Me: Oops, I totally forgot about Bible study.
Steve: Oh, that's too bad.
Me: I actually went through this study a few years ago on my own. The answers to the questions will be practically the same.
Steve: How's that?
Me: Well, I still have the same problems: I'm too self-focused and I don't always believe that God loves me.
Steve: I love you. I hope I can show you that God always loves you.
Me: Actually, you do that all of the time. I was thinking about writing a post about it. I had a really good title, too.
Steve: What was that?
So this is the "Umm" post. I really have been thinking for some weeks about how God uses Steve in this way, and I really did have a good thought-provoking, spiritual title - but between having a major case of pregnancy brain and then blowing out any remaining brain cells into whole colonies of Kleenexes (thank you, Spring Allergies), I honestly can't remember. The content (albeit long) remains the same, though. Here goes.
I struggle a lot with the idea that my worth to other people is based primarily on my performance. I'm a first-born and I take the whole "Be ye perfect" thing seriously. Basically, I figure out what I think I can do to make people like me and then go at it with tremendous enthusiasm expecting the results of being told, "Amelia, I don't know what we would do without you!" This feels great and shoves the doubts of failure into a cobwebby corner for at least a little while longer. Unfortunately, those doubts don't stay there. There comes a time when I can't do everything, or be everything that I think people want me to be. Then the doubts come flying back in my face and resound through my mind: You are a failure. You can't do it. They won't love you anymore.
Examples? After graduating from high school, I stayed home for a few years taking online classes, working, and helping my parents with household responsibilities. I was very secure in my position as the Indispensable Amelia. Then came the fateful day when I left to study at CEF's International Headquarters twelve hours away from home. One semester later, I returned home to discover that (gasp) life had continued just fine without me and (even worse) my siblings were doing a perfectly capable job at my old performance standbys. What did this mean for my perceived worth with my parents?
Enter Steve and the Dating Phase. The ingrained habits of perceiving worth through performance fired up again. It was easy to figure out which conversation topics, outfits, and silly presents got results. Enter the Marriage Phase. Yet again, I find myself constantly believing that as long as I can keep a great house, make splendid (and varied!) meals, talk intelligently, and generally "keep it together," I'll be the Amelia that Steve can't live without.
Enter the most important relationship I have: my relationship with the Lord. If I can just keep on being that Good Little Christian Girl who reads her Bible every day, talks nicely to people, prays a whole bunch, and desires him with every ounce of my being and never gets distracted, God will keep on loving me. In fact, he'll love me more than ever.
Then comes the days and weeks when the performance flops: no home-cooked meals, no empty laundry baskets, no deep dark discussions on the effects of Evangelicalism. No daily devotions, no hour-long prayer sessions, no ability to desire anything spiritual. Fail. Fail. Fail. The crazy thing is that deep inside I know that my relationship with my parents won't change (they are my parents...they have to love me, right?), my relationship with Steve won't change, and my relationship with God definitely won't change. But my mind doesn't want to believe it. My proud flesh still wants to have some reason to glory in itself...to think that somehow the blessings of secure relationships and especially my sanctification are my own doing.
This is where it becomes evident that God in his wisdom gave me a husband who reminds me of the truth of grace over and over again. Sometimes the reminder comes through words: I love you no matter what you do or don't do. You don't have to perform for me. Your "being clever" isn't what drives me. Many times it's just sitting and holding me on the couch while I sob out everything and really truly not caring if I act like a total idiot. Other times it's physically getting me away from the performance areas (like going out for a walk or to a restaurant for dinner) that reminds me that he loves me for me. That's all. End of story.
Ephesians 5:25 says, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." While I don't think that Steve would ever want me to suggest that he has achieved this command fully, I do believe that he obeys it fully and is the constant picture to me of Christ's contra-conditional love for the church...and that includes me.
But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-6
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved.... Ephesians 2:4-5
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39The struggle with performance-based worth may last a lifetime. But Steve truly reflects the steadfast love of the Lord to me on a daily basis. I can't escape the reminder Will I believe him?
God, who is the source of steadfast love and grace, assures me through his Word that it was he who loved first and nothing I can do will change that. I can't escape Christ. Will I believe him?