Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Your Life Still Counts - A Book Review

I'm going to let myself be vulnerable for a moment and share my biggest struggle in life. I'm currently reading a review book titled Your Life Still Counts by Tracie Miles. I can't tell if this book is helping me or kicking me while I am down. I requested it for review because of the subtitle: How God Uses Your Past to Create a Beautiful Future. My past is rather "tame" compared to some. I've never smoked, never gotten drunk, didn't have premarital sex, never used drugs, have never stolen anything... and yet I'm still a sinner in need of a Savior.

My religious upbringing left me with a very distorted view of God. By the time I graduated from high school, I was a very judgmental person. I fully believed that God required His followers to live perfect lives or else they wouldn't be allowed into heaven. I believed that meant that everyone should live a conservative lifestyle and eliminate all sin from their lives. Otherwise, there was no way that we could stand in front of God. Because God is perfect, we must be perfect to be in His presence.

I know my view of God is wrong and yet I still struggle with overwhelming shame because of my sins. I forever fear that God will not accept me as I am, that He cannot possibly love me. So when I fail, which is daily, I despise myself. If I am unloving toward my husband, I will mentally berate myself for hours because I failed yet again. How can my husband still love me when I act like such a jerk? How can God still love me?

So I requested this book in hopes that it would help me in my journey to better understand God's character and teach me how to move beyond my past. I'm only half way through the book but wanted to write up my review now because I have no idea how long it will take me to actually finish it. More than anything, the book is helping by pointing out Bible verses that show just how much God loves us. This was the passage I read yesterday:

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars;
He gives names to all of them.
Great is our Lord and abundant in strength;
His understanding is infinite.
Psalm 147:2-5

In the chapter titled "Your Pain Was Not for Nothing," Miles points out a lesson I am desperately trying to learn. She writes:
In Isaiah 43:18, it is obvious God wanted them (the Israelites) to look at what was to come and what was ahead of them, not behind them: "But forget all that - it is nothing compared to what I am going to do." The NIV puts it this way: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past."

God wasn't most concerned about what they had done but about where they were going and how they would allow what they had been through to fuel their faith and propel them to spread the knowledge of Him. He wanted them to seek a new interest in Him and embrace a new vision for their future - not be paralyzed and fixated on their past mistakes and circumstances, or even their long-term patterns of sinful and idolatrous living. Although they couldn't erase the past completely from their minds, they could learn from it and move forward and be used for God's kingdom. He wanted them to focus on new miracles, new accomplishments, and new victories in Him, while looking to Him for direction and guidance for the future.
So far I have not internalized this lesson. I am too busy looking backwards and feeling shame and rejection for all of my past mistakes. Hopefully I can learn to move past the shame and find forgiveness. I know God forgives when we ask, and I have begged for His forgiveness, but I am not letting His love reach beyond my past perception of His character.

Again, many thanks to Bethany House for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. I hope that I can continue to learn from the book and learn that God does have a beautiful future in plan for me.


Julie Fukuda said...

I am trusting that God will always forgive my mistakes, intentional or otherwise, and accept me as I am.
I do think all the negative aspects of my childhood has shown me what NOT to do in raising my own kids. I remember the lesson in psychology 101 that said, we tend to raise out kids the way we were raised ... to which I thought "NO WAY"!
I am so happy when I see how my kids turned out and the fine job they are doing with their own kids.

Anonymous said...

Are you, by chance, INTJ on the Myers-Briggs? I ask because the "form mental picture of what should be, then get angry / disappointed when reality doesn't match" is typical of that personality type (trust me on this...).

As for the religious implications, I often wonder about that myself: "I have sinned by by what I have done and by what I have left undone. How can God forgive this when I fall short every single day???"

I have to ask Him who was nailed to a cross... and have faith that He did it for us all. If He could not only forgive Peter for denying Him THREE TIMES but then make him the head of His church, there may be hope for me.

Two final thoughts:

In Mere Christianity, Lewis gives his view of damnation - God's punishment of us - that it's NOT an angry, vengeful God casting sinners into eternal torment. God, who loves us even more perfectly than we love our best-loved person, wouldn't do that. Rather, Lewis has it that damnation is OUR choice to deliberately cut ourselves off from God, to purposefully leave His house (cf. the Prodigal Son). We can come home at any time, clad as we are in the rags of our sins, and He will kill the fatted calf and sit us at His table. It's a comfort, a source of awe, and even of shame (I don't deserve it).

If you've never seen "The Green Pastures", there is a scene at the end where God, completely fed up with sinful and disobedient man, is trying hard to ignore the pleas of a devout man. The point of the scene is that God has an inspiration: "If I lived as one of them, I might understand how they can reject me one moment, then call for me the next. Yes..."

Don't know if it's good theology, but it struck me very powerfully.