As part of this Does God series, I really wanted to address a question I get quite often, “Does God hate me for struggling?”
It’s not always so direct. Sometimes the woman has already answered it in her heart and mind:
I’ve stopped praying because I’m such a hypocrite.
I know God must be sick of me.
There’s no way God could keep loving me.
I open my Bible and feel like such a failure.
This is a topic and angle of this struggle that is near and dear to my heart.
The shame that so many women face in their struggle with pornography does great damage. It drives a wedge between them and the Only One who can truly help them.
So many women believe that God is standing up in Heaven, frustrated to no end with us, and we cower in fear of Him, promising to do better next time, to try harder, and praying He won’t give up on us.
We hear about God’s love and grace and forgiveness but believe it’s for everyone else- not us.
I used to firmly believe I was “frustrating grace.” As I struggled and failed and floundered and wrestled not only with pornography but with a shattered self-worth, anger, and feelings of insecurity, I imagined God as a frustrated father, ready to leave if I didn’t get my act together. One day, I mentioned this idea of “frustrating grace” to a man who was like a father to me. He, being very wise, took a breath, looked at me and said, “Jessica, grace can’t be frustrated.”
Though the exact words “frustrate the grace of God” are used in the Bible (KJV), it’s not in the context of an impatient, short-tempered, God ready to storm out on us when we get it wrong. It’s in the context that when we get so stuck on adhering to the law we negate the effects of God’s grace. That’s a very important thing to note because when we say, “I have to get my act together before God will love me” or “God has to be sick of me because I am struggling with this” that’s essentially when we are “frustrating” grace.
We aren’t frustrating God because “we can’t get it right.” We’re looking Grace in the face and saying, “No thank you, I’d rather do this on my own.”
Where have we gotten such a low view of God?
For many of us, I think this struggle stems from the relationships we have with our families, our parents, even our churches. We’ve been surrounded by lofty expectations, judgment, shame, impatience, and little grace.
When we’re confronted with the goodness and grace and mercy of God, it is something we absolutely cannot comprehend. We don’t have a taste of it here on earth, so we interpret God according to what we know. What we know is anger, retaliation, punishment. We know walking on egg shells, we know no second chances.
If you were really sorry, you would stop doing it.
If you were truly repentant, you would turn from your sin.
You have to earn my trust.
Show me that you really mean it.
You’ll never get it right.
I remember that time you messed up.
When you give in to sin, you are nailing Jesus to the cross all over again.
Have you ever heard any of these? I heard plenty of them and more, in church services, in family conversations. Issues from my past would constantly be flung in my face: “Well, you sure aren’t acting like it” “You’re one to talk” or (my personal favorite) “Well, ten years ago you said…”
I spoke many of these harmful statements to my own heart in dark days of wrestling.
As a new mom, I feel like one of my highest callings isn’t to raise my daughter (soon to be daughters) to love God. I can’t make them love anybody. Do I want them to love God? Absolutely, but I can’t force them to. I can’t even force them to like Him or to acknowledge His existence.
My job is to demonstrate God’s love in how I parent. I’m an ambassador of God in my daughters’ lives, as well as in my husband’s life, and in the lives of my friends and people I come in contact with. I truly believe that.
But a lot of parents, I feel, fall into the trap of believing that image is everything. People will think less of us if our children misbehave.
What does it say about my parenting if my child pitches a fit in the grocery store? What does it say about me as a parent if my child doesn’t sit still in church? (I’m fully convinced my oldest will never sit still in church.) What does it say about me if my child finds pornography? gets into drugs? struggles with anger?
We feel failure is not an option and “failure” is defined by how well our children perform.
And so we, the children, grow up in homes, and churches, that struggle with grace. The pastors, the worship leaders, our parents all need to have it together.
This leads us to believe God expects us to have it together. After all, what are people going to think about God if His children misbehave!? This is why you’ll see Christians sometimes go to great lengths to cover up failings and crimes in their ranks- to “protect God’s image.”
God’s image doesn’t need our protection.
When we’re convinced it does, we’re forgetting that all our righteousness is like filthy rags, polluted garments, menstrual cloths. We’re all unclean. Our righteousness does absolutely nothing to “protect” God’s image, which is why we really need to stop trying to impart our righteousness to Him.
It’s ridiculous. Imagine being a bride on your wedding day, clothed in brilliant white, when some well-meaning friend comes running up to you. In her hands, she carries a robe that has food stains, caked on mud, and who knows what smudged on it. “Here,” she says, “You want to look your best on your wedding day! This is the best I could find.”
Would you put it on? No. Of course not. You’re already dressed in the best.
Don’t you get it, dear one? All of us, everyone of us- from the “perfect” pastor’s wife, to the worship leader, to the teenager struggling with porn- bring our best to Jesus, and it’s garbage in comparison to His righteousness.
You aren’t tarnishing His reputation. You aren’t destroying His image. The mission is not to become righteous enough that you can protect Jesus. Jesus’ righteousness is given to us.
