It was about that same time that the sexual abuse from my dad ended but unfortunately there were others who put their hands on me. I learned that sleepovers were almost never safe and being alone with grandpa was a bad idea. I was very shy and quiet and must have looked like an easy target to those whose goal it was to victimize a child.
My dad was an alcoholic and Mom was his codependent counterpart. Mom would take us kids to church sporadically and for a few years we attended a local Baptist church. There I learned that if I loved Jesus, I had to be a good Christian girl. But I wasn’t good. I was a bad girl because bad things had been done to me. I wanted desperately to be accepted and loved by Jesus, by the people who were called “His,” and to be a part of His family, yet what I heard proclaimed disqualified me.
I knew there was no way that Jesus loved bad me like he loved the other good girls in my Sunday school class. They were all so good and clean and shiny and I was anything but. Eventually, church was just a place of shame for me, and by the time I was thirteen I avoided it at all costs. Occasionally mom would suggest I try out a new youth group and I would go feeling hopeful, but I always ended up counting the minutes until it was over and vowing never to go back. It seemed to me that the older those Christian kids got, the happier, cleaner, and shinier they got.
My first week of high school I was befriended by a cute senior boy and after a few weeks he asked me if I wanted to go with him to a youth group meeting. Did I?! He was a Christian and a senior; this seemed like a chance at redemption for me. He picked me up and as we walked to his car I realized the front seat was already occupied. I got in the back and he introduced me to his beautiful blond “girlfriend.” I was mortified. How in the world could I have thought that someone like that would be interested in me?
The other teens at the youth group meeting were the happiest, cleanest, shiniest group of Christians I had ever seen. They played games, sang songs, and talked about religious things like purity, while I sat in my embarrassment and shame, counting the minutes once again. It was clear that I did not belong there. I came to accept that redemption was not mine to be had.
Deep down, I knew I belonged to Jesus, but I just didn’t know Him. What I had learned in church over the years had convinced me that Jesus was disgusted with and ashamed of me; how could this good God call this bad girl his daughter? For the next ten years I had every intention of numbing the darkness I felt and did anything it took to feel good and find what I thought was love. Every sinful choice I made caused me more shame and brought more darkness.
I have been told by other Christians that I wasn’t saved until I turned my life around, made better choices to follow Christ, and got “serious” about my “walk.” Essentially, I was being told that my salvation was in my hands and not in God’s.
That’s just dumb.
What I know is this: Jesus found me, saved me, and loved me when I was just a girl. It was the combination of the sexual assault by those who claimed they loved me, the church with its abusive and distorted messages about who Jesus is, and my own skewed perspective that convinced me that Jesus didn’t love me.
Ephesians 1:4 says that Jesus chose for me to be in him from the foundations of the earth. New Living Translation says it like this… “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” I never once lost that childlike hope that he would rescue me, that he loved me enough to die for me. But it has taken years to understand and begin to believe the truth that I am holy and without fault in his eyes.
A friend wrote to me today saying, “Faith is not revealed through our good works, it’s revealed through our complete dependence on His.” And I know it’s true because Romans 4:5 says “But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.” Jesus died in my place so that he could make me into his perfect daughter. He has chosen me and covered me with his righteousness and there is no going back to who I was before he made me his. I still struggle with guilt and shame, but now that I know this truth, it’s what keeps me running to him rather than away.
All that really matters is that what God’s Word says is true: I am loved perfectly and have been made perfect because of what Jesus did for me. In the midst of my badness, I’m declared good. He’s not ashamed of me nor has he ever been; I’m His beloved, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. All that time, all those years, all that sin and darkness and shame, he never left after all.
No darkness is too dark that the light of the Gospel cannot redeem. Have a story, comment, or suggestion? Please email us at NoDarkness2Dark@gmail.com