Imagine reading the words, “You were created to be loved,” at a time when you feel like nobody loves you. Then imagine hearing a whisper in your ear, “Lovely child, I love you,” after spending years believing the lie that not even God loves you because of who you are.
How would those words make you feel? Would they lift you from the drowning depths of despair? Would they illuminate a ray of hope in the darkest shadows of your soul? Would you cling to them like a lifeboat in a choppy sea? Would you be saved from drowning in the sea of your sorrow?
I would like to tell you a story about an awkward teenage girl who believed she was unloved, even despised, because of who she was: a girl on the eve of womanhood; a girl who would become a woman with no place in a world of godly men; a girl/woman whose place patriarchy dictated was in the home as a silent wife/mother; a girl/woman who could have no dreams or desires to speak or write in a world ruled by men because she was sinful by nature.
I was that girl who fell prey to the lies that devalued her worth as a woman and made her feel less than.
This is my story.
I grew up in a small Mennonite community, attended a Mennonite church from birth, and went to school with other Mennonite children. Half of my family was Mennonite on my mom’s side. The other half was French Catholic on my dad’s side.
While my dad had relinquished his Catholic faith and was re-baptized into the Mennonite faith, he still passed on, whether consciously or unconsciously, his own religious beliefs from the Catholic Church. Add this to the religious beliefs of the Mennonite Church, and it was no wonder I grew up feeling conflicted about my faith.
In fact, I felt like an outsider because my beliefs were somewhat different from other kids in my community. For the most part, my upbringing was the same as other kids—I learned the same Bible stories in Sunday School, memorized the same Bible verses, sang the same hymns, and listened to the same sermons.
But, throughout the years of my childhood, I had lots of questions about faith, God, the Bible, and especially religious doctrine.
It was especially during my adolescent years that I began to feel deeply conflicted about legalism in the Mennonite Church. I don’t know if my questions arose because I knew the Catholic Church practiced different forms of legalism, or if I simply observed a difference between what was written in the Bible verses I had memorized all throughout Sunday School versus what was actually acted out in the Church.
Whatever it was, I had started to notice a conflict between the Bible and the Church. Naturally, I had questions about this conflict and sought answers to my questions from Church leaders and other Christian people I knew.
My questions, however, seemed to make people feel threatened and I had Bible verses quoted at me instead of used in a way to explain away my doubts. I began to feel like there was something wrong with me, like I was a sinful girl who needed to repent, and I no longer felt it was safe for me to ask questions. So I kept my mouth shut… for a while.
But the seeds of doubt had already crept into my mind and I couldn’t uproot them. I began to seethe with anger and bitterness, roots which soon sprouted into weeds of fear and darkness. Lies crept into my consciousness, telling me untruths about my faith, God, and who I was as a daughter of God.
One of the lies I had been told was that women could never be in a position of leadership in the Church because women were sinful and would lead men astray. Instead, women had to remain silent and submit to their husbands to keep from falling astray.
I was quoted Scripture to support these claims:
- Genesis 3:6 (NIV) – When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, [omitted text]*, and he ate it.
- 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (NIV) – Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
- Ephesians 5:22-24 (NIV) – Wives, submit to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. [Omitted text]*
*Note: Often when these Scriptures were quoted at me, key parts of the verses were omitted, such as in Genesis when Eve “gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” or the remainder of the passage in Ephesians (see verses 25-29) which commands husbands to love their wives as they would their own bodies.
I felt so angry about these particular passages in the Bible and had so many questions that I wanted answers to.
First, it didn’t make sense to me that, throughout history, Eve bore the brunt of the blame for the Fall on her shoulders alone when Adam, “who was with her,” could’ve lovingly corrected her and refused to accept the fruit from her hand. Wasn’t Adam equally responsible, or even more so since God directly told him not to eat the forbidden fruit?
Second, why was it disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church? What was the point in her going to church if she couldn’t speak?
