Your sermon came too late for me Pastor,” said Vicki in a low tone as they shook hands at the door of the church. “I’ve gone too far. And now I’m lost.”
As she wiped a tear away, I detected that she might be only just managing to hold things together. Perhaps, with the passing of another week, she would slip out the church’s back door. I determined to engage her and see if I could help.
Her tone and body language were impossible to ignore, and later, as we mingled with our new church family, I drilled into her problem.
“I’m a total failure,” she began, between quiet sobs. “I know I must be one of God’s rejects, because I feel so guilty. And Satan keeps rubbing it in.”
I slipped my arm around her shoulders while she dried her tears. It was clear she needed a friend, and so with lunch over, I steered her outside to a quiet place where we could talk.
Taking another tissue, she whispered, “Perhaps it was all a mistake, and I wasn’t meant to have a relationship with Jesus.”
It was hard to imagine how such a sweet mother could have done anything so bad as to feel so lost.
“You see,” Vicki began, “my past keeps coming back; it haunts me. My prayers are empty. It’s as if I’m on a treadmill talking to myself.
“You don’t understand, Pat. I once made a terrible mistake; I went too far and now live with it every day. I don’t think God has ever forgiven me. It’s like a heap of awful guilt garbage that has followed me over the years.”
I responded, trying to encourage her with some illustrations of God’s goodness and willingness to forgive.
“Thanks, but despite what you’re saying, I’ve gone too far. You couldn’t dig a hole deep enough to bury my sin!” she countered.
As we talked further, it was clear that she had never really understood about God’s loving forgiveness. But I was surprised when a striking teenage girl walked up to us and smiled.
“Is this your daughter?” I enquired. “She has the most beautiful hair.”
“Yes, this is Carissa, my oldest,” said Vicki, as the girl drifted off to join some friends. “And every time I brush that hair, its colour is a reminder of someone else, from years ago. And that’s the memory that haunts me.” Then raising her hands in a gesture of hopelessness, she plaintively added, “I feel spiritually empty.”
An unpardonable sin
From here the whole story tumbled out between tears and sobs.
“It began when I was 15, and like many other lonely teenage girls, I longed to leave home to find love and acceptance. Somewhere, somehow.
“You see, even before my dad left us, my childhood was a nightmare. After he went, things only got worse. My mother’s constant cutting reminders hurt. Things like, ‘I wish you’d never been born, Victoria. All of our problems are the result of you.’
“Because I was constantly reminded of it,” Vicki sobbed, “I never felt loved or wanted.”
Taking her hand, I offered her what comfort I could—I could relate to the pain of her miserable childhood.
“Then I met Don at school. He was always kind to me. Then later, he invited me to join his church’s teen group. ‘Don’t worry, Vicki,’ he said, ‘I’ll look after you and drive you home.’
“With such an unhappy childhood, he was just what I was seeking. I longed to feel accepted.”
Her face lit up for a moment as she recalled the time.
“Don was the first person who ever seemed to care about me. But along with the fun and laughter, unwisely, alcohol was introduced.”
Vicki looked down, then went on.
“I knew it was wrong, even though others did it.” She paused to dry her eyes. “But it felt so good to be loved, even if only for an hour.
“So now I realise I’ve committed that lethal, unpardonable sin I’ve heard about, and Carissa, who I love, is a constant reminder.”
“No, Vicki, never,” I whispered, as her eyes welled again. “God doesn’t ever treat us that way. He loves you. His love for us isn’t based on our own performance. If that were true, we’d all be lost.
“The fact that you’re thinking about your relationship with Jesus right now is the evidence that you haven’t pushed that button.”
“Well, then,” she added, “perhaps it was my baptism that didn’t work.” Vicki gazed into the distance focusing on something over my shoulder. “Yet I felt so happy that day. I’d finally decided to give my heart to Jesus for all time.”
“And, Vicki, you made the right decision,” I ventured. “But it isn’t by baptism that we are saved; that’s the way we show we are saved by Jesus. You have every reason to hang in there, because you’re still on His team. You know the end of the book, about God’s promise of sharing heaven with us one day soon. Satan is using his old trick to get you, Vicki. But don’t let him.
“Have you ever seen a little book called Steps To Christ? The author really knew Jesus as her dearest Friend.”
“Oh, yes,” Vicki said, looking a bit brighter. “I remember that book. It was given to me when I was baptised, but I never read it.”
“It’s full of encouragement, Vicki,” I went on. “And included just for you, if I recall, there’s a chapter on what to do with your doubts. It’s built around that Bible verse ‘Whoever comes to me, I will never drive away1.’ The text shows how Jesus is always ready to listen to us and accept us.”
“I’ll try to remember!” said Vicki, getting up to leave. “I’ve taken too much of your time. I’ve said too much, I’m sorry. You don’t want to hear my troubles.”
Taking her arm, I encouraged her to stay and finish her story. She sat down.
“Later, when I met James and he asked me to marry him, I said yes because he’s a good man, and he has loved and accepted Carissa as his own little girl. And now we have two small boys as well.
“Of course, James didn’t understand my problem,” Vicki explained. “And even though our children loved church, he never showed any interest. And when we came home it was life as usual, with football matches on TV or something else noisy.
“I felt awful after going to church all this time and never being able to reveal my fears with James.”
“Vicki, Satan knows just how to keep you in his grasp, dredging up your past. So spend more time with Jesus. Read the Bible. A text that has been of great comfort to me is ‘I know the thoughts that I think towards you—thoughts of peace and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.’2 Focus on this, and things will change.”
And when I met Vicki a few weeks later, that certainly appeared to be the case: it was clear she was much happier.
“Just think,” she said, smiling. “All this time, running on empty, when I could have been happy!”
1. John 6:37.
2. Jeremiah 29:11.