My Charmed Life
BY LINDSAY COURNIA
In one of my final university courses, I was assigned to create a visual depiction of my life. I’m not an artist, so I crafted a chain link bracelet with small baubles encircling it. Each piece represented a facet of my 21-year-old self: my personality, interests, faith, friends, and family. Before turning it in, I topped my creation with a bold header: My Charmed Life.
And it was true. I was set to graduate college soon with an excellent GPA. I was engaged to the only guy I had ever dated. I was healthy and happy, with wonderful friends and a supportive family. I had been a Christian for as long as I could remember and even a liberal arts program at a state university hadn’t decimated my faith. I was living the epitome of a “charmed life” and yet, when I turned that shiny project in to my professor, I felt unsettled to my core. A fear I had never named and had long kept at bay churned in my soul.
I grew up in church and made a profession of faith in preschool. Throughout children’s church and youth group, I understood and could articulate that Jesus died on the Cross for my sins, and I had placed my faith in him for salvation. I read devotionals, prayed, listened to Christian music, and went on mission trips.
I was the quintessential church kid, and in many ways I am grateful for that. But, also like some church kids, I had an incomplete—and even distorted—understanding of the good news of the Gospel.
In church kid stories, this is often where the devastating trial occurs. God, in his sovereignty and love, often uses suffering and trials to topple idols and loosen the grip of false gospels on the lives of his children. In my life, however, the Lord used a different kind of severe mercy: he gave me everything I wanted.
By the time I completed my “charmed life” assignment and prepared to graduate college, I had virtually everything a young woman could hope for. I had the health and well-being and comfortable life I was told I deserved for being a faithful follower of Jesus. I was blessed. But the fear that had quietly pursued me throughout high school and college was now breathing hotly down my neck. “Don’t falter, or God will take this all away,” it hissed. I was terrified, and I was tired. I put constant pressure on myself to maintain this life or it would all crumble: Don’t go too many days without doing your devotions or you never know what could happen. Have you prayed enough lately? Are you being an outspoken enough witness on campus? If you’re sick, where did your faith falter? Don’t screw this up; the kids from youth group back home are watching you.
An allegiance to the false gospel of self had festered for years in my heart behind the veneer of faithful Christian obedience. Most of my actions didn’t seem self-focused, but they were—because I was trying so hard by my own grit to attain all I thought I had been promised in this life. And for a while, it seemed to work. I was healthy, I was happy, I was successful. God was surely pleased with me, and my blessed life was evidence. But God loved me too much to leave me in the death grip of faux-good news. In his infinite wisdom he gave me all I wanted, and then let me see how precarious and empty it was.
Under the guise of godly growth and maturity, I was worshipping at the altar of self-focus.
Behind the veneer of Christian service, I was bowing to self-fulfillment.
Beneath a mask of dependence on God, I was resting in self-sufficiency to secure my charmed life.
These truth-bombs didn’t land all at once, but slowly. I experienced a gradual, gracious chipping away—a deconstruction, even—of what I thought my faith had been. God exposed my hedonism, pride, and vanity through his Word and his Church. Eventually, with the facades torn away, all that remained was my preschool profession of faith: Jesus Christ died for my sins, and salvation is found in him alone. But rather than “graduating” from saving grace and moving on to Christian living by my own effort, I began to understand the ongoing role of God’s grace in my life. Years later, I heard a song that summarizes it beautifully:
Grace paid for my sins and brought me to life;
Grace clothes me with power to do what is right;
Grace will lead me to heaven, where I’ll see your face;
And never cease to thank you for your grace.
The false gospel of self was not good news at all, but a lie that cheapened God’s gift of grace and set me on an exhausting hamster wheel, striving to earn something that Christ had already paid with his blood.
The good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ had been good news to me as a child, but it is also good news for me now and will be for eternity. I laid down the impossible weight of self-sufficiency and found instead the freedom of Spirit-empowered obedience and sanctification (Phil. 2:13).
Through this years-long process, my life still looked “charmed.” But the charmed life never satisfied, and it was never meant to. Nothing I own is because I earned or kept it. Nothing I have lost is because I failed to be enough or do enough. All is grace. To the end of my days and forevermore I will proclaim confidently with King David, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (Ps. 16:2).