I first met Jesus when I was 14 years old. My best friend and I went to a youth group at a local church and we were told about salvation through grace by Jesus dying for us on the cross.

I knew something happened that night. My heart was full, my spirit experienced something it never had before – a joy and peace so deep down that I have since then been spoilt in the fact that nothing in this world, can ever bring that same feeling, except communion with God.

Within a few years, I was baptized in water and Spirit and speaking in my new divine language. I was attending church up to three times a week getting lots of teaching and what I thought was knowledge.

However, over the years, things got more complex. I had a boyfriend and later a husband, my own life and career and struggles as I started to witness life’s disappointments. I felt I was constantly trying to “meet God’s requirements” of being a good person and coming up short. Why was I so angry, why was life hard, why wasn’t I coping, why was my marriage struggling. I looked around at the Christian figures I had in my life at that stage, I really didn’t see anyone who stood out, all seemed to be as miserable as anyone else, where was the victory and joy and freedom that I had heard about in Christ. Mostly why was there no visible difference between who proclaimed to be a Christian and who was not? I became plagued with guilt (of performance, or lack thereof) and fear of everything.

Also, as an artist, I always felt naturally drawn to the supernatural, the physic, the weird, and alternative. Yet I was constantly rapped over the knuckles for wanting to explore this. I really felt I wasn’t coping and couldn’t freely express and explore my authenticity. I slowly lost my pure joy of the Lord and could no longer feel comfortable in His presence as my “sins’ weighed deep on my heart.

This is when when I pretty much stopped going to church started going into the closet. It was easier on my fear and guilt if I didn’t hear every week that I wasn’t living up to what God expected of me. That the things I were naturally drawn to weren’t lining up with God’s word and I was letting the devil in! I didn’t have to tell people I was going to church on Sunday and have their faces get that look that says “oh, she must be one of those.”  I wasn’t going to be judged in the closet!

So for the next 18 plus years I lived there. I never lost my faith, I never lost contact with God, all I did was pray in the Spirit and ask God not to ever leave me, nor let me go to far away from Him. I didn’t attend church, proclaim I was a Christian, or openly share my faith. How could I? How could I convince anyone of God’s goodness, when I didn’t know anything of it. Could I tell people “live like me, but expect guilt and fear as part of the deal?” I would hear people criticize Christians in front of me and not say a word, I quite honestly felt the same and had to in many cases agree with them about the hypocrisy I saw.

Guilt and shame was there – so deep, but no one knew, so no one could call it out.

But God was faithful and never did leave me. Looking back, I see so many times when he carried me and got me through rocky times in relationships and financially and in motherhood and my ego (to name a few).

About 6 years ago I stuck my head out of the closet. God had gracefully inspired some of my artwork that spoke of unconditional love and through that I had to start exploring Him from my heart and on my own. Also, reading a novel set in historical 70AD Jerusalem, that I couldn’t place in biblical terms, I started on a sincere journey for truth. I am now happy to report that I am no longer in the closet. Although I don’t attend church too often for the same reason, I am a guilt free person, learning to walk in victory and be joyful in every situation. I now understand, in my heart, God’s goodness. I have no fear of man and am free to explore anything I want as I am convinced that nothing can separate me from the love of God.

So now I look back and question why this happened. I believe we are taught in most churches, and correctly so, that we are saved by grace, we can’t earn it. But the grace seems to stop there. Now that we are saved, we must live up to some sort of impossible standard and earn the rest. Instead of teaching and the focus being on exploring the “new creatures” we are, we get rules. If we don’t tithe we can’t be blessed financially, when we sin, which we definitely will, because we are inherently bad, evil people and our flesh will get the better of us, we must get before this terrifying wrathful God who will forgive us if we really, really repent in our heart. We must fast if we are not getting prayers answered and thereby twist Gods arm (?) to maybe do something that’s really important to us like heal our friend of cancer. Not to mention constant reminders that I am a sinner and my righteousness is as filthy rags. I am exaggerating of course, to make a point and this isn’t a bold outright teaching, in fact I am even sure that half the pastors don’t even realize their deep rooted mind set on this as they too were indoctrinated at seminary. However, the teaching is there (and still is) albeit very insidious and subtle. It is a religious spirit and very much legalistic. So how could I possibly have a relationship with a God portrayed like this, one I was afraid of, and felt I displeased so often. Who would want to be a Christian except for the reason that we are scared to death of a literal hell and going there!?

I thank God daily that in my seeking and intimate conversations with the Trinity, and sound biblical contextual teaching (I am getting at an amazing bible school), that I have now been taught truth. I am knowledgeable and my heart knows what the Word says. I understand we are in a Better Covenant, a new covenant that Jesus brought, completely doing away with the old covenant which was the give and take agreement (blessing and cursing). We are now under a covenant that brings freedom, freedom from guilt and fear and condemnation, a covenant that embraces our beautiful lives, bodies and uniqueness and individuality here on earth and focuses on the redemption rather than the old sin.  All this held together through a true understanding of what Jesus actually accomplished at the cross. If we are not taught the full impact of what occurred at the cross, we cannot live victorious and free lives.  My walk as a Christian stems from my relationship with a very real extremely loving, kind God that isn’t accessible according to my deeds, but rather that lives in every fiber of my being and communes with me constantly, I need only to stop and listen. A God who has dealt with sin once and for all, who has created me anew where sin isn’t second nature, in fact it has no part of me. How can it be if I was crucified and resurrected anew with Christ and I am the temple of the Holy Spirit? Selah!

I am light, I carry light and the darkness cannot cover the light. I trust God, who when I understand His relentless pursuit of loving me, can only lead me to repentance and to say ‘I surrender all.’ And in losing me – I find myself.

If I had been taught this all those years of attending church, I very much doubt I would have even seen the inside of the closet. However, I have no regrets, and I don’t need this ‘confession’ to be a religious one, my God is one of restoration and mercy and kindness. He doesn’t have a whipping stick; in contrast, He has his arms wide open welcoming the prodigal daughter home.

I know now, for sure, that I will praise His name forever.

Written by: Avril Ward