You ever get so far past what used to be a hang-up for you that you hardly ever think about it because it no longer has a grip on you? You mention it once in a long while in conversation, but because it is no longer a part of your life, most of the time it’s as if that memory isn’t even there?
The answer to this is for me is a resounding yes! In fact, when I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to write about this, my first response was, “Why would I even do that? It would mean going back into my mental archives to remember about all that, to remind myself of how I got out of the habit. I mean, I don’t even remember a half of it“.
When I became a Christian, there were some things that changed immediately. I woke up the following day and knew that I was a different person. I looked the same on the outside, but on the inside I felt completely new. I devoured the Bible in the weeks that followed and used its instructions to introduce change in different areas of life: partying, and giving up the sporadic drug use I engaged in were the first to go, and then soon after I focused on changing the way I dressed; but that was only the beginning.
Something in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount stood out to me in my young Christian days – that everything we do stems from our heart and our motives. Up until that point I had lived only to please myself, doing the things that I wanted to do; but as I consumed Matthew 5 – 7, the lightbulb went on inside my heart and I saw that the rules of life did apply to me too – and that I was not exempt from them. This meant that my choices had consequences, not only to others, but to myself, and they could either help or hinder my growth.
All of this was new to me. Christianity – being in relationship with Jesus – was a game changer. Up until that point I was on cruise control towards self-destruction. I was arrogant, but didn’t see myself in the beautiful fullness of how God sees me; I was introverted, but not self-aware; and, while my pride had been deflated when my first baby died, I still had a superiority complex that was like second nature. I was coasting in all of this until the game changed.
The Sermon on the Mount taught me that what is important isn’t what people think about a person, but what the state of their heart is – and that is what I decided to work on. In this pursuit, some habits were harder to break than others.
Let me tell you, it was no easy work. I was in a battle for the soul of who I wanted to be: the same on the inside as I looked on the outside. I began with lamenting the loss of my innocence. A particular song became my lament as I listened to it over and over again. Innocence Lost by Amy Grant (Simple Things album) gave words and music to the state of my heart: I can’t relive my life, I can’t retrace my tracks, I can’t undo what’s done, there is no going back. I chased a selfish dream, did not survey the cost; illusions disappear, I found my innocence lost…..My heavenly Father, well of eternal love, that overflows with grace, I can be pure again in spite of my innocence lost.
And while I lamented and prayed, I looked for practical ways I could tackle the issues. Whenever I fell back into an old habit, I would ask God for forgiveness, I’d forgive myself, and then refocus on my goal of not being a whitewashed tomb, as Jesus described it.
Another practical step was to do some soul-searching. This included doing a post-mortem of the days I fell back into an old habit. What had happened on those days? What were my emotions? What was the tipping point when I knew that I was going to give in? And, how could I set myself up to either divert when I recognized the tipping point, or prevent myself from even getting there? Like I said, it was no easy work. It had taken years of practice to get me to this place, and it could years of work to get me out of it.
I was having more victories and losses as the years went by. Then I came across a psalm that became my battle cry. I read Psalm 24 and verses 3 and 4 leapt off the pages at me: ‘Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord, or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.’ My new goal became to have a clean heart and pure hands, but I knew it wasn’t something I could give to myself. And so I prayed – I prayed often, with agony, and with lament: “Lord, give me clean hands and a pure heart.” Over and over I lifted my hands up to Him in an act of submission, realizing that if I were to be fully free in my life, it would be because He had come and done the final severing in me.
And He did. In some areas, the work is so complete in me that I actually forget that they are battles I once fought. The memory of the pain in those first years as a Christian when I recognized that my innocence was lost is now faded, because I’ve gotten so used to walking in freedom from so many bad habits. Sometimes I forget the supernatural cleansing that occurs when we give Jesus permission to do that work in us, and I live my life as if I didn’t use to walk in such darkness and loss.
Maybe it’s the sermon my husband is preaching today that reminded me of where I come from; maybe it’s the new Life Group lesson that we will be walking through in the next few weeks – but something has stirred up in my heart the memory of who I was before I allowed Jesus to save me. It reminds me that I did not come out of my mother’s womb as the improved version of myself that I am today. In fact, I was on such a self-destructive path that, like a friend stated the other day, “I have a pretty good idea where I would be today” if I hadn’t chosen Jesus.
It’s good to remember. Today my heart is full of gratitude for the supernatural work of God’s intervention in my life. I pray that if you haven’t experienced this and would like to, that you would just tell Him that. He will help you. Your journey of real change will only start there. It’ll take us all the rest of our lives to work on ourselves, but thank God, it’s not something anyone of us has to do on our own. The Father’s supernatural help is available, and it’s there for the asking.
Copyright © Debbie Mendoza January 2021