My childhood nickname was “Long Shot” because I always went for—and then achieved—the “long shots” in life. I grew up believing if I wanted something badly enough, I could achieve it. That if I was determined enough, worked hard enough, I could accomplish it. I soon realized accomplishments brought praise and accolades, and I created a life around my hard work, my accomplishments, the resulting praise.
I struggle, however, with my own weakness. I have always experienced the brokenness of our world so strongly, always experienced volatile emotions and reactions that often seem disproportionate. In an effort to avoid the devastation I experienced when let down, I began to worship self-reliance. My works—and hard work—bolstered me and buoyed me while masking my inner frailty.
By college I felt both unstoppable and deeply vulnerable. Utterly confident and acutely insecure. I worked hard. I relied on me.
Until I woke up one morning at the University Health Services—after drinking too much, again, trying to escape the emotions that were too much. Until I burned myself so badly that I still have scars, fifteen years later.
For years I fought to regain physical and mental health, to find and define a new way to live. I was supported by wonderful friends and family, by medications and psychiatrists. By an eating disorders clinic and a meal plan and mixtapes and yoga and meditation and kick-boxing. I tried so many things.
I tried church, too—several times. But I felt like an outlier. An imposter. I wanted to belong, but I was afraid to let anyone into my imperfect past. I was afraid of judgment, afraid no one would understand. I wanted a faith that was secure and dependable. Trustworthy. Something I could understand and hold on to. But my faith was a roller coaster. I had so many questions, and I didn’t always like God’s answers.
I did go to church, off and on, over the years. I created my own liturgies—Sunday morning yoga classes, at home “worship” using Christian praise music, Sunday evening journaling in a coffee shop. I knew I believed in God when I listened to Beethoven, when I went to the ocean or saw a sunset or heard a birdsong or sat with a dog in my lap. When I read poetry and looked at Hopper paintings. When I felt so much love that I thought my heart would burst.
But I struggled with what was in the Bible. My understanding of “Scripture” was that it contained a lot of rules I needed to follow. I was not interested in following these rules. It seemed like God asked for so much sacrifice: time, money, physical pleasure, relationships, my life. I was unclear on the rewards.
Life according to my rules, however, was not going particularly well. I was not achieving what I wanted, professionally or relationally. And each time my works and self-reliance let me down, I was crushed. With each failure, my despair worsened.
Eventually I found myself at rock bottom—again. For so long, I had tried so many things, looking for answers. This time I was willing to give God an honest, full-hearted go. I knew this meant not just going to church—which I did start again—but also facing my doubts and doing the work of learning about God. Reading the Bible and working out what the Scriptures truly meant. I told myself I’d read fifteen minutes a day for a month. If that proved fruitless, my experiment would be over; I’d try something else.
The first day I read for forty-five minutes. I was captivated by the story. I was not in love with it, and I was not convinced by it, but I was captivated. How could Jesus act and live this way? Why? What gave him the strength? What was his reward? Why are those rewards so good? What does that mean for me? Eventually my heart softened and opened. I started seeing the Bible and church in a different way. The Bible was not a book of rules—and neither was it a book of stories. I came to see it as one story, a thousand different threads woven together, all pointing to the same thing. It wasn’t a set of rules, but a way of life. A way to live sacrificially, lovingly, kindly, gently, humbly, graciously, beautifully. It didn’t just suggest a way of life; it was a step-by-step manual demonstrating how to live that kind of life.
But that kind of life involved letting go of things I had previously built my life on—self-reliance and hard work, accomplishments and praise. I needed to start the hard work of learning humility, learning to ask for forgiveness, and learning to trust God—even in my doubts and with all my questions.
I have always been “strong enough” to achieve my desires, but my faith is built on my weakness.
My “strength” didn’t save me from my depression, from my failures, from my strong emotions. God’s strength is saving me: he brings me to a place where I can finally recognize my need for him and begin to let go of my stubborn self-reliance. God is showing me that when I come to him in my weakness, he is my strength.