Just 7 years ago, I was the woman at the well, living in isolation, separated from people by the shame of not 1, but 2 failed marriages. I was a single parent of 3, struggling financially, desperately trying to control my very typical teenage son’s social life, fearful I would lose him to substance abuse as I had my brother. My entire family was in WI, and I had distanced myself from friends, thinking they were judging me for not following my husband to Boston for a job he accepted on his own, and painfully, against my wishes.
I felt alone, insecure, like I didn’t matter, and everything in my life seemed out of control.
So like the woman at the well who drew water in the heat of the day to avoid facing other women in the early morning, I snuck away to a 5-day Christian weight loss program called “Lose It For Life” to figure out how to control the one thing I thought I could – my weight. The “heat” that drove me into isolation was shame about the choices I had made in my life and a public image I was desperately trying to keep intact. I somehow believed that if I just lost weight and felt good about the way I looked, that no one would discover the “real” me, broken and falling apart on the inside.
I was a businesswoman, a single mom with 3 smart kids – all good athletes, the Youth Minister that led teens on mission trips, took kids to serve in soup kitchens, a soccer coach and referee, outgoing, funny, confident, had it all together – that’s the me I let people see.
I was raised with a strong work ethic, high expectations for achievement, a sense of responsibility to do what was right. The focus was on self-reliance and as a 10 yr old when my mom died, I learned from my dad that life isn’t fair, but you just buck up and do what you have to do. God won’t give you more than you can handle, he said. So I thought I was just “handling” what God expected me to.
Then one summer night I woke up with spasms shooting out of my sciatic nerve into my lower back and down my leg. I ended up home from work for 10 weeks, only getting out of bed or off the couch to go to the chiropractor and physical therapy to treat herniated disks. My self-reliance was shattered and I was dependent on other people for everything – oh, I hated that!
But in this place of physical brokenness, God got my attention – I had come to the end of myself and I started spending the hours of my day in prayer and in the Word. I had just started a Christian Life Coaching certification program that required me to completely examine who I was before God, and it exposed every broken place in my life and my need for His redeeming love and saving grace. It’s been said that circumstances don’t change you – they just expose you, and that was certainly true for me.
God didn’t change my circumstances, but He changed my heart and changed my thinking. Sometimes we are like the Israelites described in Romans 9, trying to get right with God by keeping his laws – going to church, tithing, going on missions trips, serving in soup kitchens, striving to be the perfect parent - but Paul explains that God’s plan is not for those who try to earn his favor by being good. It is for those who realize they can never be good enough and so must depend on Christ.
The paraphrase of the Romans passage in The Message says, “The Israelites were so absorbed in their ‘God projects’ that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road.”
It wasn’t until my willful self-reliance was broken and the “God projects” that defined me were stripped away that I could see God clearly, and the new life in Christ He was offering me. Ephesians 2:10 says “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
I thought I was hiding behind a rock of shame and failure, but I was actually carrying it. And when I came to Christ and gave my life to Him, I felt the full weight of my past lifted off of me. I can sing Natalie Grant’s “The Real Me” with confidence - “Unveil me completely, I’m loosening my grasp, there’s no need to mask my frailty because You see the real me – wonderful, beautiful, is what You see when You look at me.”
If you are hiding out from relationships with God or others because you think you’ve made a mess of your life, will you just ask God right now to be the Artist of your soul, to trust that you are His masterpiece, and to help you see yourself as He sees you? He has created you anew in Christ Jesus so you can do the good things he planned for you long ago. He is El Shaddai, All Sufficient.