This year, I'll be releasing my first book, Coming Clean (Zondervan, 2015), a book about recovery and the abiding presence of God. In conjunction with Coming Clean, I'm hosting various writers, pastors, and counselors as they step into the Recovery Room. Here, we’ll discuss the things that supplant inner sobriety and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something? Today, welcome Jennifer Camp. Jennifer is the founder of Gather Ministries, and the author of Loop: What Women Need to Know. You can connect with her on Twitter, or visit her blog, JenniferJCamp.com. Welcome Jennifer Camp to the Recovery Room!
Writing My Idenitiy
I flip through the pages of the catalogue I get in yesterday’s mail. The girl on the cover looks cute, with her long brown hair flowing down past her shoulders and her blunt, straight bangs. She grips a “I got you Babe” porcelain coffee cup with a big red heart stamped on the front. She smiles down at a stout bulldog with droopy cheeks and pink, wet tongue and has the word “Marlowe” sharpied on her arm. I study her outfit, her hairstyle, her expression and wonder if I could pull this look off, too.
It’s not simply her plaid flannel shirt in bright patchwork that draws me, or the way she perches jauntily on top of the brown, antique desk. She is advertising an identity of strength. She appears indifferent to the camera, engrossed and happy in the moment, confident to be who she is. Her appearance is actually a bit of a mess: her hair is disheveled, her jeans are torn, and there are crumpled papers littering the desk where she sits. But she seems to not care about the disarray one bit. She just sits there, gazing at her drooling bulldog and smiling. And, even though this is a secular advertisement for women’s clothing, I am captivated by something else, something deeper. Is there truly joy and freedom to be had when we embrace God’s invitation to be exactly who He invites us to be?
I can hear you say it. Because my heart says it too: “But I’m such a mess! How can He love me, how can He like me, like this?” I am nothing like the woman on the cover of the catalog. But, what if He loves us nonetheless? It feels kind of crazy-awesome, doesn’t it, to imagine that, in our mess, despite all of our mistakes and wounds and wishes-I-were-different, that He is smiling, sticking close, wanting us to believe that not only does He love us, but He actually likes us too.
God likes me?
I sit across the room from my friend listening to the musician Misty Edwards sing hope through the speaker. My friend and I are both startled when we hear God’s words for us, through her song: “I knew what I was getting into when I called you. I knew what I was getting into, and I still said your name. And I am not shocked by your brokenness. I knew what I was getting into, and I still like you.” He likes me. He likes me. It is that word “like” that makes my heart beat fast. Why am I so surprised by this reminder—that God likes the very girl He made? Do you ever wonder about this, too?
It is somehow easier for me to believe that God loves me than it is for me to accept His liking me and wanting to be with me. And do you know why I struggle here? It’s because I have trouble surrendering to the truth that my being liked is not about whether or not I deserve it. Despite all my sin, despite all my brokenness, His liking me pushes up against my wanting to earn His favor. And I can’t. He loves me and He likes me because I am whom He has created and He sees the end of me—all of me, in my fullness, with Him.
Years ago, in college, I came home from class to find a watercolor painting pushed under my dorm room door. On a single sheet of eight and a half by eleven white were painted waves of green and blue and these words brushed on carefully, by my friend’s loving hand: “But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, O Jennifer, he who formed you, O Jennifer: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine’” (Isaiah 43:1). I grasped the sheet with trembling fingers and could hardly believe what I was reading. I was desperate to believe He sees me; I was aching to believe I am enough, I am delighted in and adored and redeemed. I struggled to imagine God loving me, so beautifully, so personally, just as I am.
This was the beginning of my heart being open to God reaching out to me, His girl, His daughter. This was the beginning of my armor of protection being softened, exposing layers of wounds and pain God wanted to reveal and heal in me.
Knowing—believing—that we are pursued and loved, despite our sin, is the place where the pursuit of our heart begins.
I have heard the Father’s words of love whisper directly to my heart, the message almost too good to believe:
You are not made to live without Me, child. You are not made to live life on your own, trying to be strong. You are not more likable based on your efforts. I like you because I have made you. I like what I am made. And I love you because that is who I am.
He has made me. He has made you. No matter what we do or what we have done, this Father of ours pursues us with a love that does not change. That is why we are saved. Paul writes the church at Ephesus “We are saved by grace through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
I hear Paul’s words and something in me both aches to believe it and rebels against it, too—even though I know what He says is true. My being saved by Christ’s sacrifice reveals God’s ultimate love for me, and there is nothing I can do to make Him love me more or less. Yet it can be difficult to believe that God likes us when we continue to feel that there is something we can do to try to earn His affection, or to somehow measure up.
I can easily care a lot about what you think of me.
I want to be the girl on the catalog. If I feel sure of myself, in who I am, perhaps this will help me believe God likes me. Maybe this will be what it takes for me to believe others might like me for who I am, too. I can’t help wanting to look like I have it together, even when I really don’t. An unexpected knock on my door prompts me to take quick inventory. Is the house picked up or a mess? Are the kids’ shoes still piled up by the door? Are the breakfast dishes in the sink? Did I tidy up the bathroom after the get-to-school-quick rush? Do my yoga pants have dog hair on them? Do I have makeup on? Is my ponytail straight? Before I’ve pulled open the door to greet you, I have graded myself on how put together I look.
The Bible tells me not too worry more about my outside appearance—that it is the condition of my heart that counts. “Charm can fool you. Beauty fades. But a woman who has respect for the Lord should be praised” (Proverbs 31:30, NIV). But when I don’t know the truth of who I am, in God’s eyes, what other people think of me is what I care about most. We all want—and need—to feel loved. And we will do what it takes to get it.
The problem is that there is a cost to striving to be loved by the world rather than abiding in the love of God. Our heart breaks a bit when our lives are spent trying to prove our worth.
I’ve lived this. This is my confession.
Jennifer Camp is the co-founder of Gather Ministries and author of Loop: What Women Need to Know, grew up in the middle of an almond orchard in Northern California and now lives in the busy San Francisco Bay area with her husband, Justin, and their three kids. Connect with Jennifer on her blog, jenniferjcamp.com, where she wrestles with God about worship, imagination, and faith and loves to get to know women eager to hear God’s whispers to their heart.
***COMING CLEAN ANNOUNCEMENT***
If you pre-order Coming Clean at Amazon, Givington's, or Barnes & Noble, let me know in the comments below or on Facebook, and I'll add you to a Facebook group for Coming Clean Insiders. There, you'll have access to the behind the scenes information about Coming Clean, and perhaps find an Easter egg or two along the way.
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