Longing for Affirmation

As a young child, I was grateful to have heard the gospel preached at church on Sunday and getting to know who Jesus was throughout my Christian education. Singing Hillsong music on Monday at assembly, praying daily and saying grace before meals were all I thought being a Christian was about. Whenever people asked me whether I was religious, I would reply that I was a Christian but not like ‘Christian Christian’. Which to me, actually meant that I’m not one of those hardcore Christians which took the Bible seriously but I did believe in God. This was the extent of what I thought being a Christian was.

If there was one thing I longed for, it was affirmation from others. From a young age, I became painfully aware of how others treated me based on my appearance. At my Christian school, I was bullied for my appearance since I was overweight. Over time, this led to years of obsessing over anything to do with how I looked. Thanks to the Internet, YouTube and Blogilates, I began to educate myself on how to eat healthy and lose weight. I began to have school friends and family members praise me for my weight loss and how good I looked. This praise fed into my obsession of losing weight and at the age of thirteen, I was bulimic. This meant that I would forcibly vomit out my food after eating ‘anything unhealthy’, feel extremely guilty and exercise vigorously every day. My obsession over the way I looked and what others thought about me continued to grow. My friends who have been with me since those years can testify to what young Rebecca was like at this stage.

“I was trapped in a endless cycle. I was constantly feeling empty in my life and demanded for affirmation until I was satisfied”

The desire for affirmation shaped the way I related to others. I went through relationship after relationship. Even staying in a relationship with a partner who wasn’t a Christian for five years, hoping that my longing for affirmation would be satisfied. Yet I was trapped in a endless cycle. I was constantly feeling empty in my life and demanded for affirmation until I was satisfied with compliments and attention from the people closest to me. It was how it sounds… exhausting. The understanding that I am only ever good enough or loved if I’m attractive and smart to other people drained me both mentally and physically.

Somehow through all this, I was encouraged to go to Sovereign Grace church. Despite being deeply convicted by the sermons preached, I knew my heart was still hard. I continued to pursue a life contrary to my profession of faith.

C.S Lewis once famously said “God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world”. Little did I know that God was preparing to shout into my life.

Meeting God in my Suffering

It all began with my parent’s sudden and difficult separation at the end of high school. Stability and security went out the window, and my life became bombarded with chaos. My sister and I moved in together, and without both of our parents being present, I had to adapt to taking on being the parental figure. It meant caring for her as she went through the difficult season of the HSC (I’m sure many of us can relate to the stresses of this year). On top of that, my brother also began to suffer from a serious mental illness. It was something we could not have prepared for and during this season, I felt extraordinarily helpless. I was completely and utterly out of my depth. I found myself pouring out my heart, my fears, anxieties and worries to the Lord in prayer. But I continued to live a life that contradicted my Christian identity.

“I felt extraordinarily helpless. I was completely and utterly out of my depth. I found myself pouring out my heart”

It was at this point that God made His presence known to me in a life changing encounter. I remember having a light hearted conversation with my sister about university when her demeanor and voice changed. The room felt different as if an indescribable presence had just filled it. I recall looking at my sister and her looking back at me but this time there was an outline of her person which was so clear to me with the background blurred. Confused and increasingly afraid, my face fell to the floor and I began uncontrollably weeping (I’m talking ugly crying) and confessing my sins. I recall the words spoken through my sister, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I have always been walking with you at your right hand and carrying you throughout this time. Just hold onto my outstretched arm and I love you.” It was at this moment, that all the experiences I had in the past learning about God’s character through books and Scripture had made sense to me.

I specifically remember God’s word in Isaiah 41:10 ”So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”. I knew that it was God who was making his presence known. With my eyes closed there was this bright light shining from my sister’s direction, I could not look at her. Soon after, my sister regained consciousness and we were both shocked and perplexed. God works in mysterious ways! Yet both of us, especially me, were filled with a deep sense of peace and assurance. Assurance that we were loved and that we were never alone. Assurance that we are daughters of the living God present in our afflictions.

Living By Faith and Not By Sight

From that night on, it was as though a veil had been lifted from my eyes, and I was seeing clearly for the first time. In my newfound identity in Christ, I began to understand that my desire for affirmation from others and relationships was an idol. I now saw that I’d been rebelling against God all my life, yet God’s love for me was displayed most clearly in Jesus Christ’s crucifixion at the cross. While I was still his enemy, Christ died for me to set me free from sin. The understanding of how sinful and undeserving I am of God’s grace and mercy drove me to look at the cross and to see – wow, that is how much God loves us! God gave me the strength and courage to end my relationship with my non-Christian partner. Through my dear friend and sister Rebekah Chew, I started attending GracePoint church, where I would grow in my dependence on God through His word, in prayer with community.

It didn’t mean that everything was smooth sailing. I still found caring for my sister and my brother while he was in the hospital was testing. Going against what I feel and desire to do, which I know opposes God, is an ongoing battle which I face everyday. Being a follower of Jesus means continuing to make those small decisions daily; counting the cost, knowing that the Lord is good and trusting in his plan for me. It looks like daily repentance and faith; remembering God and loving him in my thoughts, words and deeds. It’s a lifetime of trusting in the Lord as he lights my path and shows me my sin. It’s no longer walking alone but now with community.

“I could have continued a life denying Jesus as Lord and forfeited my soul. But I praise Him for opening up my eyes to see that he is the greatest treasure”

Being a born again Christian looks like what Jesus says in Matthew 16:24-26, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”. See friends, it was so easy for me to continue down that path of pursuing the luxuries and comforts that life brings. I could have continued a life denying Jesus as Lord and forfeited my soul. But I praise Him for opening up my eyes to see that he is the greatest treasure. I long for each and everyone of us to see just how great He is.

My dearest friends and family, I strongly encourage you to reflect and consider: What do you find your assurance in? In the busyness of our lives, we’re bound to face disappointments from our circumstances and work, friends and family every day. Our trials and challenges may look different but I would go so far as to say we still have a lot in common. An important one being that we still go to someone or something for comfort and assurance. So where or who do you turn to for comfort? And does that ever leave you truly satisfied? Only Christ can.

I will end my testimony with Jesus’ spoken words from John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst

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