I have always been content being somewhat of a loner. My life before Christ almost demanded I not get too close to anyone for fear they would find out some unpleasant things about me or ask me to give up some things I didn’t want to give up! I didn’t want to be accountable to anyone. The few times I had tried to build friendships had failed and I explained this away by blaming others or my “painfully shy” personality, but the reality is that I didn’t try for the reasons listed above. I also had a general mistrust of people and a fair amount of bitterness towards the world. The older I got, the worse it got and I had become pretty isolated. God was about to change that!
I love studying God’s Word: how He works in the world, discovering new and deeper truths in the Bible, reading Biblically-sound authors to get their thoughts on various topics. For three years I read and studied everything I could lay my hands on. I couldn’t get enough and would often be reading 2 or 3 books at a time, while reading all the articles in the magazines I had subscribed to. In addition, I was reading the Bible all the way through each year and studying it as I went. I felt led to study, knew that’s how God wanted me to spend this time. Then the hunger dissipated. I kept buying books, reading my magazines and finding websites, but I sensed my time of intense, focused learning was drawing to a close. I found myself reading only one or two chapters of a book or an introduction to an article, with no desire to finish. New material seemed repetitious. I would become frustrated waiting for an author to lead me down a new path. I had to admit I longed to connect with other Christians and knew I needed to find some way to serve God in addition to witnessing for Him. I recognized these stirrings as the still, small voice of God guiding me to the next step in my walk with Him and, though I tried, I couldn’t ignore Him.
I was overcome with fear when I thought about building relationships with other Christians. I was comfortable sitting at home, reading my books and articles, learning and understanding new things, writing papers and journaling, listening to sermons at church and on the radio. But it became very clear to me that it was time for me to get out of the house and interact with other Christians, become an active part of the body of Christ. I made a feeble attempt at one point, but when it didn’t work out like I thought it should have, I retreated again. I couldn’t put my finger on why this was such a struggle; I expected connecting with Christians would be easy. I talked to my daughter about finding a church where members reached out more than they did at our current church. Of course, THEY were the problem! But I couldn’t continue to blame others for my failure to connect. After all, there was only one common denominator in all these situations – ME!
We did start attending a new church after much prayer and to meet other needs we felt were no longer being met where we were. This is a larger church and an important component of it is the Life Groups. Members are encouraged to join a small group of members that meet in homes on various nights of the week to take part in fellowship, Bible study, and social activities. The aim is to build relationships with the members, something that is difficult to do in a large church. A friend introduced me to the leader of a group she thought would be a good fit for me. The leader called to give me information about that week’s meeting but I didn’t return the call and I certainly didn’t go! She called me again and left a message telling me about the next meeting and asking me to let her know if she was calling the right number. At that point I knew I was just being rude so I called her back. I actually enjoyed our conversation but still found an excuse not to go to the meeting that week. The battle was on and Satan was winning!
I felt a deep regret and very unsettled about not going and figured someone would ask why I hadn’t yet attended. I was tired of lying, making excuses and dealing with the fallout of disobedience to what God had clearly laid on my heart. I decided to talk to my daughter about my struggle. For the first time in my life I talked about my fear of seeking out friends, how I panic at the thought of spending time socially with someone. I admitted to the fear that they would find out about my history and not want anything to do with me. Her response: “Mom, you have to forgive yourself for things you’ve done in the past.”
That hit me like a brick. I thought I had done that already. I knew God had forgiven me but I realized she was right: I hadn’t forgiven myself. I was wallowing in all the harm I had done to myself and others, using the memories to remind myself what a horrible person I AM (not was), working desperately to understand how I could have done the things I had done. In my mind, I was still THAT person, still capable of making the kinds of decisions I had made in the past, still someone that good people should avoid.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
Jeremiah 18:3-6 (NIV) tells us: “So I went down to the potter’s house and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
Unlike the words of Jeremiah 18:3-6, where the potter forms the clay into “another pot,” what I actually believed was that God was merely repairing some cracks or re-shaping my handle. Who I had been in the past still lurked beneath the repair job God was performing on me. In my mind I wasn’t a new creature, just the old creature with a layer of fresh clay covering the nicks and cracks. But both the 2 Corinthians passage and the Jeremiah passage clearly state that God isn’t just repairing us. “The old has GONE….” “…the potter formed it into ANOTHER POT….”
It’s only been a couple of months since I figured this out. But in that short amount of time, God has worked miracles in my life. I actually FEEL different; I feel clean inside. I look at others expecting them to ask what’s different about me. I see through clearer eyes, as if there had been a veil in front of them before. I do feel that a huge boulder has been lifted off my shoulders. I marvel as I realize God’s love is greater than I had realized (and I thought it was pretty tremendous to begin with!). I care about the people I have met and can feel that they care about me, too.
I am looking for another Life Group so I can be with other Christians during the week. I plan on going to this second group by myself – my daughter won’t have to babysit her mother, though I know she doesn’t mind. (She is planning on continuing with the other Life Group and it’s nice to be able to share that with her.) I am beginning to talk to other people at church, not waiting for them to speak to me first. Instead of thinking about how I’m handling a conversation or worrying about whether I might have to reveal something about my past, I am relaxed and am beginning to enjoy these interactions. I can truly see myself as God sees me, a new creation. My daughter commented that she is so happy to see her “new mom;” proof positive that I’m not an old pot with patches; I’m “another pot!”
The world is in the business of trying to repair people. God is in the business of making people new. There is a huge difference between the two and we must understand that difference and claim it. If you’re unable to forgive yourself, consider the possibility that you haven’t turned from something God is asking you to get rid of. If you find nothing in that inventory, pray and meditate on what God is saying to us in these passages. Jesus didn’t die on the cross only for the sins we’ll commit after we accept Him: He died on the cross for ALL our sins; past, present and future. They’re all covered with His blood. We’re not just being fixed, we’re being made new.
“…the pot he was shaping was marred, so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand….” (from Jeremiah 18:3-6)