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Confessions of a Good Christian Girl
By Tammy Maltby, Anne Christian Buchanan
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Tammy Maltby
All rights reserved.
"Daddy, Are You There?"
Why Even Good Christian Girls Need a Word of Grace
I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him.... And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. —Ephesians 3:17–18 NLT
A story is told of a carefree young girl who lived at the edge of a forest, where she loved to play and explore and take long, adventurous journeys. But one day she journeyed too deep into the forest and got lost. Evening approached, and as the shadows lengthened, the girl grew worried. She tried one path after another, but none looked familiar. And none led her home.
Deeper and deeper into the forest the frightened girl ran. Her skin was scratched from limbs whipping her as she pushed her way through the overgrowth. Her knees were scraped from tripping in the dark. Her face was streaked from her tears. She called for her parents, but the forest seemed to swallow her words.
After hours of trying to find her way home, the exhausted child came to a clearing in the forest, where she curled up on a big rock and fell asleep.
Meanwhile, the girl's parents were frantic with worry. They searched the forest for her, cupping their hands and calling her name. But there was no answer. As night fell, the parents' search grew more intense. They enlisted the help of friends and neighbors. They even asked strangers from town to help them search for their lost little girl.
Over the course of the night, many of the searchers went home. But not the girl's father. He kept on combing the woods, even when his wife left to tend their other children. He searched all night and on into the next morning. Finally, at the first light of dawn, he spotted his daughter asleep on the rock in the middle of the clearing. He ran as fast as his legs would take him, calling her name.
The noise startled the girl awake. She rubbed her eyes. Then, reaching out to him, she caught his embrace.
"Daddy!" she exclaimed. "I found you!"
* * *
It's a beautiful story. A familiar story. And if you've been a Christian for any time at all, you probably guessed the punch line.
Yes, I'm that lost little girl.
The thought of it still produces an ache in my heart.
I bear the scars of many wayward travels, painful journeys through grasping briars and dark forests. Places where I came to believe no one could really rescue me—or no one would want to. For, oh my goodness, if people really knew who I was, what I was like! If people could see my great lack, hear my silly mumblings—this broken girl huddled in a pile, bruised and broken. Was I even worth rescuing?
My Father thought so. He never gave up on me.
And when I finally stopped running, He was right there, ready to wrap His loving arms around me and carry me back home where I belong.
Just as you thought—a lost girl found.
But there's a twist to this particular story.
You see, it's not about an unbeliever who finds Jesus after years of wandering and is saved. Because when this story happened, I already knew Jesus. I was already saved. In fact, I was the quintessential good Christian girl.
And I still needed rescuing.
I still sinned, was sinned against, made mistakes, got confused, and strayed from the path—more than once. I desperately needed my Father's gracious, tenacious love to go after me and bring me back to Him.
And then I needed more.
I needed healing for my wounds.
I needed forgiveness—oh how I needed forgiveness!
I needed guidance and strength.
And grace. I needed loads and loads of loving grace.
Even though I knew my Savior, I kept coming to points in my life when I needed more of Him than I ever thought possible.
And I'm not the only one. In fact, most churches I know are packed with terrified, wandering little girls.
These are good Christian girls who look at their lives and see little but disappointment, rejection, shame, and brokenness. Women who struggle in secret with painful experiences like abuse, addiction, and mental illness. Women who have affairs or seek divorces or suffer in silence in a loveless marriage. Women who live with the constant, desperate sense that no matter how hard they try, they just don't measure up.
These women long for lives that are rich and free and victorious. But most are just hanging on, trying desperately to get by. They're wondering how they got so far off course—and whether the One who saved their souls can do anything with the mess they've made of their lives.
These are not nominal Christians I'm talking about, but evangelical, Bible-believing, born-again women. They have a usual place to sit on Sunday mornings ... and often Sunday evenings and Wednesdays too. They host Bible studies and attend women's retreats. They make casseroles for potlucks and serve in soup kitchens. Many know Scripture backward and forward—they can recite all the right answers to life's questions. But still they're broken ... hurting ... desperately in need of help and healing.
I understand how these women feel, because I've been where they are. In some ways, I'm still there.
And yes, I'm a good Christian girl too. I grew up in the church and learned Scripture along with my ABCs. I accepted Christ at a young age and attended a Christian college, even took my fair share of theology courses. Though I've occasionally strayed from the church and its teachings, I've always come back. I have been involved in ministry for most of my adult life. I am raising four teenagers in a Christian home.
