Beth’s Story: I Was Jonah

10 Apr Beth’s Story: I Was Jonah

Those who pay regard to vain idols 

forsake their hope of steadfast love.

                                             Jonah 2:8

Growing up, I was certain that church was important.  Our family went every Sunday, and I heard the gospel time after time…but I just didn’t get it. To me, church was little more than a place to hang out with friends.

As I entered middle school, I was still doing the “good Christian kid” things: going to church and Sunday school, going to the kid’s ministry during the week, reading my Bible, listening to Christian music. Most of my friends weren’t Christians and would tease me for the “churchy” things I did. Since Christianity for me at that point was only a building to go to and a list of things to do, I decided to abandon all those “churchy” things and replace them with what would gain me the approval of my peers.

This desire for approval consumed me: what I wore, what I said, and what I did was all to gain others’ affections. As I entered high school, this craving for approval only deepened and grew into intense perfectionism and selfishness. I felt that I had to be at the top of everything I did in order to prove myself. I devoted my life to my athletics, academics, and appearance, but that yearning to be accepted and valued was never satisfied. Year after year, my hunger for approval only grew.

So, I began burying the emptiness in parties and boys. As I began college, I tried harder than ever to find life in those things, but I felt empty and lifeless like never before. I couldn’t hide from the brokenness; I couldn’t shake the feeling that my way of living would never do anything but leave me empty. By the grace of God, as I was trying to run from these truths, I ended up at a weekly Bible study. I pulled out all my best Sunday school answers and tried to hide my doubts and disbelief, but after months of going through that routine, I heard a sermon on Jonah.

God wrecked my heart that day.

I was Jonah: knowing the truth and running from it, from exactly what I was looking for the whole time.

It’s been a long journey since that day, and the approval of others is still something I struggle with – in my friendships, my classes, my small group, I still crave the approval of others. However, God is continuously showing me that while the approval of others will always leave me empty, his approval satisfies completely.  And his approval to us is free; which still blows me away! Because Jesus died for me, I never have to question whether or not God approves of me, loves me, and values me, because his acceptance doesn’t depend on my performance.

God’s approval of me is dependent on Christ alone, and the sacrifice he made for me over 2000 years ago! The satisfaction that I left Christianity to pursue was really found in Christ all along. In Christ, I am free to be exactly who God made me to be. I don’t strive to justify myself; he is the justifier. And I can own my shortcomings and the areas where I need to grow because those things don’t threaten my identity.

In Christ, I have found freedom. Freedom from enslavement to the opinions of others. Freedom from unreachable standards. Freedom to pursue his mission and his purpose for my life. Even when I can’t see what that is, I am free to walk one step at a time, knowing God will direct me. And I can do all of this without any fear or hesitation. Because if God is on my side, what can other people do to me?

Beth Shively is a student at North Carolina State University and a member of the Summit College Leadership Team.

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