I recently spent a weekend with a group of women at a conference. One night we gathered together and were asked to tell one thing about us that the others wouldn’t know. I always stress out at these kind of questions, and couldn’t think of anything worthwhile. Finally, at the last minute, I happened to think of something. Some of the women shared about some difficult circumstances or difficult families from childhood. When it came my turn, I thought my story would be a funny antidote to the seriousness:
In fourth grade, I was in my school’s Spelling Bee. In the gym, set up in front of an overhead projector, I won by spelling the word “calendar.” However, what no one knows is that I had accidentally cheated. My best friend had spent weeks helping me prepare for said Bee. But the word “calendar” always tripped me up, as I could never remember if it was an “er” or “ar.” So as I was pondering how to spell it, in front of the whole school, illuminated by the overhead projector, I looked out around the audience and saw my best friend mouthing “ar, ar, ar, ar.” So I spelled it with “ar” and won. I went on to the regional competition, but came in third because I spelled truly wrong.
Everyone laughed. But soon after I shared it, I realized that it wasn’t just a light-hearted story — especially in light of what we were learning at the conference. It really is a deep issue from childhood for me. For you see, from that moment at the Spelling Bee until today, I have always felt like I’m really not supposed to be where I am. That I’ve gotten to where I am by accident, by default. There is a fear that at any moment someone is going to suddenly appear and tell me, “I’m so sorry, but we just learned that you weren’t supposed to have gotten this, so we have to take it away now. We thought you were smart enough, but there are smarter. We thought you were gifted enough, but others have more talent. We thought you were enough…but sadly, you’re really not enough at all.” Every job, promotion, accomplishment and victory I’ve ever experienced has been accompanied by this fear. It has been an absolutely destructive mentality.
Since the start of this year, God has been challenging me to believe him. To have faith to ask for some pretty big things, and to trust him with them. I’ve brought to him dreams I am scared to dream, and he has encouraged me to have faith enough to know he can provide even bigger fulfillment. But back in the deep recesses of my mind, I have been aware of the fact that if any one of them came to be, I wouldn’t truly enjoy or celebrate it…because I would feel like it shouldn’t have happened, and that I really don’t deserve it at all.
I went to that conference expecting a word from God. And I had a very specific word in mind that I wanted to receive (I can’t be the only one who does this, right?). In his divine and omniscient way, God did give me a word. However, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But, of course, it was exactly what I needed and didn’t know I needed. And that word was, “I chose you. I wasn’t wrong.”
It seems such a silly thing. Isn’t the first thing we learn in Sunday School the fact that God chose us? That Jesus loves me, this I know? But as I’ve meditated on this these past few days, I have realized that in the deepest, most longing way, I need a fresh revelation of this…because I have never truly believed it. In my whole life, over three decades, I’ve never accepted that God was intentional when he called me. I’ve never accepted that God didn’t just pull me along for the ride by happenstance.
I don’t find it a coincidence that it was at this specific season that God revealed this to me. I think the timing is divine. The things I’m dreaming for are pretty big. They are daring, gutsy and beyond what I would normally settle for…exactly why I needed this word at this time. God can’t bring fulfillment to them — move me to the next level, to get my spiritual roots more deeply rooted — if at my core I feel like it was an accident, like he was wrong. I have to be firmly convinced it was his doing, on purpose, by his choosing. I have to believe him.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” – Jeremiah 1:5
“But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace” – Galatians 1:15
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” – Ephesians 1:4
“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” – Ephesians 1:5
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” – Psalm 139:13
“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” – Psalm 139:16
These are verses I have to memorize, meditate on and use as a weapon when everything in me screams the contrary. For those times when the whispers of doubt brush my heart, I have to use them as a shield of faith to believe God anyway. It’s the hardest thing to do — to believe him — when my heart wants is amazingly comfortable with the lies.
The danger of not really grasping his truth is that it becomes a unfulfilling cycle. I don’t believe he loved me enough to set me apart, therefore I seek approval and acceptance elsewhere. That acceptance and approval is temporary and unsatisfying, so I feel misplaced. And so it goes. The key, beyond believing God, is to gain acceptance from him alone.
The speaker at the conference made a simple, off-hand statement that still resonates in my heart. She said, “God will never get tired of you asking for his approval. Never.” I am trying to walk that out. Instead of seeking a fleeting “atta girl” from those around me, I am trying to remember to go to God first. To let him wash his approval and acceptance all over me. To remind me, again and again through his word, that his alone is the approval I need. His approval and favor is unparalleled.
Esther 2:17 says, “the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins.” God bestowed his favor and approval on her, and the king responded. The Hebrew word for approval in this verse is hesed, which means “unfailing love, loyal love, devotion, covenant relationship, favor, approval.” As best l can tell, this is the only verse in which hesed is translated as approval. Most other times it’s used it has been translated as love in the NIV in reference to God’s love (129 times):
“His love (approval) endures forever” – Psalm 136:6
“Now therefore, O our God, the great, mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love (approval)” – Nehemiah 9:32
“Surely goodness and love (approval) will follow me all the days of my life” – Psalm 23:6
Whether it’s translated approval or love, it’s the same word. It means the same thing. And there are 241 other verses to describe the love, devotion, covenant relationship and approval from God in the Old Testament alone. Since all scripture is God-breathed, then each time I read about the love, hesed of God, I can interpret it to mean not only his love, but his approval and favor. This distinction is important to me, because it reinforces to me that God doesn’t just love me, he likes me, too. It means he doesn’t just love me because he’s obligated by covenant to love me, but that he approves of me too.
While it may seem obvious to others, this is a big revelation for me. It reinforces that where I am is no mistake. And more importantly, where I’m going is no mistake. That his plan and purpose will not just avail because he is God and he keeps his word, but that he gives his approval for those destinations. That he chooses those places out of his love, devotion, approval and favor for me.
I pray that I can begin to break this cycle. To not just “trade my bondage, but keep my chains” as the speaker said. I pray that I can be “transformed by the renewing of my mind, then I will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12:2). And I pray that when the accomplishment or victory comes, I can rejoice wholeheartedly, without question or fear that it was all a mistake. That in joy, I can say, “thank you God — I don’t deserve it, but I accept it freely and fully, because you love me, like me and approve of me. Praise be to your holy name!”