As the years roll by, I become more acutely aware of how much forgiveness God actually has poured out on me. When I was a little girl and first learned to pray, I had a vague understanding of repentance. When I was talking to God, I tried hard to think of what I might have done wrong so I could tell Him I was sorry (of course, bossing my two younger sisters around seemed only RIGHT, since I was older and knew what was better for them, so that never made the list of offenses in my mind!). In fact, I was twelve before I remember having an overwhelming sense of failure and sinfulness. By that time, I was mired in a deep sense of self-doubt and incipient self-hatred; I recall making a list one day of all my talents (which, from a child’s perspective, still seemed pretty extensive – ha!) and another list, side-by-side with the first enumeration, of my character flaws. In my estimation, the few character flaws were SO pervasive and wicked that they FAR outweighed anything I could do well (which, by the way, was mostly limited to excelling in a long list of academic subjects). Hopelessness and a profound sense of guilt entered my heart at this point, accompanied by a boatload of self-condemnation.
My sense of defilement continued to increase as I navigated the murky waters of college life. I entered university at age sixteen and quickly grasped that the youth culture of those around me was immoral and misguided. In spite of my academic success and best resolutions in the ethical standards department, I found myself affected by the “frog-in-the-pot” syndrome; when I paused at intervals to examine my heart, I realized I had compromised in some areas and was no better at heart than many of those around me. How did I cope? I continued to read my Bible and worked even more assiduously at performing well by worldly standards. I enrolled in increasingly heavier course loads and even excelled in some graduate courses as a very young undergraduate student. I finished a triple major in under four years and was catapulted, quite unprepared, into the working world, where I found I could no longer be a college student; I was forced to be a grown-up. My self-loathing had not disappeared. I loved God but had no clue how active He longed to be in my life. I judged myself harshly; regardless of how many awards I had received or how high my grades had been in school, I found myself severely wanting in the righteousness department. After over three years of pushing myself with campus activities, leadership in various organizations, and heavy course loads, all the while pretending to have a casual attitude about school to avoid being ridiculed by my peers, my health had also suffered. A success on paper, I left university years behind; however, I also left school anorexic, bulimic, and hypothyroid. Worse still, I despised myself and knew in my heart of hearts that no successful performance imaginable could erase the heaviness in my heart.
What was the root of my dilemma? A blindness to the overwhelming power and magnitude of God’s mercy toward me. Jesus said that the one who is forgiven much is the one who loves much (Luke 7:37). What I had not understood was that all sin is sin, regardless of how minor it may appear. The blackness of my heart was not my responsibility once I had given it to Jesus, who DOES forgive and wipe away that blackness of heart. Somehow I had believed God’s Word but had been incapable of receiving it as truth for myself. I had somehow become trapped in a paradoxical mindset that regarded myself as somehow better than others because I KNEW what was right, yet far worse than others because I was therefore more accountable to DO what was right and found myself utterly incapable of that perfection. I thereby had exempted myself from receiving God’s forgiveness and mercy. However, through all those years, Jesus never left me; He continued to tug at my heart, and as my desperation for deliverance from myself increased, He poured His love out on me and wrapped His arms around me, His broken child. Ultimately, I found myself at His feet in complete despair. He responded by speaking to me of His love. What an incisive revelation it was to me that He really loves me more than I hated myself! His mercy for me was unlimited; He loved me before He set me free of self-condemnation and the downward spiral of self-hatred. He had loved me all those years as He watched me descend into the morass of hopelessness I had become. Ultimately, He met me at the bottom of the pit I had dug for myself (with some assistance from the enemy!).
I am forever grateful to Jesus for pouring His mercy out on me. I cannot thank Him enough for His acceptance, His goodness to me in spite of my faults, and His willingness and kindness to pick me up every time I stumble. Now, years later, as I find myself involved in outreach to bring His love to those trapped in some form of slavery, I have great compassion — for I am no different. I have a message of hope that no one can take away from me. God’s love is UNFAILING, and His mercy and delivering power are, indeed, BOUNDLESS! As Isaiah 55:7 states, God “will abundantly pardon.” As the psalmist says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has HE removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because HE DELIGHTS IN MERCY. He will again have compassion on us and will subdue our iniquities [good news, huh?]. You will cast all our sins INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA (Micah 7: 18-19).