When girls who were raised in a “get it together” culture encounter a “you don’t have to have it all together” grace, we struggle with it.
In our minds, it seems like somehow God’s standards are lower than the people around us. How can that be possible? How can a perfect God have lower standards than my imperfect parents? No way! I must be misunderstanding. Surely, He expects perfection.
Surely there must be some sort of punishment. There’s no way God wants a bunch of rag-a-muffin misfits who romp around in the dirt. No way are we His ambassadors. No way does He want us for children.
When I fall to pornography, acknowledge my wrong, repent, there’s no way it’s that easy. There has to be more. There has to be a time out period. I can’t just get up and start reading my Bible. I can’t just go on acting like nothing happened. I need to suffer. I have to prove I’m really sorry and really mean it and really want to change.
And so we punish ourselves. We distance ourselves from God, essentially telling Him how this needs to go. We can do this in our personal relationships too. Maybe it will be easier to see there.
Before my husband and I were married, I helped him wash dishes one day. A couple days later, he casually mentioned that he had to rewash a couple of the pans because they had grease on them still. “It’s no big deal,” he said, “grease is so hard. Sometimes I even have to rewash.” And he was fully prepared to move on with life.
The same could not be said for me. Although he said, “No big deal” and would probably never remember those dishes again, I would never forget them.
I had failed. I had failed at something so simple. He probably thought I was a lazy slob. He didn’t say that, but he must have been thinking it. I wasn’t even sure if he would still want to be with me after such a failure.
It made me never want to make dinner with him again. It made me never want to wash dishes again.
For a while, even after marriage, I did leave all the pots and pans to him. Then, when I started washing them again I would scrub and scrub and scrub like Lady Macbeth, making sure that he never found grease on a single pan ever again. I would wash and rewash determined to redeem myself from the dishwashing fiasco (which was not a fiasco).
We go through this same cycle when it comes to our relationship with God and our struggles with sin.
There’s no way God just forgives me when I ask. I have to make this up to Him.
We put ourselves in time out. We sit ourselves in the corner. We assign ourselves to hard labor and tell ourselves that we have to have x-number of days without so much as even thinking an errant thought. We become obsessive, paranoid, anxious. We have to avoid this. We have to scrub it away. We have to be clean!
Then, we say, we can open our Bibles and pray. Then, we think, maybe God will accept us.
What we fail to realize is that God isn’t telling us any of that. We’re telling ourselves that. Some people might call this projection.
I feel horrible about myself. I feel guilty. I feel dirty, and so I project that feeling onto someone else.
Obviously, if I feel this way about myself then God must feel this way about me. Now, I’m able to breathe a little easier because it’s “someone else” who feels this way about me and there’s nothing I can do about that. It’s a way of making ourselves feel justified in our behavior.
If I think my husband thinks I’m a lazy slob then I am justified in my obsessive method for dishwashing or in not washing them at all!
If I think God thinks that I’m a horrible person and a hypocrite, then I am justified in not trying to reestablish a relationship with Him.
Shame has this way of making us create these isolating, damaging, self-fulfilling cycles. It’s pseudo-change.
Get ready to be amazed by Grace.
All of this runs completely counter to the message of Grace.
In 1 John 1:8-9, we see a model for confession of sin and how God deals with it.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (ESV)
First, I want you to see the message that we all have sin. So that “perfect” pastor’s wife? She’s not perfect. When she opens her Bible in the morning or bows to pray, she is bowing before God a sinner- no different than you.
The second thing to see is that when we confess our sins, it’s not our job to cleanse ourselves. It’s a promise that God will.
Do you see how that sits in such contrast to the narrative so many of us live by?
I fall to pornography. I come to God and I repent (express sorrow and remorse), but then I retreat and hide away, lashing myself for being such a failure. I tell myself He doesn’t want some dirty, horrible person like me in His presence, that He’s tired of dealing with me. When in reality, He has promised forgiveness, and to take my dirty robes and wash them clean. He doesn’t see me the way I see me.
Let that sink in.
It doesn’t mean we have free license to go romp around in the mud. But it does mean that we’re not exiles either. We’re not less than. In the spirit of this blog, we’re not beggars.
Yet, so often we treat ourselves as such. God offers us a seat at the table and we say, “No no, I’d rather sit here on the floor.” He offers us a banquet and we say, “No no, I deserve table scraps. These crumbs will do.”
And how I wish I could reach out to every woman who is in that place, feeling like God is absolutely appalled with them and remind them that they are beloved.
None of us have this all together. There are no perfect people out there praying and reading their Bibles today. None. Not your pastor, not your parents, not your spouse, not your small group leader, not your grandmother, not your college mentor. Not a single one of us has our act together, but grace invites us all to the table.
In the spirit of this, I want to share with you a video from a few years back. It is such a beautiful picture of grace and a modern re-telling of the story of the prodigal son, specifically as it comes to struggles with lust and pornography. For whatever reason, we like to class these as “super sins” like the rules are somehow different. They aren’t. The grace available for the liar and the thief is the same as the grace available to you.
Stream the movie online here.