Third, why did a man have authority over his wife? Why was he the head of the household? Why did his wife have to submit to him?
It seemed nobody could give me a satisfactory answer to my questions. Instead, it was implied that because these passages are in the Bible and the Bible is the ultimate Authority, then I should obey what’s written without question. If I continued to question the Bible, then that meant I had doubt about God’s Authority, and to doubt His Authority was a sin that I needed to repent from.
It took years before I learned that the above-quoted Bible verses have been taken out of context and used to enslave women for nearly two thousand years.
In fact, it wasn’t so long ago in Canada that a woman was not considered a “person” under the law and therefore could not own property, keep her own wages, vote in elections, run for office in a government position, or have the privilege of basic human rights, including the right to her own body (Source: Karr). There are still parts of the world today where women are enslaved in these ways.
The chasm of my doubt widened so irreparably during my early twenties that I finally decided to abandon my faith. I no longer wanted to believe in a God who hated women and considered them nothing more than the property of men to do with what they pleased. What did it matter if I continued to worship God if I was going to hell anyway? What would be the point?
This was a very dark period of my life that led me into the deep end of depression. Before I abandoned my faith, I contemplated suicide on multiple occasions because I didn’t believe I was loved by anyone, least of all by God, and no longer saw a purpose in living.
However, rather than take my own life, I decided to cling to my passion of writing and my dreams of becoming a published author. I found joy in writing, especially in creating fictional characters. I loved my characters, even the ones who did bad things, because they had real struggles and questions about life that led them to make bad choices and I could identify with them.
Little did I know that one day I would meet the real version of God through a fictional character in a book I read, a version I never knew existed in all the years I went to Church, a God who loved women, especially broken women like me.
The book was called The Shack by Wm. Paul Young and it was there I met God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in a way I had never met God before. It was through this book that I learned that God loves me so much more than I could ever imagine and that He wants to have a loving relationship with me.
My boyfriend (now husband) had given me this book to read when we were first dating because He knew about my struggles with God and the Church. We fought a lot during the first year of our relationship because I couldn’t fathom a God who loved me and wanted to have a relationship with me.
It made no sense to me. Never in all the years I grew up in the Mennonite Church did I learn that God wanted to have a loving relationship with me. I was raised to be obedient to an Almighty, All-powerful God with unquestioning faith.
Clearly I had failed to be obedient because of my doubts, but here was my boyfriend, whom I had only known for a few months, telling me that I could have an interactive relationship with God. He might as well have been speaking another language because his words made no sense whatsoever.
So the day before he left to go back to college, my boyfriend gave me The Shack because he couldn’t seem to get through to me any other way.
I didn’t expect much from The Shack and only agreed to read it to get my boyfriend off my case. I didn’t want to keep arguing about God and why I thought He was so awful and why I would never set foot in a Church for the rest of my life. I was adamant that nothing would change my mind about how I felt about God.
Boy, was I ever wrong!
I was home alone the weekend that I read The Shack. My boyfriend was back at school, my brother had just moved out, my sister was camping, and my other sister was in the States. I was alone with my thoughts in a big, empty house with nothing but silence for company. God’s timing to speak to me in His still small voice couldn’t have been more perfect because there was nothing to distract me from hearing His voice.
I felt unsettled as I read the book. It was like looking in the mirror as I followed the story of the protagonist, Mackenzie a.k.a. Mack, who had received a letter from God asking him to come to the Shack—the place where Mack’s life had changed forever, not just once, but twice. It was the place where Mack’s youngest daughter had been brutally murdered by a serial killer years before. It was also the place where Mack decided he no longer believed in a God who could allow a little girl to die in such a horrific way.
At the Shack, Mack meets God in three forms—Papa as God the Father, Jesus as God the Son, and Sarayu as God the Holy Spirit. Of all the forms God takes in this novel, I was most surprised by Papa as a big, black woman, and Sarayu as a delicate, Japanese woman. I wasn’t surprised by Jesus because he took on the form I already knew from the Bible—as a Middle Eastern man and carpenter. But I had never before been able to imagine what God the Father or God the Holy Spirit would look like.
