I considered myself to be a perfect Christian girl, who didn’t struggle or fight with sin. I was obedient to God; I didn’t lie, I wasn’t mean, I didn’t swear, I attended church, I prayed, and I read my Bible. People looked up to me as an example of the faith. Though I didn’t earn my faith, I believed I did a pretty great job keeping it and making God happy with me.
I begged God to take away my overwhelming fears and panic attacks, but like the rest of my life, I felt like He had turned from me and left me to suffer another season filled with anxiety.
I came to the conclusion that if God didn’t want to help me, I would have to help myself. I changed my lifestyle, resorting to clean eating and working out to rid myself of my anxiety, but that led to further fears of gaining weight and eating anything that didn’t comply to the “clean eating” rules. My healthy lifestyle soon became an idol that I held onto with a death grip.
Then I looked at the people around me. If anyone did anything that I perceived as an attack against me, I sought to either punish them or eliminate them from my life. But this left me alone with tattered relationships. I lost all my high school friends and damaged my relationship with my parents. All I had left was my boyfriend, Daniel, and even that relationship felt like it was clinging on by a single strand of thread sometimes.
Despite these attempts, the anxiety continued. Nights of panic attacks in my bedroom or bathroom, crying uncontrollably and hyperventilating. I prayed and cried out to God and begged Him to help me understand and overcome all of it. I remember spending nights crying in the bathroom where I hoped no one could hear me, with a sob-drenched voice asking, “Why have you abandoned me? Why have you taken everything away from me? Haven’t I been good enough?”
I questioned my salvation often. But whenever I voiced those fears to someone, I always heard back, “No dear, I know you are a Christian. Christians struggle, and that’s okay. Just trust God.” That answer always left me unsatisfied. Like a drain stopped with a plug that was too small—it appeared like it was working, but water was still escaping between the cracks. I smiled back to those people and thanked them, but the answer never stuck with me.
This anxiety made me bitter against God. I had done what he demanded, yet I never found relief. I was not only bitter against the people who I thought were out to get me, I was also bitter against the God who owed me peace but never gave it.
What I couldn’t see was the sovereign God at work smelting my hardened heart. It was the beginning of the gentle call of his irresistible grace. I didn’t know I was a sinner in need of Christ. I saw myself as righteous on my own, not requiring anyone’s help with my salvation.
But to be saved by the grace of God, we need to recognize our own depravity. We need to recognize that because of the first sin of Adam and because of our own sinfulness, we have fallen short of the glory of God and have no way of restoring ourselves. We need to see that we are too depraved to stand before the Most Holy God. We could never earn any affection or any justification in his sight. We are not just messy, imperfect people who make mistakes. We have spit in the face of the sovereign and holy God of the universe and rebelled against him, despite being his creation and subjects. Despite his perfection in every attribute, we pursue lesser things that were created by him and the sin he detests. We have all done this, not just some.
Sin is engrained into our very flesh, making us incapable of choosing God on our own. We are conceived with sin in us, and our sinful, stony hearts have no yearning for a holy God who calls us to his holy standard. Our first parent, Adam, as our representative in the Garden of Eden, chose to disobey, grafting this sinful nature into all of us. Isn’t this telling; the only two people who got to experience the loveliness and goodness of Eden, the only humans who could have possibly resisted temptation, failed to keep God’s command. How much more, in a world of depravity, are we bound to fail?
To be saved from my legalism, I needed to see my sinfulness. And God was using my anxiety to do just that.
I was tired of the same comforting lies being repeated to be in different fashions. I went to an old mentor, a lady I knew would give me the hard truth when I needed it.
From her summer cabin with a fussy internet connection, we studied the Bible together—for weeks. We began at Creation with the first sin, where she showed me that everyone is a sinner by birth and by action. She showed me that we didn’t simply sin occasionally, but we all hated and rebelled against the Holy God.
A new sense of depravity in myself began to take form. I knew lately I wasn’t acting Christian-like, but I didn’t realize how deep my depravity ran. I never had. When I “accepted” the gospel at the age of 13, I did so because the speaker convinced me that God loved me and wanted me. I was saved that day because I accepted God’s love for me and decided to live a life obedient to him to repay him for his love to me. I thought that was the gospel.
She showed me that I didn’t choose the gospel, because I was incapable of doing so. How could I hate God and be dead in sin, loving sin, and suddenly decide to be obedient because God loved me? I was blind, deaf, and dead. I needed something supernatural. I needed God to breathe life into me.
I thought that God forgave me because he was loving. But God is also just. How could he forgive a wretched sinner without a payment? She showed me through the Scripture that God required a sacrifice, and that sacrifice was Christ. His sacrifice atoned for my sins—his death on the cross took the wrath that I deserved, and I deserved eternal hell. He took that entire payment. I thought my salvation was based on the fact that I accepted God’s loving reach to me. But my salvation was based on Christ’s full atonement for my sins. It was because of his sacrifice that I stood righteous and loved before God. There was nothing I could do. This is true grace.
I believed that my salvation rested on my continual obedience to God. But she showed me in the Word of God that I was incapable of doing so. How could I—imperfect, weak, and sinful—possibly keep my salvation? If I could lose my salvation, I would lose it each day. If I was saved by grace, I was kept by grace as well. Because Jesus rose from the dead and had victory over sin, I could rest knowing I would also rise from the dead and spend eternity with him. Each sin was and would be forgiven by God not because I was good enough, but because Christ’s atonement was complete.
Over those weeks in the hot summer heat, she preached the gospel to me unlike I had ever heard it. She made the gospel beautiful, and showed me my ugly sins.
Piece by piece, God removed the veil that blinded me and the false gospel I had clung to for so many years. With hot tears running down my cheeks, I begged God to forgive my sins. I confessed my selfishness and anger towards him and asked for his help to repent. Christ peeled my clenched fingers open to receive his grace. Relief swept over me as I finally gained the assurance that I was truly a daughter of God.
I had gone from suffocating to breathing. I lived under water for years, striving for air but never able to find it and yet wondering why I couldn’t. Then Saviour reached down into the cold waters and pulled me to the surface and showed me the obvious truth I had been suppressing but that I was also unable to obtain—air was there above me. And the doubt washed away as I was pulled out of the waters by God himself.
I am humbled each time I remember my salvation story. God could have left me where I was—sinful, a false convert, condemned to hell—and be completely justified in doing so. He didn’t have to save me. There was nothing special about me that was worth saving. And yet, by his grace, he chose to open my eyes. And he did so through the my anxiety. I so badly wanted to control my anxiety and my salvation. Yet what I didn’t realize is that these two were both a gift, one that had to given and was out of my sovereignty. God used this anxiety to show me how desperate I was for his saving grace and how depraved I truly was. My anxiety was a gift of grace to show me the greater gift of grace I desperately needed.