My best friend came home from college completely different from the girl I had known before. She said she had met Jesus and she was living for Him now. I remember thinking, “What does that even mean?” I remember the comments made at her expense when she wasn’t around. I just couldn’t quite shake the overwhelming question in my mind: what in the world can cause someone to change so drastically?
I remember it felt good to be around her. I wasn’t quite ready to give up my lifestyle, but I knew there had to be more to life and it seemed to me she had found it, so my curiosity grew. I was so badly longing to be different that I sought out to find the answer. And on my 26th birthday, I did.
When I first met Jesus, it was such a sweet time, but equally awkward. I finally felt like I had purpose, I belonged, my life had meaning, and I was free to live it. But most people in my life didn’t seem to understand or want to get it. How do you tell people that have known you one way for the better part of your life that you’re now living His way? Much like my friend, there was a shift in me and I felt like a brand new person. I’d traded in bars, wild nights, and the wrong men for Jesus (who was now the love of my life) and Bible studies. I had one friend tell me she just wanted to put me in a cage and study me because it was completely insane. The sudden change was too much for my family and friends to wrap their heads around. I could relate to how they were feeling because I had felt the same way before with my friend.
I share this because I think there are a lot of misconceptions when something isn’t fully understood – you know, people tend to hate what they don’t understand. I don’t know that I completely agree with that saying, but I definitely found it to be true in the tension and transition from the old me to the new me. Here are a few things I want my friends and family who don’t understand to know:
The past does not define me.
I still have people in my life that remind me of who I was before Jesus, but it’s not who I am today. The past may be a part of my story, but it no longer defines me. I had a friend tell me that she thought I wasn’t drinking because I was too weak and I just couldn’t control myself. You know what? She was absolutely right! There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t remember where I’ve been because it keeps me where I am – loving, needing, following Jesus. I will never be the same and I am grateful.
Jesus change is a process.
When I became a new Christian, I was naïve to think that it’s this one big change in an instant. In reality, it’s a process. I will mess up. Please don’t shine a spotlight on my mistakes and failure to be a perfect Christian because I never will be. I know how fickle and weak I am in my own strength. The best takeaway I’ve gleamed from my failures is this stark realization: There is no good in me, but Jesus. I need Him. Apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed and felt like giving up. I have this bad habit of forgetting that, in my efforts to become more like Jesus, it's a process. I can’t expect to go from zero to sixty at once. I am being renewed. I haven’t arrived at some point of perfection and I certainly am not under the delusion that I am perfect.
I want to focus on pleasing God, not people.
I love my family and friends. They are still very much a part of my life and I want them there. As humans, we have an innate need to be loved and accepted. I am a people pleaser by nature. I want people to like me. I want to fit in. I want to avoid disappointing people at all costs. It has proven to be the biggest hindrance in my relationship with Jesus. I want my family and friends to know that when I choose to refrain from certain things, it isn’t because I think I’m too good or I’m judging you. Just because there are certain things I don’t want to do anymore, doesn’t mean I don’t want you in my life and I hope it doesn’t mean that you don’t want me in yours.
Maybe it doesn’t make sense and it seems weird, but it’s not that I can’t do something, I just don’t want to anymore. I don’t fit in with the old me and I won’t try to anymore. I’ve found that when I’m focused on pleasing people, it’s rare that I actually please anyone because it is impossible to please everyone. I’ve had to retrain my brain to exercise a beautiful little word, NO. I have to take the risk that it may mean not fitting in at times. Maybe I don’t always fit in with my family, old friends or even some Christians, but I do always fit with Jesus.