What I found most interesting about how the author portrays God in the novel, however, is the Trinitarian relationship between these three separate individuals who all call themselves God. Each individual plays a separate role but together they form a complete circle, a symbiotic relationship. Each one cannot exist without the other.
It’s at the Shack that Mack is given a chance to ask God all the questions that have been plaguing his mind for years, including why God had abandoned him, the same question I had been wondering myself. Papa’s response was, “I have never left you” (Young 98).
Those were the first of many words I heard from God that weekend, but the words that stood out to me the most, the words that opened the floodgates of my soul, were: “You… were created to be loved” (99).
When I read those words, I started crying. I was so stunned by the feelings that were going on inside of me that I wrote about it in my journal because I had no one else to talk to. This is what I wrote:
Something incredible has just happened and I don’t know what to make of it or what to do. I can’t stop crying…
…I’ve been crying on and off all day while reading [The Shack] and then when I was listening to Blindside’s “Pitiful” because I feel like God is speaking to me… [Then] I decided to put on my pop folder on random.
…I skipped [the first song that came on] because I don’t care for that song. The next song that came on was Chelsea Nisbett’s “Lovely Child.” As I listened to the song and opened my journal to write, I started bawling because I’ve never felt more strongly than I do now that God is speaking to me. I don’t know what to do now that this has happened. I guess I just have to listen.
This is what he said (through the song):
“Lovely child, I love you. Life goes on and you can, too. Please choose life because there is hope. Don’t stop now and don’t let go because I love you” (Nisbett, “Lovely Child”).
God came to me that weekend in a way I had never before experienced. He met me in a place where I would be able to hear his voice—through a fictional novel and through music. And rather than chastise me for abandoning Him (it’s true that He never left me; I left Him), He simply told me the words I needed to hear: “I love you.”
Those three simple words brought me face first onto the floor (or, in the literal sense, face first in my bedding because I had been sitting on my bed when I heard His voice). I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything but cry. I cried for all the pain and suffering I had experienced during my adolescence, for the lies I had believed, and for the things I had done to feel loved.
That day I wept, and I know Jesus wept with me.
You’d think that after such an incredible experience in which God came to meet me that I would’ve recommitted my life to him that day, but I didn’t. There was much more work that had to be done, including forgiving myself, extending forgiveness to those who had hurt me in the past, identifying the lies that had grown like weeds in my mind and rooting them out, and learning and accepting the truth.
Jesus says to Mack in Chapter 12 of the novel, “This whole thing is a process, not an event” (Young 183). Jesus didn’t expect me to be instantaneously changed the day He told me He loved me. He knew there would be more work to do and He didn’t place impossible expectations on me. Instead, He rolled up his sleeves and set to work weeding the garden of my soul so that the seed He had planted through His words, “I love you,” could grow into the most beautiful flower and reseed throughout the entire garden.
My life is still a process and I’m learning to accept that. If you have ever planted a garden, you will know that growing a garden takes time, effort and lots of love and care. The same principle applies to the growth of our souls. We will never be perfect overnight, but through God’s love and grace, He will mould us and shape us over time to become like his Son, Jesus Christ.
But we must take that first step and then another and another, one at a time. God will do all the rest.
And throughout this entire process, he will be alongside you, whispering in your ear, “I love you, my lovely child.”
And those are the most beautiful words you will ever hear.
You are loved.
Karr, Andrea. “10 Key Moments in the Canadian History of Women’s Rights.” Canadian Living.
Nisbett, Chelsea. “Lovely Child.” Anchored Roots. 2010.
Young, Wm. Paul. The Shack. Windblown Media, Newbury Park, California, 2007.
You are not alone.
You. Are. Loved.
I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.