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The Good Girl


I remember hearing the old familiar hymn as a child, “Jesus Paid It All.” As I stood amongst a chorus of voices in that small church with its red pews and a wooden cross that hung above the altar, I sang along to the words, not fully comprehending the weight of their meaning.

I found my acceptance in being a “good girl.” If the teacher said, Stay seated and quiet,” I didn’t move. I sat with hands folded in my lap against my corduroy overalls. Still enough that my seat wouldn’t make the slightest creak.  Still even when my teacher left the room. I crossed the street at crosswalks only. I was obedient to the law, reverent of authority, bordering to the point of fear. Not perfect because no one is, but not a rule breaker by any means.

I was well into my adulthood before I realized there was a lie nestled in the core of my heart. The lie that God loved me based on my performance. He loved me and approved of me when I behaved, when I agreed and didn’t voice my opinion. Or when I kept the rules, went to church and read my bible enough and prayed enough–all of the things on my exhausting and self-created checklist. At some point, the lie knocked on the door of my heart asking to be believed, and I flung the door wide open and gave it a room.

“God, search my heart,” I prayed. Like that spotlight search bar on my computer. Search my heart for what is stored in there that I am unaware of, downloaded and forgotten about, but now affecting every aspect of my life drenched in shame.

I saw it one day in my mind at a women’s retreat like a time travel glimpse into the past. I saw the little girl version of myself standing before my father. I saw the tears in his eyes. The face marked with sadness, which as an adult, I understand with time and clarity. But as a little girl, I misinterpreted as otherwise. There must be something wrong with me, I thought. Sarah causes pain.  So I strived to be a good girl. And this exhausting effort seemed to work for a while. I could at least try and mostly succeed at being on my best behavior.

Until one day, curiosity climbed from the passenger seat to the driver’s side, giving way to the temptation that now dominated the fear and need for approval. I found that even the good girl has a rebellious heart. Prone to wander into the dark, despite being warned about dangers that might meet me there. Prone to wander just because I can.

On one warm September night that I never saw coming, it all changed. Suddenly I found myself sitting in a detainment room with my hands folded in the lap of my beige cotton jumpsuit, the uniform color in the county of my confinement. Sentenced to the Ohio Department of Corrections, a foreign term I would become fluent in.

And now what, God? No more of the good girl. She has exited left of center stage. Show over. Curtains on that act. A disastrous ending. She couldn’t keep the rules anyway.

The old hymn of my youth played out quietly in the memory of my heart, where lies and truth collide.

“I hear the Savior say, ‘Thy strength indeed is small; Child of weakness, watch and pray, Find in Me thine all in all.’ Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”

“Find in me thine all in all.” Not in myself. Not in my list of rules and self-determined goodness.  Jesus paid it all. So that I don’t have to. So that you and I can live a free and abundant life knowing that nothing can separate us from His love.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT: We live in a works based society where personal worth is measured according to a system that is opposite of the word of God. We also have a tendency to view ourselves and God’s perspective of us through the lens of our past experiences. What lies are you believing in your own life today? In what ways are you striving for love and approval from the Father or from others? You don’t have to work at being something that you already are: deeply loved and accepted.  Don’t forget Peter’s encouragement for us: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,God’s special possession, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV).  That is God’s view of you, which allows you to let go of the lies.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for the truth of what Your word says about me, that I am chosen by You. I pray that you will search my heart today and bring to the light any faulty beliefs I have. Heal those areas and cover them in your truth and love. Amen.

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