I was 25 the year my life finally came together.
I’d been working as a substitute teacher ever since college, and it wasn’t exactly my dream gig. I’m sure you never did this, but do you remember the way your classmates tormented subs? Yeah . . . then you know why I hated my job.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t live off my good looks, so I kept going to work and pitching resumes. When nothing opened up for three years, I was wondering if my whole career would involve dodging spitballs.
Then, just as I decided that God must hate me, I started volunteering with a character education ministry. It paid peanuts, but it was finally something meaningful! And I was right in the middle of the action from the start. So when the director moved out of state, I started taking over some of his responsibilities — booking schools and planning programs and speaking to teenagers. The board thought some big donors were on the horizon, so I was praying this would be the first step toward a real career.
I was also heading up the singles ministry at my church — something like a pastor without the title. I still say it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Sure, it paid nothing. Sure, leading singles is right up there with herding cats. But there was incredible joy in mentoring young adults like me.
On the fun side of life, I was seeing this girl I’d had my eye on for a year. She admitted to some commitment issues, but said she finally wanted to make it Official. She must be The One, I told myself.
Everything was going so well that there was just one flaw in my newfound success: I was terrified.
I know it doesn’t make sense. I was using my talents for God, liking a gorgeous girl (who liked me back) and finding a career path that didn’t involve taking first graders to the potty. But I was afraid of losing it all. What if my girlfriend dumps me? What if somebody else can lead the singles ministry better than me? What if the character ed organization, which is having financial troubles anyway, goes belly-up?
End result: I was a walking pile of frayed nerves. It’s hard to enjoy your ticket to happiness when you’re living on adrenaline and borrowed sleep.
* * *
My 26th birthday came that fall, and my girlfriend threw a surprise party. (Yes, I really was surprised.) But my Big Day turned out to be the calm before the storm: Within six months, the world came crashing down.
First, my girlfriend told me she couldn’t see the “marriage” thing happening. You know how the speech goes: “You’re a great guy, but . . .” After that, there wasn’t much point in dating. We broke up Thanksgiving weekend.
Then the character education organization I loved ran out of cash and shut its doors. So much for my career plans. Meanwhile, I found out my church was hiring somebody older and wiser to lead its singles ministry that I’d been overseeing.
By six months after my birthday, I felt completely useless. I was depressed and exhausted and grieving and furious at the same time. It wasn’t the only time I’ve been mad at God, but it was the most intense.
I prayed. They just weren’t polite prayers. “Come on, God, what’s your deal? Are you seriously taking away everything? I just want a place for my talents that serves you and a relationship to make life worth living. Is my role in your master plan to be a bad example for others?”
But if I was brutally honest, my prayers might’ve included some other matters, too — things that were a little less flattering. “God, I have to prove I’m better than other people! That’s why I’m in leadership. I can’t fail; that would mean — well, it would mean I haven’t managed to ‘be somebody.’ Then what will I have left?”
And underneath those selfish thoughts, there was a deeper subtext I wouldn’t admit — even to myself. I’m not valuable apart from the ministry I do and the people who like me, I thought. Otherwise, I’m a worthless lump of flesh wasting oxygen. If I don’t have a meaningful job and a place to belong . . . I might as well give up on everything.
* * *
A few months later, the new guy at church — the pastor who’d taken charge of the singles ministry I used to lead — asked me to teach one week in Sunday School. I agreed. It was better than my semi-constant pity party. So I started digging into Psalm 139, and zeroed in on verse 14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
That’ll preach, I thought.
As I studied the text, however, I discovered that English doesn’t do justice to some of the Hebrew words. “Fearfully” is the same word that’s used for God Himself in other places and refers to the awe we have for Him. So it’s pretty unexpected that in this verse, the author says people are worthy of the same reverence!Not the same degree of reverence that we give to God, but the same type. After all, we’re made in His image.
Then two words later, “wonderfully made” refers to crafting something beyond human abilities — in short, a miracle. That says something rather flattering about you and me, don’t you think?
In other words, you can say humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” if you want. But as I prepped my message, I paraphrased the NIV a little bit. I came to realize that I am an awe-inspiring miracle. Not because of my ability to lead or my creative gifts or my gorgeous girlfriend — just because my Daddy-God made me, with Divine design and a purpose mapped out for me every moment from birth to eternity.
Yeah, your life and mine are supernatural works of God. Chew on that for a while and see if it doesn’t make you feel special.
* * *
Finally it dawned on me — as I looked around at the broken pieces of life — that I’d been doing everything backwards. Ultimate meaning wasn’t supposed to come from stuff I did. It came from the God who made me.
Yeah, you already know that. But it’s amazing how freeing it can be when you experience it. When you honestly lean on the great things God says about you, because people aren’t saying anything but bad. I could acknowledge, “Y’know, I’m not doing anything great and noteworthy (or great and notorious) right now. But that’s OK, because God already looks down and says, ‘You’re my son, and I love you.'”
Then, as time went by, something strange happened: An odd sensation swept over me. It was a complete perspective shift, quite the opposite of anxiety and fear. I think most people call it “relief” . . . or “peace.”
It’s not that the problems evaporated. It’s not that I stopped wishing I could be back in the place I was just months before. It’s not that I stopped hurting. But now … the worst had happened, and I was still kickin’.
God was in heaven even while earth was in pieces. I wasn’t very happy with the Big Guy, but we were (mostly) on speaking terms. I enjoyed peace a lot more than living on the ragged edge of stress.
Knowing how God felt about me meant I was free from the pressure of impossible expectations; free to grow in grace (with regular backsliding) like the rest of the human race. Free to look at myself not as a bundle of talents and successes and failures … but as an awe-inspiring miracle.
* * *
Now let me bring you up to date, because this stuff happened to me about eight years ago. (I know; I’m old.) These days I work for myself as a freelancer, and I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. I got married (but not to the girl I was dating at 25). My life really has come together — at least for now.
Of course, it could all fall apart tomorrow, and I still worry about that. (Anxiety’s a little hobby of mine.) But there is an important difference between Age 33 and Age 25. These days, even when life seems to be ripping at the seams, I still know that God loves me … just because I’m His.
Now, let me make something clear: I’m not telling this story because it makes me feel better, or because I want your sympathy. No, I’m writing because I hope you might realize that you’re pretty amazing, too.
Whether you’re resting on the mountaintop or lying on Job’s dunghill, you’re beyond anything a mere human could imagine. You’re more than a functionary or a bundle of neuroses or your lonely singlehood. You are an awe-inspiring work of Divine art, simply because you reflect something infinitely valuable — the very face of God.
Oh, I know it’s hard to believe you’re precious in His sight. I know it doesn’t appear that He loves you when you feel like God’s bad example to the world.
But remember, the Ruler of the Universe is the one who said you’re an awesome miracle. And as the old saying goes, He doesn’t make mistakes.
Not even you.
Copyright 2010 George Halitzka. All rights reserved.