Trying to Impress - God sees what's on the inside (and I'm so thankful!)

I loved youth group in high school, and particularly looked forward to any kind of conference or retreat - I got to hang out with my best friends, learn more about Jesus, and go deeper than we typically could on a regular Sunday night meeting. My first-ever retreat after becoming a Christian happened late in the fall/early winter of 1988 - the venue was somewhere in the woods, the building was freezing cold, and the water had a very peculiar smell.

However, none of those factors detracted from the awesome time I had hanging out with my new friends and going deeper in my newfound relationship with Jesus. I’m pretty sure it was at this retreat I heard the story of Joggi the porcupine for the first time. Basically Joggi is a gruff, mean creature who keeps his distance from everyone, because everyone sees his prickly spines and stays away. Then Joggi meets a raccoon who lost his sight after being shot by a hunter. Joggi and the raccoon slowly become friends, and in his friend’s dying moments Joggi opens up and for the first time in his life tells someone his name.

Every time I heard that story as a teen and young adult I bawled my eyes out. On the outside I was a “good” Christian young man; but on the inside I sheltered a secret struggle and deep, dark shame. I was terrified to let anyone see the “real” me, certain I’d face immediate rejection and condemnation. Sadly I felt the same way about my relationship with God - I truly loved Jesus and wanted to follow him, but felt the crushing weight of this secret burden I carried. Alone in my room I would spend hours on my knees, crying out to God and begging him to somehow help me change. As the years went by and the change for which I so desperately longed didn’t come, I lost hope and felt resigned to fate…

And then, almost 15 years ago to the day, Jesus shined the light of love and truth into those dark places, and helped me finally begin to see - and believe in - the real Ryan. He helped me understand the truth of God’s word was the solid foundation of my identity, instead of the shifting sands of my emotions and desires. He brought peace where there once was chaos, calm where there once was turmoil - hope where there once was despair. As I began to walk in truth, and as the Lord helped me little by little to surrender those parts of my life I tried so hard to control, my life began to change. The desperate prayers of my youth were being answered by God!

One of the biggest things he began to change was my focus on external appearance, and using my looks to gain approval and acceptance. For years I obsessed over my physical appearance, and spent hours every day in the gym trying to obtain the “perfect” body. This was hard to shake, even after I began following Jesus again in 2004. Ironically, chronic pain was the instrument God would use to finally break this unhealthy obsession. When I lost the ability to be an endurance runner and hard-core athlete I gained the ability to see what really matters and see that God - and others - loved me for who I was, not how I looked.

My devotional for today comes from Our Daily Bread and is titled “Trying to Impress;” the author writes: “Our physical appearance doesn’t define who we are; it’s our heart that matters.” "If we obsess over appearances while looking for loopholes in God’s clear commands, we’re violating the spirit of His law. Jesus said that “out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality,” and the like (Matthew 15:19). Only God, through the righteousness of His Son Jesus, can give us a clean heart."

The KCWN studio is located in Pella, a town famous for its “Dutch Fronts.” God is all about tearing down facades and helping us walk in truth. Do you feel like you have to try to be someone you’re not so you can be loved and accepted? It’s a terrible burden to carry. Let Jesus carry that burden; let his love tear down the facades. He loves the real you.