Question: I am a Christian. I know that I believe in Jesus and that I am forgiven and have eternal life. But here is my question. I made a mistake when I was 18 and got pregnant, and then married a person who I’m pretty sure is not who God planned for me. We have been married 32 years and over the years he has been both physically and emotionally abusive. Not all of the time but enough that I look back and have to look hard to find any joy. We have 5 children and they are good kids for the most part but I know they could have been more.

My question is how can you change so much in your life? Can I ever really be the person I am when I have lived my entire life being someone I’m not? It’s like you took a homeless person out of his cardboard box and gave him a mansion to live in, he still feels comfort in his box and he returns to the box instead of living in the mansion.

I made it my goal to leave this year but keep finding reasons why I should stay. Will I ever attain the “normal” life I want? Sometimes the work and the guilt is overwhelming. Is it ever too late to find God’s plan for your life?

Answer: I’m sorry for your suffering and pain. We have all made mistakes in life, sometimes very big one’s like marrying the wrong person, having an abortion, driving intoxicated and injuring someone or worse and Satan would like us to believe that those mistakes mean we are forever banned from God’s perfect will. That is not true. The apostle Paul says that it is God’s will that you mature and live a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4). God promises that we are his workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) and that he that has begun a good work in us will complete it (Philippians 1:6).

That said, let’s look at what steps you can you take to start feeling less like returning to the cardboard box of shame, guilt, and condemnation and more comfortable living in the mansion of God’s grace.

1. Share your full story with some trusted friends. We have lost the blessing of confession in our modern culture. You do not need their forgiveness for your past mistakes but you do need to experience their love and grace. When we share the ugliest parts of ourselves with other people and we find love and acceptance, it helps us to understand God’s grace just a little bit more. That’s probably why the 12 step groups are so popular and what the church can learn from them.

When the prodigal son returned home to the father (see Luke 15), he did not expect to live in the family mansion. He was already used to living in the cardboard boxes of the street. All he asked of his father was to let him work as a hired servant – to live in the barn and have something to eat on a regular basis. Yet the father wanted him to live in the mansion, gave him a big party and welcomed him home. Was the son worthy? Not really. It was all the generous love of the father. Jesus tells this story to show us what God is like. The son made some big mistakes but the father welcomed him home anyway. In the Old Testament the story of Hosea and Gomer have a similar theme. Hosea bought Gomer back and brought her home. She did not deserve it, but she received it.

I think that it would be wrong for us to ever feel worthy or deserving of God’s grace. Then we would feel entitled instead of grateful. Instead of trying to feel worthy enough to live in the mansion, recognize that you’re not worthy (nor is anyone else for that matter, even those who look more “together” than you feel). Instead, thank God that he chose to adopt you and bring you into his mansion to live. Ask him to help you feel safe there, not worthy.

2. Meditate on the verse in Psalm 86:5 “Oh Lord, you are so good, so willing to forgive and so full of unfailing love to everyone who asks for your help”. Is that how you see God? He is good, he wants to forgive and help you take these next steps. Next read John 4 and look at the story of the woman at the well. She was an unloved woman. She was an immoral woman. She was a broken woman. She was living with a man who did not love her enough to marry her or to even accompany her to the well that day. She lived among the cardboard boxes in her city. Even the other women didn’t like her as we see that she went to the well that day alone (unheard of in Middle Eastern culture).

But after her encounter with Jesus, her picture of herself changed. She not only saw herself as an immoral woman, but now she felt forgiven. She not only saw herself as a lonely woman, but she was given living water. She not only saw her brokenness, but began to see her beauty. We know this because as she went back into the town and said, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did,” the townspeople actually listened to her and many came to know Jesus. What was so different about her after her conversation with Jesus? I think it was because she actually he believed him – that he loved her, she was special and valuable and that she had a purpose, in spite of her mistakes.

Take some time to gaze into the eyes of the God of Psalm 86:5 and notice what you see as you see Jesus looking back at you. As the Samaritan woman did, I hope you will find love, not condemnation, grace, not anger, mercy, not disgust. Psychologist David Benner says, “Genuine self knowledge begins by looking at God and noticing how God is looking at us. Grounding our knowing of our self in God’s knowing of us, anchors us in reality. It also anchors us in God.”

3. Understand that healing does require changes and those changes sometimes make us uncomfortable. When Jesus asked the paralyzed man in John 5 if he wanted to be well, at first glance we might think that odd. Who wouldn’t want to get well? But Jesus knew that healing would dramatically change this man’s life. He had been lame for 38 years. If he was healed, it would require him to learn new things. He would need to get a job to support himself instead of being dependent on others. He would now have to talk with people face to face as a peer, instead of being on the ground, looking up. His entire self concept would be altered and Jesus knew that it would take some time for him to get used to his new self. As God has been healing you, be patient with yourself. You have not yet grown into who you are in Christ. He knows that and is not impatient with your progress but it sounds like you may be allowing those condemning voices to scare and intimate you. Don’t let them. Surround yourself with those who can cheer you on and encourage your growth. Stop beating yourself up for your mistakes. I imagine this man fell down a few times in his newly healed legs. Just pick yourself back up and continue to walk and the more you do, the stronger you’ll get.

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