that this begins with our dependence on Christ.