But my life, too, has been full of pain and sin and shame and brokenness. I've been divorced. I've experienced abuse and known the terrible relational fallout that can stem from abuse in a loved one's life. I've had sex when I wasn't married. My life has been touched—not gently!—with the reality of addiction and mental illness in my family and massive disappointment in my own life. I have known hopelessness so oppressive I could barely breathe. There was a time when I took steps to end my own life.
Not a very Christian way to live?
That's exactly my point!
I was a Christian during all my lost times. At times I've been not only a good Christian girl, but a prominent one. A speaker. A media personality. The wife of a man who knew just about everybody in the evangelical world. We entertained Christian celebrities in our home. We worshipped and broke bread with evangelists and talk-show hosts. And still I was lost and stumbling, struggling with the secret sins and pain in my very visible life. And as much as I tried—God knows I tried—I couldn't find a way out to the other side.
To the place I had heard of called forgiveness and redemption.
A place warmed by the presence of a Father who saw me, knew me, loved me.
A safe place where I could run into my Daddy's strong and tender arms and say, "Daddy, I found You!"
And where He would whisper with a loving embrace, "Oh my baby ... I've been searching for you all along."
And that, too, is the point of this book.
Because I did find my Father—or rather, He found me. And He found me right in the middle of my pain. In the moments of my despair, I heard the gentle whispers of a gracious God who seeks the lost, a God who lives to forgive, to restore, to heal, and to give hope. I learned firsthand that good Christian girls need the grace of Jesus just as much as unbelievers do—and that grace is abundantly available to anyone who is willing to be honest about her pain and cry out for help.
But honesty can be a problem, especially for us good Christian girls, because we are so used to thinking of our lives as before-and-after stories.
When I was growing up in a conservative Baptist church, I loved to hear the testimonies of those whose lives were broken and painful before they came to the Lord. As an adult in women's ministries and as a Christian talk-show host, I loved them even more—those heart-touching tales from those who were lost and then found, those whose lives were changed by an encounter with the ever-gracious Savior. They're wonderful, juicy true-makeover stories with irresistible happy endings.
The trouble is, the "before" in those stories is almost always "before I knew Christ." And the implication is that once a person accepts the Lord, she stops sinning and lays all her brokenness outside the door.
The implication is that churches are populated by those who are joyfully and triumphantly healed.
And that's just not true—or it's just a fraction of the reality most good Christian girls I know experience.
Most Christians know that. We'll admit it if we're pressed. We'll even make a point of telling people that "we're all sinners." Yet we're pretty quick to cover up our deeper failings. There are things we'll confess and others we don't dare mention to anyone—even, sometimes, to ourselves.
Why the cover-up? We tell ourselves we must "keep a good witness"—you know, keep God looking good. More often, I think, we do it to keep ourselves comfortable. To help us feel safe. Because we don't know how to handle pain or because, deep down, we're not sure if God can really handle who we really are and what we've really done.
We cover up the ugly stuff to protect ourselves.
But when we do, we send the message to those who are hurting, who are broken, who are truly weary and heavy laden, that they are not welcome in our churches and our lives. Especially if those hurting, broken people are already Christians! Especially if they're honest and admit they're losing the battle and don't know where to turn.
And when we send that message—even to ourselves—I believe we're actually working against God. Because broken, hurting, and honest people are exactly who God wants in His churches. Those are the people He wants on His side, because they're the ones He can really do something with.
You see, God can work miracles with pain. He can make short work of sin and guilt. It's pride and dishonesty and self-deception that slow down His rescue efforts. And as often as we good Christian girls have heard that, we sometimes have trouble remembering it applies to us.
I've certainly had a hard time remembering it!
Looking back, I can see that part of God's purpose in my own pain was bringing me to a place of complete brokenness and dependence on Him. The gospel I once believed—that the Christian life was a simple before-and-after tale and that believing in Jesus would automatically give me a victorious life—was a false one, and God was obligated to set the record straight. Tenderly but relentlessly, one by one, He pulled down my false idols and reminded me that victory over sin is a battle I will never win here on earth.
As long as I'm here, I'll have to live with the confusing reality Paul described in Romans 7: "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.... For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members" (vv. 19, 22–23).
