If you watched a silent video of my life, it may have looked familiar. Kid stuff, work stuff, house stuff, church stuff, too light on the marriage stuff. Days, weeks, and weekends were full. I would fall asleep (very) early every night. Two young kids, busy job, no local family—makes sense, right? I was tired. Yep. And, I was hiding.
Now, add the soundtrack to the video. This is where it gets real. I was hearing things like: You don’t stop. You are always busy. Take a breath. You seem frantic. It’s hard to find time with you. You are intimidating, unapproachable, demanding. Do you hear what you sound like? Are you upset? Why are you being so intense? “Why are you using your angry voice?,” our oldest son would ask.
Each of those questions cut through me. I hated hearing them. What was it like to interact with me? What happened to the joyful friend who was criticized throughout her life for being too nice and too positive? What happened to that amazing feeling at church where I couldn’t write down my sermon notes fast enough? What happened to that experience in the fellowship hall after Sunday service when I felt at home and at ease around those that knew me well and loved me? All of that had slowly slipped away. All of these new questions and adjectives were the opposite of how I would have described myself. What was going on? Who have I turned into? I was so very sick and tired of the person I was on the inside, not matching who I was on the outside. Finally, I asked for help.
I sat down with a counselor one night after work and I unloaded. I didn’t care if I made sense. I didn’t care what she thought. Everything exploded out of me: I am lost. I have no control of my life, my habits, my time, my energy, myself. My faith is weak, my words are jumbled, and my relationships are more strained than they have ever been. Old ones are tough to keep up and new ones are hard to make. A bad day, even a bad moment, at work, breaks me down for a week. When I think about raising our kids to love Jesus, a tidal wave of anxiety overtakes me. I am doing a terrible job at my faith (yikes!). There was no way it was good enough to save them (I’m sorry, who is saving them?! Yes, these are the kinds of thoughts I would have...). I was unhappy and lost. Really lost.
Have you ever really looked at your sin? Seen it for the first time front and center? I thought I had, but I hadn’t. I knew it was there. I could name qualities in me that were unattractive and I knew that my relationship with God was struggling—but these specific parts, these dark corners, I had never laid eyes on.
My unwaivering need for control. My need to perform. My need to set my own bar, ensuring it was higher than those around me to be satisfied. My need to prove my worth. My ego, fed by success. My vanity that led to an unending dissatisfaction with any of my physical traits. My persistent need to please others. Gosh, it is a tough list, and it’s my list. It’s real. It’s there, and it is part of me.
My counselor asked me what I wanted. I said peace. There were tornadoes of thoughts, tasks, responsibilities, people I was letting down, work I wasn’t doing well enough, love I wasn’t giving freely enough, care I wasn’t offering readily enough, in my head. Add to that: Exhaustion. Disdain. Anger. Sadness. Desperation.
I will never forget. In my second session, my counselor laid it on me.
“Sherri, I normally don’t jump to diagnosis so quickly, but I am going to tell you what I am hearing. You struggle with a set of things: significant anxiety, you have a deep need for control and for high performance. You measure yourself against a bar that is always moving up. And, the most important thing I want you to hear: God is not on the throne in your life. You are living like you are in control, like you are on the throne. You are chartering your course. You are your God. Can you see that?”
I was overwhelmed, as I was seeing these dark corners clearly for the first time, at age 39. It’s hard to explain the pain, and the relief, I felt to see it. God’s mercy amazed me as He guided me to that place gently, preparing me and delivering me to a woman who was the perfect vessel for His gospel to be re-exposed to my heart. He could have led me to see my sin in so many more painful ways than this. I can’t write this without tears of gratitude.
God tells us that we have to see our sin, and our deep need for Him, to begin to understand anything close to the magnitude of what He has given for us. I knew that God loves “us.” I generally thought “I” was in that “us.” But I never had truly felt the searing need for God to love me and save me. This whole time, I had been trying to save myself.
Anyone who knows the gospel knows that sin and complete depravity is only half of the story. Believe me, God was wrapping me in His love through my counselor the whole time. Yet, it wasn’t until one week when I received six out-of-the-ordinary messages from dear people (both near and far) in my life that expressed sincere love for me, for who I am and how I was made. They called me, emailed me, found me in hallways, texted me unusual messages of distinct and special love—for me.
I remember that Friday very clearly. I called my mom at 9:30 in the morning and asked her, “Have you ever felt like God was intentionally loving you? Not just the overarching goodness that you believe comes from Him, but a real moment where He is focused on giving His love specifically to you?” I knew I had not, until now.
It is an amazing thing to feel the love of God the way I felt it that week. Many of you reading this may live with that awareness more frequently than I do. Thank God that the reality of His love is not measured by how deeply we feel it. And, it is even more amazing to feel God’s love, when you know acutely in your bones, that you are a sinner who does not deserve that love.
God showed me my sin—my darkest parts. Dark parts that He has seen since before time, which have been woven into the fabric of who I am. He knows my sin more intimately than I do, has been pained by it more deeply than I have been. Yet, His intentional love showed up from multiple, unexpected places, painting a picture of His affection for me, His daughter, with all of my broken parts. He sees my sin and loves me anyway. That reality unravels a recovering perfectionist.
If you’re our six-year-old son, you’d be asking me, “Mom, are your dark parts gone?” No. Has my guilt, worry, intensity and anxiety been removed? Not entirely, but it’s lighter. Real freedom comes from seeing my broken parts, instead of hiding them; accepting that my sin is real, Jesus bore it all, and God’s righteousness is mine. He has shown me that when I am at battle with myself or struggling to prove myself to Him, His forgiveness is always bigger. His love is always bigger than my need. That is peace.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved…through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” - Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-10
To Him be all the glory.
Sherri has been at CTK since 2005. She joined as a single person, just after arriving to Cambridge from Dallas. Shortly after, she met her remarkably loving and forgiving husband, Stephen. She has been married for 9 years and they have two super fun boys, Jack (6) and Pete (4).