“Avery, Jesus didn’t die on the cross to make you behave.”

I vividly remember sitting on the kitchen floor, talking to a friend on the phone one late night in October of 2004. When she abruptly said that statement, it propelled me into a long, painful journey learning to know God.

If Jesus’ goal in dying wasn’t to make me behave, then what was His goal?

My Christian life before that night in October consisted of an endless striving to live up to what I perceived as God’s standards. Every day I was trying to be good enough to gain His approval and please Him. Night after night I would lay in bed and wish I had done better. I was disappointed in myself for failing God, and eventually, I developed the opinion that I wasn’t good enough. I had to try harder. I was constantly trying to find the courage to do better, and constantly proving to myself that I was a failure.

Life had hurt me. I don’t blame the pain I dealt with on family or friends, but on circumstances and my perception of them. One of the most serious, continuous injuries I received over the years came through my mother having eight miscarriages. I was seven years old when our first baby died, and over the next thirteen years, going through seven more miscarriages caused a lot of pain to build up in my heart. The most wounding thing about this pain is that Satan deceived me into believing that God wanted me to “move on” and “get over it” so I could be of use to the Kingdom. I also came to believe that God was hurting me so He could teach me a lesson through the miscarriages, and that they kept happening because I wasn’t getting the point. I thought He wanted me to surrender more. I thought He wanted me to be so consumed with His will that I wouldn’t feel pain if our baby died.

Believing that I was failing to live up to God’s expectations caused me to stop expressing my heart to Him. I began feeling intense rejection from God and also from people. In response to this, I reverted to a hiding place inside where even God wasn’t allowed. In essence, I was a professional performer, trying to act in the ways I thought God and people wanted me to act.

God’s grace brought me to a new season of redemption. I never knew I was hurt before He began inquiring of my pain. I never knew what I thought of myself or of God until He began teaching me how He created my relationship with Him to be—something entirely different than what I expected.

God told me that He already approved of me. He told me that He cared about every emotion I ever felt, even if it was a sinful reaction. He told me that He loved me because He chose to, not because I did, or ever would, deserve it…“nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

John 8:32 has become my life verse: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Before my relationship with God began to change, I thought that the truth God was talking about in that verse was the truth about Jesus coming to earth, dying and being resurrected. I didn’t pay much attention to that verse because I thought it had already been accomplished in my life. I already knew and believed the truth.

During the months following October, 2004, God redefined “truth” to me. I learned the truth about me, as a freed, accepted, born-again Christian. I learned that the reason Jesus died on the cross wasn’t so I could be a better Christian or to improve my behavior, but because He wanted a real, living relationship with me that couldn’t be accomplished while I was separated because of sin. God told me that He delighted in me, and then spent months driving that truth home. I learned that what God wanted most from me was written in Psalm 15:1-2: “O Lord, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill?...He who speaks truth in his heart.” Speaking truth in my heart, no matter what that looked like, was the way to freedom from hiding—the way to a real, sincere relationship with God.

The feat of revealing my heart brought much pain and insecurity. God provided incredible support through a mentor-type relationship I developed with a very committed friend during that time. He wasn’t willing to let me retreat.

God’s passionate pursuit of me has, and continues to cause overwhelming redemption and renewal in my life. I honestly can’t explain or hope to report the hundreds of times He has proved Himself faithful to His promises. He is, in the most literal sense of the phrase, an awesome God!


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