As long as I live, I'm going to sin. So will you. We'll all have to live with the consequences of our own failings and the fallout from the sins of others.
We can try to do better.
We can grow and improve.
But we'll always be in danger of straying from the path and losing our way. There's just no way around it.
But look at what Paul said next! Some days, this incredible message of grace has been all that keeps me going: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering" (Rom. 8:1–3; emphasis added).
Do you hear that? The Lord has no condemnation for those of us who try to follow Christ and still find ourselves lost.
He knows what we're like, what we're capable of, what we've actually done. And He can handle it. He's going to stay with us through it all—redeeming our mistakes, covering our sins, teaching us through our transgressions, and going after us time and again when we stray far from home. There's nothing we can throw at Him that He cannot handle and help us with—as long as we let Him.
All of which leaves me with two choices.
I can work hard on my "good Christian girl" image and keep my brokenness hidden. For the sake of my "witness," I can pretend to be found when I'm really lost and wandering.
Or I can choose to open up my life and depend absolutely on the love and forgiveness of the One who has found me again and again ... who loves me so much that He gave up His own life so I could live free of condemnation ... who wants me to trust Him with my sin and brokenness so He can teach me what it really means to be a whole, healthy, "found" human being.
Through my own lengthy process of learning what costly forgiveness is all about, even walking it through with others, and then ending the journey in my own backyard, I believe God has been showing me something of His heart. He's teaching me that honest pain can be healed, but secret, hidden pain cannot. And that when we truly take that truth to heart, we start living in a completely different way—a way that gives life to ourselves and those around us.
Psychologist Brent Curtis once said that we can never be healed emotionally or give life to others unless we look at our own sin and the other person's pain. Most of us tend to do just the opposite—we look at our pain and the other person's sin. But when we finally get honest with ourselves and others about just how lost we are, that's when we start to be found.
It begins with the most loving and difficult of all acts: forgiving ourselves, embracing our humanness, and believing that somehow God can turn our brokenness into beauty. It begins with understanding the reality that Christ died for sinners, which means all of us—good Christian girls as well as those who don't know Him at all. It begins when we open our eyes and our hearts in wonder to His grace.
Because, in the end, it's all about grace.
Loving, forgiving grace.
Passionate, overwhelming, truly amazing grace.
That grace is the reason I've written this book in the first place. Because, in so many ways, it's the story of my life—and I want to tell you why. So this book is my confession to you about times I've lost my way. And about the many times I have been sought out and rescued by a persistent, lovesick God.
I'll also introduce you to other real women who know what it's like to wander, women whose complicated lives defy the good-girl myths and yet bear vivid testimony to the power of transforming grace. Some are close, personal friends of mine. Others are women I've met in my work as a speaker and interviewer. (Their stories are true, although in some cases, at their request, I have disguised names and specific details.) And still others are women I met in the pages of the Bible—women whose stories remind me that God has been in the business of rescuing lost little girls from the very beginning.
All these women have helped me understand the many painful and messy ways that good Christian girls can stray from the path ... how, by grace, we can get found ... and how we can reach out to one another in love and compassion and be agents of grace to one another. This book tells their story too.
But the real story at the heart of this book—the one that I hope shines through all my confessions—is not about good little girls at all. Not even about lost little girls.
Remember, the little girl in the woods thought she had found her father. But the father was really the one who found her. He was the hero of the story. And that's true for the good Christian girls in my book as well. Especially for me.
Because my true bottom-line confession is not that I've been lost, but that I keep being found.
Not that I strayed and messed up, but that I've been rescued and given another chance ... and another ... and another.
Not that I'm a good Christian girl, but that I serve a good God. And that I'm growing in His grace—with a lot of help—to be the woman He always wanted me to be.
And yes, some days it feels hopeless. Some days I just don't feel up to being good. But hopeless feelings don't change the reality of my hope.
So that's what this book is really about. It's the story of our persistent, lovesick Father who keeps on seeking us whenever we're lost, who loves us too deeply to let us stay there, and who longs to reach out and pull us back into His arms of grace, no matter how far we stray.
He loves you that way too. Can't you hear Him now, wherever you are?
Excerpted from Confessions of a Good Christian Girl by Tammy Maltby, Anne Christian Buchanan. Copyright © 2007 Tammy Maltby. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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