Written By Nelle Lim, Singapore
I had a very clear vision of what my life should look like.
I was supposed to be married by now, for one. There was someone I had called the love of my life. And even though I had known for years that I had no peace from God about marrying this person, I did my best to ignore it. I called the absence of that peace so many things: fear of commitment, of change, of moving too quickly. Eventually the pain of living with my heart split in two became unbearable. The day I chose God and ended that relationship, I felt certain I’d just exchanged the person I’d loved most for a lifetime of loneliness.
I was also supposed to have some sort of brilliant career by now. What was the point of graduating with top honors, only to be saddled with middling part-time work, and no career progression, benefits, or opportunities to build any kind of legacy? Meanwhile, my more fortunate peers have landed jobs that put them in places to move financial markets, fight for justice, and heal the sick. I know I’m not without intelligence, but God so firmly closed all the doors to work I considered significant, that I really did wonder if He thought me incompetent.
And I certainly wasn’t supposed to have been sexually assaulted for four years by a senior staff of my home church. Or to need to look for a new place to worship so that I could heal from my post-traumatic stress disorder. At the lowest point of my life, I didn’t even have the familiarity of community I’d come to call family. And God didn’t seem to be in a hurry to provide a new one either. He gave no word on where I could find another church family. It felt like God was content to kick back and read His newspaper while I drowned at sea.
This wasn’t supposed to be my lot. I’d served Him faithfully all my life and lived within the boundaries He’d set for godliness. Yet on all the things that mattered most to me, He stayed curiously silent over the years. I wasn’t asking for much: just someone I could love, work that I could be proud of, a community where I could be safe. These things were biblical, surely, and good. And what was it that Scripture said? “No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” (Ps 84:11).
As the years went on, that verse increasingly felt like a joke. Around me there were people who didn’t give any thought to God and His ways, but they were getting everything that I wanted! Why did God seem intent on frustrating all my attempts to carve out this life for myself?
Crushed, and furious that I’d “wasted” my life living for Him only to get nothing valuable in return, I eventually left God.
My circumstances had led me to misinterpret God chronically: I thought that He was not good because He refused to give me the good things that I needed to thrive. But after three miserable years of trying to find happiness apart from Him, I realized that I’d gravely misread the situation.
We don’t hear much about idols these days. It seems like such an antiquated idea, people bowing to wooden statues and expecting to be saved. How can they not see that those things are useless?
But what I didn’t realize was how much having a spouse, a job with career progression, and a church community to alleviate my loneliness, had become idols. If only I had these things, my heart unknowingly thought, I’d be saved from pain. They’d meet my needs for significance, love, belonging, and value. God + (insert idol) would make me content. And, if I really had to choose, it wasn’t God who I believed was the more effective of the two.
As He held those things back from me, and watched me rage and rail, God must have been rubbing His temples wondering, “How can she not see that those things will not save her?”
I can’t be certain, but I have a hunch why God ruined all my plans. If He had let me have those things I had wanted so badly, I would have depended on them to meet all my needs. I would then have to spend every waking minute ensuring I didn’t lose them, so that my needs could keep being met. Was I putting enough into my job to make sure I kept getting promoted? Was I being a good enough partner to make sure I wouldn’t be left? Was I meeting the expectations of my community to make sure I stayed valuable to them? Enslaved to a life of frenzied scrambling, I would have been reduced to a mess of insecurity and fear.
And when these idols failed to complete me—as they were bound to fail—I would have been completely shattered. What kind of damage would being so overwrought with fear have done to me? What kind of damage would I have done to the people I loved by expecting them to fill a need no human could fill?
It was out of His goodness that God upturned my life: to expose all the idols that I was relying on to save me. God refused to leave me deceived, clamoring for things that would not work. Instead, He led me to Himself: the True Satisfier (Phil 4:19). I’ve come to learn that being married or having a successful career or a church community aren’t dreadful things to want. But if I couldn’t survive without them, I know I’ve made them my idols.
Since I left my relationship and returned to God, there’s not been a day where I haven’t felt an excruciating loss. But there’s also not been a day where I’ve gone to bed without peace. God has come through, without fail, in quiet and surprising ways to meet the needs of the day. He turns my attention to the beautiful things He already has given me—my family, close friends, the work that I have—and lets me feel His presence through them.
They aren’t consolation prizes, God tells me, but the very best things I know you need right now to heal. Sometimes He shows up in the books I’m reading, giving me answers to painful questions I haven’t even properly articulated. He even orchestrated an elaborate object lesson once, on my evening walk, to demonstrate how walking with Him will lead me into a life that suits me better than the one I had left behind. These things give me hope that I’ve not been forgotten.
Even without the things I thought I needed, I’ve been sufficiently . . . filled. In letting go of all the crutches that made me feel supported and safe, I can finally give God a chance to reveal His power and make my life whole.
I don’t have a clear vision of what my life will look like anymore. But I am starting to see that I am in safe hands. And perhaps this is as good a starting place as any.