Sarah's Story: From Routine to Revived
More of the Same
Same old, same old. That’s the thing about routine. When you do something consistently for a long period of time, it can be a challenge to preserve the initial motivation behind it. And the more you get used to something, the less you consciously think about it. Sometimes it takes a disruption in the discipline for us to remember why we do the things we do. For Sarah Wallace, her routine spiritual life was interrupted by none other than God.
“Growing up, I went to church every week. I was in Bible study. I was in Awanas. I did everything. I grew up in a household where I heard the gospel and I knew it. So I had a lot head knowledge.”
And that’s where the knowledge stayed, in her head, although she says, “I really wanted to be moral and thought I was this super-spiritual person.” In the whirlwind of church activities, high school activities, and sports, Sarah could almost ignore the nagging sense that something was missing. Sometimes, our lives become so filled with things we’re doing for God (or for ourselves) that we lose sight of the value of simply being with him. The busyness, Sarah admits, was a way to stay distracted while still feeling affirmed in life.
“It was easy for me to deal with things when I was busy because I didn’t have to think about reality.”
Sarah gives voice to a dynamic we all experience, knowingly or not. If our schedules are bursting with things to do and plans to make, there is less room to stop and hear God’s heart for us. Staying busy can simply be another way to sidestep the change we need in our lives. As she transitioned into college at Purdue, Sarah continued to engage in familiar distractions.
“In college, I didn’t really have athletics to hold me back anymore, so I dove really hard into the party scene. Through it all, I saw God’s hand in [my life], but I just wasn’t willing to give him control. Thankfully, God ran after me and put a woman in my life named Tiffany. She began to share the gospel with me, but I “knew” so much so I didn’t think I needed to hear it.”
Tiffany was a part of an outreach organization to college students called Campus Outreach, and it was through her prompting Sarah started to see that the old routine wasn’t working anymore. Because of Tiffany’s commitment to investing in Sarah as a person and not a project, the walls eventually started to come down.
“I didn’t need someone to tell me I was messing up. I needed someone to tell me, ‘You’re loved and there’s forgiveness.’ Toward the end of my freshman year, though, I remember thinking, ‘Okay, this is cool. I’m going fix my life. I really need to clean it up, and then me and Jesus will be cool again.’”
She laughs at the thought now, but Sarah is expressing an incredibly common experience. Everything in our nature fights the fact that the gospel is a free gift. And because of that, we have a hard time believing the reality that how God sees us has less to do with what we can do for him and everything to do with what he’s done for us. Sarah tried to break free from her habits on her own, but confesses that she was still enslaved to some destructive parts of her lifestyle.
Anything but Routine
In October of her sophomore year, Sarah was invited to a conference hosted by Campus Outreach. Initially, Sarah wrote it off and opted to engage in some of the parties she knew would be going on. It was a familiar pattern that she had followed again and again, but this time she hit a dead end.
“Thankfully, God loved me enough to allow me to make some really stupid decisions the weekend before the conference. And I just woke up the next morning and thought ‘I hate who I am. I don’t even know who I am. This isn’t who God created me to be.’ I was really questioning what my purpose was. Because what I was living for was garbage and it was ruining me.”
In the midst of her brokenness, Sarah felt the weight of her need for God and the things only he could provide. So she ended up going to the conference. She hasn’t been the same since.
“I knew going into it, ‘I’m either going to leave here a different person or I’m going to leave here the same and be miserable for the rest of my life.’ My prayer was, ‘God, I don’t know what it means to give control to you, but I’m ready.’ It was the first time I had heard the gospel [in a way] that it really penetrated my heart.”
Sarah was confronted by the reality of her life and the ways it contradicted how God was calling her to live.
“I had run so far from God. I didn’t think he even wanted me. I saw the weight of my sin and thought, ‘There’s no way that God still wants me.’”
In Romans 5:8, the apostle Paul declares a truth so radical it is almost unbelievable: “God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Not after we got all cleaned up. Not once we straighten out our lives. While we were yet sinners. Slowly but surely, Sarah started to realize that her failures no longer defined her. Jesus’ love expressed through his death in her place on the cross did. Sarah began to see that her mess hadn’t deterred God at all. In fact, it was into and through the mess that God had pursued her.
A Beautiful Mess, Ugliness and All
While the soil of Sarah’s heart has been renewed and refreshed, the work of cultivating it remains a daily decision.
“It’s still hard, all the time. You don’t graduate from sin. You never do. But my identity in Christ really does free me to say, ‘This is me, ugliness and all.’”
Sarah’s words echo the sentiment of Martin Luther when he said that we are simultaneously both saints and sinners. Has God rescued us from death so we can stand in the freedom of his love? Yes. Are we still broken sinners in need of God’s grace daily? Yes. It all comes back to identity. As long as we’re looking to anything but Christ for hope and security, we’re at risk of falling into either pride or despair. That’s why the author of Hebrews implores us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (12:2).
Who we believe we are often determines where we want to go. So moving forward, this newfound identity has also brought clarity in purpose for Sarah. She recently packed up her life and her things and moved to Indiana State University, where she now works with Campus Outreach to engage college students with the gospel in the same way she was. Her past and her struggles, as challenging as they have been, uniquely position Sarah to identify with students in ways not everyone can.
“I want God to use my life. Why wouldn’t I? He hasn’t let me go through all of these things to just sit dormant and enjoy myself. I would go through those things all over again in order to help one more girl who needs Jesus.”