Wake up. Feel immense guilt for not doing or being enough. Brush my teeth. Start the day. Day after day, I would repeat the cycle, letting the weight of not feeling like enough push me into a rut. I went to church, I did devotions sometimes, I had discussions with my family about God. So why did it feel like I was constantly drowning?
Growing up in the church, I found Christ at a young age. When I was about 10, I attended church with my mom and learned that all I had to do was accept Jesus into my life to be saved. It’s part of the process, I thought, I have to do this. I prayed the prayer my pastor always prayed aloud at the end of service and met with a young counselor who gave me a Bible. That was that. I was saved. So what now?
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Jesus genuinely, I wanted to make him happy. At the time, however, I viewed giving up my flesh to follow Jesus as an item on the great “Christian To-Do” list. When I got baptized at 12 years old, I had a similar mindset. I did not particularly view my walk with God as a relationship, but an obligation. Figuring that I had to do everything by the Book, I adopted a lifestyle that centered around my works rather than God’s will. I didn’t realize at the time, but trying to project an outward appearance of perfection led me down a path that was lukewarm and soul crushing.
I read the Word sparingly, only consulting His Word when I was really troubled or when I needed to help a friend. Knowing that I was saved by Jesus was enough for me to carry on with life. As long as I didn’t have premarital sex, cuss, gossip, hate anyone, etc., then I was living the perfect life even if there would be trouble. That was, until trouble actually came my way.
I had my first boyfriend when I was 16 and he was 18. As a “rule-follower,” I wanted to take all rules seriously, even the rules of the world. Being a 16 year-old girl, there were unspoken expectations placed on my shoulders. The fact that I was in my first relationship doubled those expectations. The magazines I consulted gave me step-by-step instructions on how to be enough for my boyfriend. I couldn’t fail in the relationship department, but I couldn’t fail God either. I was conflicted about performing my supposed “girlfriend duties” because I didn’t even know what those were and because I felt, for lack of a better word, icky about these duties. I didn’t know why I felt so uncomfortable.
When he kept telling me that he couldn’t wait until I was 18 to have sex and that everyone does “stuff” beforehand, I found that it was hard to argue with him about it. Everyone was doing “stuff.” I was uncomfortable, but I wanted to be enough. I wanted to make him happy. I didn’t pray about it and I didn’t go to God’s Word. I didn’t trust God to deliver me from my doubt because I wanted to trust my judgement instead. I knew that God would warn me and I think that’s one of the reasons why I was so afraid to go to Him. Being enough according to my understanding was all that mattered. My ideals would be compromised and I would have to make a choice: the world or God. I wanted to succeed in making my boyfriend happy at the time, but I fooled myself into thinking I could still serve God.
A large part of our relationship was him convincing me that sexual things were okay to do in a relationship, and that it was natural to feel those things. Doing these things wasn’t having sex, therefore it was okay. He told me that it made him happy when I finally gave in to some of those things. I was happy that he was happy, but I still cried myself to sleep every night wondering why it felt so wrong. I even resented God a little because I couldn’t understand why He would let that happen to me. I followed some of His rules, I was saved by Jesus, so why was this happening?
After a year and some change, we broke up. I was free. Finally, I could focus on getting right with God. I could earn my salvation back. Falling into the same cycle again and again, I was so convinced that God would bless me and love me more if I did the right things. Every single time I focused on doing the right thing, it was almost always the right thing in the world’s eyes because I did not have God’s Word living and breathing in my very bones. I ended up feeling like pieces of my body were drifting away from each other with my soul as the weakened tether. Each day, my soul would loosen the tether and I felt more and more distant from my body. Insecurities that I thought I buried came bubbling to the surface. Was I skinny enough? Was I desirable? Was I awkward or weird? Am I enough to those close to me? These insecurities became the motivating force for the sin I fell into because I wanted to be perfect and not have these insecurities. I thought that throwing myself into what the world wanted from me would lessen my pain. I was incredibly wrong. I was floating in an abyss. If only I did what the world expected of me, then I could focus on doing work for God.
I became a cup of coffee left forgotten on the kitchen counter. I was lukewarm through and through. At one point, I didn’t care. I could have one foot in the world and one foot in scripture. The only cost of making this unconscious decision was to wake up every morning anxious to meet expectations I placed on myself.
Once I got into college, I met a boy within the first two months of the school year. I was healing from my sexual assault and I thought I was genuinely happy. I felt in control for once in my life. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I thought, I can choose this. I can take back my virtue. Ironic that I thought I could gain back my virtue by losing it again.
I had sex for the first time. I thought I would look different after. As I stared at myself in the mirror, I thought I would be glowing or something. There was no glow.
After that first time, I started to spiral. I was met with the same shame and guilt and confusion as the last time, only now I chose to go against God’s commands. What I was feeling was intensified tenfold. Willingly going against God’s Word is like having a hot poker thrust through your heart. The discernment lays heavy on your shoulders. It feels like you’re falling, desperately waiting to hit the bottom.
I was failing God and I didn’t know how to stop. I didn’t know if He even wanted me as His child after being so defiled and dirty. So I kept punishing myself, thinking that I deserved to live in sin for disobeying God and not being perfect.
About a year into this relationship, I couldn’t bear to look at myself in the mirror anymore. I wanted to spit at my own reflection. I had enough of myself. I cried, curled up in a ball on the floor, and called out to God. He pointed me to His Word. He invited me to dive into what He has to say.
Jesus died for us so we can be forgiven of all our sins. We are washed clean by His blood and are warmly invited to follow Jesus, not because it’s just “a thing” required of Christians, but because we love Him. We love because He first loved us. Jesus wants us to follow Him as we are now, He is not expecting perfection because no one can measure up to the task. Dedicating your life to your works is not why Jesus came to this earth to die for us.
Taking all of this in was so overwhelming in a good way. My whole perception of being saved was challenged and I am so glad that it was. I felt this massive weight lift off my shoulders. There was a long road ahead in terms of learning exactly what God says and how to heal from sin, but I was ready to break free from my legalistic and worldly chains. Following Jesus out of a pure heart sounded so refreshing.
I rededicated my life to Christ on February 4, 2018 and was baptized again on June 26, 2021. God has blessed me in so many ways and has used my mistakes and weaknesses for the good of His Kingdom. I know now that I will never be perfect and I am not expected to be. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. He paid the price. I do not have to be enough because Jesus is enough. God calls me “Beloved” despite the mistakes I made. I learned it’s not okay to serve two masters. Just because we sin does not mean we can sin more. God encourages us to turn around from our sin and calls us to a life of prosperity and fulfillment while following Him. We can always run to the Father when we mess up, He will never turn away from us. We are called to more than just living, we are called to thrive and we do not have to be perfect to do so.
Samantha Van Marter is a Northern Arizona University graduate with a degree in English and emphasis in Creative Writing. She currently writes for her blog, “Walking the Tightrope,” in hopes of spreading the truth and love of Jesus Christ. She hopes to pursue a career in editing so she can help others find their genuine voices in Christ.