Since I have entitled my blog “Mercy Triumphs”, I would like to share with you a time when mercy triumphed in my life. It was actually the first time that I was profoundly aware of God’s mercy towards me. I was 30 years old. But let me start at the beginning. . .
I don’t remember when I first came to faith. I was raised in a Christian home. My parents were the born-again, spirit-filled, Bible-believing, make-a-difference-in-your-everyday-life kind of Christians. In fact, I came from a long line of such kind of believers. So naturally, my parents taught me to love Jesus as my Savior and we went to church every chance we could get.
One Sunday when I was about seven, my pastor’s wife, who was also my Sunday school teacher, came to my older sister and me after church and asked us if we had ever gone down to the altar in the front of the church and asked Jesus to come into our hearts. Since neither of us could remember doing that, we went down to the altar with our pastor’s wife and repeated “the sinner’s prayer” with her and asked Jesus to come in. But even as we were doing that, I remember thinking to myself, “But, I love Jesus and I belong to Him!”
So from my earliest memories I knew I loved Jesus. I grew up learning from both my parents and my teachers at church all the stories of the Bible and the gospel message of how Jesus had died to save me from my sins.
But in spite of all that, I still got it stuck in my head that God loved me because I was good. Knowing I must be good, I became a "pleaser" par excellence. I knew, almost instinctively, when Mom was upset because we kids hadn’t done our chores in a timely manner, so I would scurry around and do what was required, so that my siblings would get in trouble, and I wouldn’t! If left in charge of my younger brother and sister, they could expect a sermon from me about acting right, if they wanted to go to heaven. Being “Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes” required that I do everything my parents, my schoolteachers, my Sunday school teachers, my pastor, and everybody else in authority, including God, wanted. So it’s not surprising that I went to Bible college, intending to become a missionary.
That I married a Marine and not a missionary is another story, but my mode of operating didn’t change. I simply added my husband to the list of people I needed to please. After a two-year enlistment in the USMC, Steven and I decided to go back to Bethany Bible College where we had met, to complete our B.A. degrees in psychology. At first things went well. I got straight-A’s for my efforts the first semester back at Bethany. Even though finances were tight, and we both had to work (in addition to being full-time students), we were able to scrape together a down payment to buy a small cabin in the deep woods near Bethany. But after about six months into this endeavor, things began to fall apart for me. Spurred on by the straight-A’s, I had set new academic and personal goals for myself, which were proving harder to realize than I had hoped. Financial and time limitations made any improvements to our little cabin impossible. We even had to scrounge old newspapers to burn in our wood stove to keep warm. It was dark when I left in the morning and dark when I got home at night. I got a bad case of poison oak from the bushes surrounding our cabin. With school and jobs, Steven and I were not seeing very much of each other. In addition, Steven was getting a lot more satisfaction and social interaction from his job than I was from mine. On top of all that, there was a philosophical/ theological debate raging between the administration and faculty of Bethany that was filtering down to the students, causing much dissatisfaction. As if that wasn’t enough, the Church at large (for those of you old enough to remember :)) was very deep into the “Shepherding” movement with its emphasis on authority and submission, which I was not at all sure that I wanted to be a part of. The thought finally came crashing into my mind that I could not do it! All this frantic activity that I was doing to please all the voices in my head was not working!
I had an emotional breakdown, curled up in bed in a fetal position, crying, for two days.
Steven finally convinced me to go to a counselor. So I did, with little relief. My solution was to get angry. I thought, “Phooey on them! Now, I will do as I please!" I got angry with everyone I considered an authority in my life: Steven, my parents, the school administration, church leadership and so on up, including God. And I stayed that way for seven years!
Things got really bad between Steven and me. By the time he was back in the Marine Corps as an officer finances were OK, but I was still angry. The only thing that was keeping Steven from asking for a divorce was our four-year-old daughter. He adored her and knew what divorce could do to kids. A popular song at the time, “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast!” kept playing over in his mind. But he did volunteer to take a six-month float to Okinawa, just to get away from me. I had become that hard to live with.
God used the time that Steven was away to deal with me. I saw where my anger had led me, and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, I was so tired of the anger! I really wanted the joy that I had experienced as a child, serving God with my whole heart. It was at that point that God spoke to my heart. He said,
“Denise, I have not moved—you have! All the joy you will ever want is right here with Me. Come back!”
So I did. And the anger that I had carried for seven years melted.
That, of course, was not the end of the story. There were many more things to be learned, some of them very hard. But it was the beginning of my understanding of God’s mercy. Because I realized that God had loved me the entire seven years that I was angry with Him! He did not cast me off, even though I was pushing hard against Him. He let me go to end of myself and take a look, and then gently drew me back to Himself in love. How could I not love Him in return?
“Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven! For His mercy endures forever.” Psalm 136:26