What My 18-Year-Old Self Taught Me About God's Transforming Power This Week
“I hate her,” I declared. My daughters were wide-eyed, having never heard me say that before. My husband was at once slightly amused and trying to be sympathetic. He reassured me, “That was a long time ago. It’s evidence of God’s grace.”
“I know. But right now, I’m repulsed,” I was genuinely feeling sick. I had found a university newspaper from my freshman year at college. One of the staff writers had interviewed me and published my answers in the school paper. I hate me back then.
My life then was marked by “following the course of the world” (Ephesians 2:2). Like all those who do not follow Christ I “lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Ephesians 2:3). The world’s goals were my own: living for the attention of guys, aspiring to fame and fortune, numbing pain with alcohol, and championing the autonomy of my body and my choices.
My salvation story is murky. I heard the gospel as a nine year old and believed. I asked to be baptized at age 11. I benefitted from church attendance and youth group, but without the daily shaping of a Christian family I was barely aware as a teenager that my life was duplicitous.
As I grew, each of my double lives grew in maturity. My worldly choices got worldlier; my Christian faith got stronger. I remember walking across campus my freshman year literally arguing out loud with the Lord about the choices I knew He wanted me to make and the choices I was determined to make. I was growing in my “knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Colossians 1:9), but I was unwilling to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him” (Colossians 1:10).
Unfortunately, when the newspaper staff interviewed me, the worldly me answered, loud and proud. When I found the newspaper last week I could not bring myself to read the entire article. I glanced at the first couple paragraphs and shoved it back in a box tucked in the depths of a rarely-used closet.
I hope that one day I’ll want to read all of it. I hope to make my way through the interview answers and simply rejoice in Christ in me now. But that day is not today. Right now I feel angry with that girl who wasted her life for so many years.
And really, it’s more than just anger with myself. It’s also anger with societal norms. Back then I was doing exactly what the world told me to do. I was succeeding in the very ways that my peers, teachers, coaches, and role models said I should—good grades, captain of the soccer team, editor of the paper, friends and boyfriends, ready to party. I thought I was strong, autonomous, calling the shots for myself.
Now I know that, without Christ, the substance of those goals was my flesh or someone else’s, providing no soul-deep satisfaction. In fact, now I sense that I actually succumbed to a consumer system: not only was I giving in to my own sinful nature, but I was taught to invest in a scheme that gratified others. A scheme that said, buy these, do this, strive for that—things that build kingdoms in this world and create idols out of stuff, self, status, and mere people.
When I see young girls and women in the same position—giving their lives away to idols—gut-wrenching anger rises in me. I want to scream, “Don’t you know? They’re using you! They’ll label your worth based on what you give them and then they’ll move on. You are not autonomous at all. You are being used.”
What sobers me is that just as I lived a duplicitous life then, so do many, many women in the church today. As a pastor’s wife it would be easy for me to look around and tisk tisk and say, “What’s wrong with these ladies? They’re in church. They should know better.” But the harder, better way is to remember, that was me for several years—and (and!) really, that is me now.
No one actually stops living a duplicitous life until heaven. Until He returns or calls me home I’ll be a sinner in need of God’s grace every single hour. Perhaps in the eyes of a more mature woman, farther along than myself, I am the college partier who does as she pleases, paying no mind to the Lord’s will.
Seeing that newspaper article has jolted me to remember from where I came. I was and am the duplicitous woman in the pew. I need to daily “be transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Romans 12:2) to remember that it’s His kingdom that satisfies. Not mine. Not the world’s. His kingdom is better. His ways are higher, sweeter, purer, deep-down soul-satisfying. And may He use me to graciously share that truth with other women—to provoke them away from the kingdoms of this world and towards the Kingdom of the Son.
May I be renewed with a vision of what God does with sinners like me. May I view my sisters in process with tenderness and HOPE. May I remember that Jesus moves amongst us transforming the old into new (2 Corinthians 5:17). May I be reminded that He’s doing that in the women around me and in me too. Still. And may this realization drive me to rejoice rather than to be repulsed.