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Unfit for the Holy Hill

My faith journey started when my parents baptized me as a baby. I swear I can remember that day, impossible as it seems. I remember being cradled in the pastor’s arms, water sliding down my temples, and being paraded around the sanctuary like a china doll dressed in white. I remember my mom holding me up to the bathroom mirror and showing me the embroidered cloth given to me to commemorate the day.

As I grew, we went to church each Sunday, complete with Sunday School. I remember the animals and figures on the felt boards spelling out the bible stories I would end up hearing and reading hundreds of times throughout my life. I remember the programs and songs and vacation bible schools we did. We prayed for God to bless everyone we loved at bedtime. I even had a Precious Moments bible. Faith was easy as a child.

Fast forward thirty-three years. My faith journey has taken many detours, down dark valleys and across high mountains, and I still feel like I’m trudging along, dragging my bag of questions and doubts that somehow seems to get bigger as I go. Every part of my journey teaches me more about Him, but I still sometimes struggle to believe He loves me no matter what.

One of my highest peaks was in college. I was surrounded by people of faith. The girls on my floor and I walked to church together. We did Bible study together. We prayed together. We supported each other and lived life together, every part of it. They helped me believe in God’s love and goodness, even when it was hard. It was as close to living in a community of faith as I’ll ever come. Faith seemed easy at the time, and I felt high on the confidence and stability I had.

I may have gotten a touch too high because I remember the day God brought me down.

There’s a verse in Hebrews 4 that says,

“The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

That is what God did that day as I read my Bible. I was reading the Psalms, which is always my go-to when I’m not sure where to start. It’s possible that’s because they’re smack in the middle...or maybe it’s because the chapters are shorter.  Regardless, that day I landed on Psalm 15. Even now, twelve years later, I can remember the dialogue I had with the scripture in my brain as I read:

"Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?"

God, thank you that that’s me! You love me and want me in Your presence and to live on your holy hill. Nothing stands in my way and I feel so #blessed.

"He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous".

(I felt  a twinge of guilt). Ok, well, I’m not totally blameless...but I sometimes do what’s righteous! I am sure that’s good enough….

"...who speaks the truth from his heart and who has no slander on his tongue…"

(I shifted uncomfortably on my bed.) Ok. I know sometimes I can be a bit of a gossip and yes, the occasional curse word slips out. But I’m only human. And I have apologized. For most of it….

"...who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellow man, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts…"

I felt a little better here. I really try to treat everyone with kindness. And I always keep my promises. I relaxed a little.

"Who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent."

My shoulders sagged. I always thought I did a decent job, but as I read this, I thought of all the times I failed...and still fail daily. All the times I judge others and sin and choose selfishness. All the times I am impatient, ungrateful, entitled, rude, and self-righteous. I thought about how privileged I was. I thought about how I had learned recently that the slavery and oppression of others made part of my lifestyle possible: my clothes, my shoes, my stuff. And yet many days, I don’t even consider those facts. I go about my life as if I deserved every ounce of goodness I received.

I didn’t even finish the Psalm. I was surprised to find tears slipping down my cheeks. There was nothing worse than feeling like maybe I’d been wrong about my faith all along. Maybe I wasn’t good enough. Maybe everything I learned as a child - all the love, the simplicity, the faith - was just that. Simple. A puff of smoke with no substance. What I always feared was turning out be true. I didn’t add up.

I closed the Bible, disappointed in myself, and didn’t touch it for a few days. I pondered what I had read and how it made me feel. I wasn’t good enough, it was right there in the Bible. The parameters were lined out, and I didn’t even get one of them totally right.

God may love me, but I was still a mess and not good enough to ascend the hill He beckoned me to. The weight of being this perfect person outlined in Psalm 15 was too much. I felt nothing but guilt. Nothing but unloved. Nothing but unfixable.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I read through the verses with a friend that I understood it better. She was a mentor of sorts to me in college. Every other week, we’d meet at her apartment to comb the Scriptures, pray, and encourage each other.

As we reread Psalm 15, I was surprised to feel the tears again. I hadn’t realized it had impacted me so deeply. She walked me through the real meaning of the words with love, as she always did.

“Of course you’re none of these things by yourself,” she said gently, as we sprawled on the floor of her apartment, our journals and bibles spread wide open. “None of us are. That’s the point. You aren’t righteous but Jesus is. He is our righteousness. He helps us be all those things.”

Those simple words lifted the weight I had been feeling. The lightness was surprising and relieving, and I nearly laughed at the joy that bubbled up inside. My friend was right. It was like she pulled a curtain aside showed me the entire Psalm through the lens of God’s love. That was the whole point. I couldn’t be good enough on my own, but walking with Jesus helped me to love better, speak truth, fight for the weak, and do right. He forgave me for the times I couldn’t. And He is the one who inspires me and fills me with His spirit to ask forgiveness and try again. His spirit transforms me from the inside out.

My friend showed me that the path to God’s holy hill, His presence, wasn’t perfection. It was confession. It was repenting of my old ways and taking on God’s ways of love by way of His new mercies every day.

God had not been trying to tear me down. He was revealing a lie I believed and replaced it with a truth: that He could help me be all the things He created me to be. Loving, gracious, giving, merciful, and full of light.

Now when I read Psalm 15, I smile. I smile because I am reminded of what Jesus saves me from and what He points me to. It’s another part of the journey, another crucial learning curve I have to navigate. He still beckons me to the hill, and instead of expecting me to be good enough to do it, He grabs my hand and steadies me himself.

Jamie (Ryan pic).png

Jamie Hergott has been a writer since she was old enough to keep a journal. With a background in journalism, Jamie connects with God, His people, and her heart through writing. She currently works as a freelance writer, and works even harder as a stay-at-home mom of two. She and her high school sweetheart Cody have been married for eight years and are a part of the Common Ground West community.