If you knew me as a child, you probably would say that I was a good kid. And for the most part, I was. I tried. I wanted to please my parents. I wanted to please God. My early impressions of God came from attending Sunday school and falling asleep at night to stories of Daniel and the lions’ den. To me, God was real. He was a good and loving God. And to please him, I thought, meant for me to be good as well.
This simple view of God stayed unchallenged into my teenage years. By this time my family had migrated from Taiwan and settled in Sydney, Australia. School work was increasing and the expectation to do well was mounting. Again, I was driven by a desire to please my parents, and underlying that, a growing need to feel accepted by my peers.
Needless to say, my approach to God was no different. ‘Knowing God’ was like another school subject. I was convinced that by setting aside time for church weekly and Bible reading daily, God would be pleased with me. What’s more, He may even reward me with success in life. In all honesty, my connection with God was mostly transactional.
Thus I was intrigued when my Sunday School teacher once asked me, “So Hsin-Yuan, how is your relationship with God?” I had no answer. For someone who thought she had all the answers, I was stumped. I began to realise something was missing. I knew about God. But I didn’t know him… not personally.
In the year of the HSC (A-levels equivalent), my plan began to unravel. I became disillusioned with the lofty goals I had set for myself. Trying to to live up to everyone else’s expectation of me, including God’s, just seemed unattainable. Most of all, I was scared. Scared to admit that maybe I was just not good enough!
That same year, I attended a youth camp. The speaker taught that it is only through receiving God’s grace that we can live a life pleasing to Him. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9). I remember retreating to my dorm afterwards, reading this verse over and over. My heart was burning!
At first, I was so angry! Angry because I sudden realised that all my ‘religious efforts’ didn’t count. As far as God was concerned, I was still living my way, striving for my self-centred goals. Everything was all about me and my achievements.
But then, to my own surprise, my anger quickly dissolved into an overwhelming flood of relief! For it was the first time I finally understood I could not please God no matter how hard I tried! In fact, I needed to admit to Him that I was not good enough, and to humbly receive His gift of forgiveness through the death of His Son, Jesus. No more striving and pretending to have it all together. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off me! My prayers that weekend were filled with tears of thanksgiving.
Since this realisation many years ago, God has been patiently showing me what it means to live by His grace. At times I still find myself tempted to strive for worldly expectations as a woman in society, a wife and a mother. Yet I always find myself crawling back to God, all the more convinced that His way is the only way that leads to true contentment and a meaningful existence in relationship with my Creator.
Today, I still strive in these areas of my life. Yet my striving is no longer one out of obligation to please others. No. Knowing God has given me the freedom and courage to live out my life for His glory. It is as the Bible says, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).