Learning to Be
An excerpt from the new book by Pastor Juanita Campbell Rasmus
“This God was present to me in fullness during the falling, present just like my daddy had been when the training wheels had been taken off of my pink bike.”
Another morning dawned with me lying across my bed, lethargic, tired to the bone. Weeks into the depression, my body seemed to weigh hundreds of pounds more than my 5’4” frame could support. Yet the weight was emotional, not physical: the weight of wrong thinking, delusion, disappointment, despair, grief, and sheer soul exhaustion. The kind of weight felt when hopelessness drops its tonnage on us, similar to when the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote is running for dear life and a boulder suddenly falls from the sky and lands on him. Splat.
I had come to the end of myself. Couldn’t do a thing. Nada. I needed to go to the restroom, but I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to get out of the bed. The mild sense of dread I felt turned into full-blown panic. I felt powerless, frazzled, as though my brain was scrambling with sirens going off in my head: “Red Alert! She can’t get out of bed!” I thought, Let’s try to think through this. Perhaps I could roll out of bed onto the floor.
At that moment, I heard God say, “Look at you. You can’t do anything for me. But I love you.” But what I internalized as I lay there, unable to get out of the bed, was “Look at you. You’re worthless. You have no capacity to be used by me now. I can’t rely on you at all. You’ve blown it now. Well, I still pity you enough to love you, considering.”
This was the God I thought I had found—the God of my childhood—showing up just the way so many had described God to be: a harsh, punitive taskmaster. This was my understanding of who God was, and it shaped how I had been living. My life was a narrative of avoiding punishment for all my sin, and now, apparently, I had blown it, and this was my punishment.
Thankfully, my temporary paralysis forced me to stay there long enough for God to clarify that what I had internalized and what God had said were two totally different notions. God spoke again, this time with an explanation: “Look at you. You have totally worn yourself out seeking everybody’s approval, striving for perfection, making sure you are perceived as productive. But you can’t do anything to earn my love. Don’t you know that I love you—period, totally, without any action on your part? Juanita, you don’t have to work to earn my love. It pleases me to give it to you freely.”
I felt the warmth of tears pooling in the corners of my eyes, tears out of a very deep place in my soul. And at that moment, I felt loved and understood even as I realized that I had God all wrong. God was not Judge Judy or a divine Santa Claus trying to catch me being naughty. God was not asking me to prove myself worthy. I had used up so much of my life energy drive by the weight of that belief that it was no wonder I had exhausted myself. I could see that now.
A sense of relief flooded me—mind, body, and spirit. I felt so relieved from the weight of a lifetime of unmet expectations that I had neatly arranged in compressed packing cubes. In my mind if you’re gonna carry emotional baggage, it should be neatly presented and compressed for maximum hauling. I had never imagined that my beliefs could weigh my life down that way. At that moment it was as though I had been given wings and had become weightless. It was freedom I had never felt before. Light and airy only partially describe how I felt; perhaps magical is a good start.
Descending into the Darkness
Despite my newfound freedom from the crushing weight of expectations I had been living under, I found myself descending deeper and deeper into a dark pit. If I was wrong about what it meant to be loved by God, did that mean there were other things I had gotten wrong regarding God? When I slept I had a falling sensation, and as I fell I hoped to find something in the darkness that I could grab hold of. I wanted the perpetual falling to cease. Only later did it occur to me that my sense of falling was symbolic and that it would enable me to grow from a place of depth.
Thankfully, by eventually hitting rock bottom I came to know the God who had found me. This was not the god of my childhood making. This God was present to me in fullness during the falling, present just like my daddy had been when the training wheels had been taken off of my pink bike.
I had to fall past the depth of my willpower to stop believing that I was strong enough to pull myself out. I had to fall past the depth of my knowledge to stop believing that my intellect would get me through this. I had to fall past the depth of my determination and even my physical stamina to a place where only God could provide security. I had to, as Saint John of the Cross wrote, be purged of all my attachments to who I had believed myself to be and who I had believed God to be. I came to see that this whole process was more than a physical and mental diagnosis by my psychiatrist; this was about helping me build a life I wanted to live, a life present to a God who desired that I would live fully into love.
Located in Westmont, Illinois, InterVarsity Press has been publishing thoughtful Christian books for more than 70 years. An extension of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, IVP is a leading Christian publisher with a respected history providing resources that strengthen the church, encourage individuals, and shape the academy.