My name is Sharon Holderbaum let me tell you my story…
I grew up in a Christian family and we went to church every Sunday to attend service and Sunday School. I was baptized as a baby, confirmed in the 8th grade and was a Youth Group leader in high school. As I continued to grow up, I joined the choir and attended various bible studies. I believed in God and that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sins and by believing in Him that I would be saved. It wasn’t until much later in life, that I realized I wasn’t saved and needed to make that decision for myself if I was to spend eternity with God in heaven.
Even though I knew the truth of who Jesus was, there was a major disconnect in my life. I knew in my head that God loved me, but my heart believed that I was not good enough; I was unlovable. I felt like the outsider in my family, with my friends and at church. I believed that there was something so broke inside me, that if someone found out, I would be completely rejected.
So I lived a life of striving to please God, please others and trying to prove that I was good enough. I was the typical “good girl” and played by all the rules. I thought I was being a good Christian, but in reality I was just being very religious!
There was a time in high school that the Youth Group attended a Nicky Cruise Evangelistic Crusade. I had already read his book Run, Baby, Run and The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson. Both spoke of his life and testimony. I was so excited to be there. I couldn’t tell you what was said that touched me so much, but by the end, I was sobbing uncontrollably. When they gave the altar call, I bolted out of my seat and joined the hundreds on stage. I prayed the salvation prayer and accepted Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I desperately wanted my life to be different and to be changed by what had happened on that stage, but nothing did. Growing up in the church, people already thought I was a Christian and that I knew everything there was to know. But there was still that disconnect on how to walk out a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I didn’t know that it was even a possibility and I still felt that I wasn’t good enough. So this amazing authentic encounter with the Lord immediately was stolen from me by religion as I left His amazing grace, mercy and forgiveness and went right back into religious works.
I continued to obey all the rules, continued being religious, in hopes to prove worthy of love. I also continued to fail at being perfect which fed into the feeling of “not being good enough” and feeling rejected at the slightest thing…. Which led me to try harder and failing, and trying harder and failing and the vicious cycle continued for years. I became even more religious, which led me into deep darkness and deep self-hate.
After high school, I stayed on as a counselor with the Youth Group as well as other church activities. The group of friends I hung around also served in the areas of church I did. Some were my age and others 10-20 years older than me. A lot of drinking went on and I went along to fit in.
I was 19, young and naïve about many things when I met and became friends with a married man who was a member of the same church. I may not have understood everything that was happening in that friendship, BUT, I did understand the decision that was before me several months later when I walked into a relationship with this man. I knew being in a relationship with a married man was wrong, but I was completely hooked.
I was so desperate to be loved that it didn’t matter that this man was an alcoholic, that he was just using me or that he was also pushing me towards other men so no one would be suspicious of us. If this was all the love I could get, I was going to take it. The guilt that I felt was immense and I erected a wall in my mind and in my life.
On one side, I was the “good Christian girl,” doing the good “Christian things” and even dating the good Christian boy (I know now, that I was a very religious girl, but not a Christ-follower; Christian). On the other side, I lived a secret life with this married man and other men that came along. I had convinced myself of two things. First, sex equaled loved and second, what was done in secret wasn’t real. (I understand, now, that these are common beliefs of those who take the path of being religious, like I did, instead of accepting a personal “relationship” with Jesus Christ as His disciple. I thank God that He did not leave me in my life of sin.)
Deep down, I knew the life I was living was wrong (sin), so the drinking increased in hopes of burying the guilt and shame. I was going to meet my own needs my way. I didn’t deserve any better anyway. During the next four years, there were times of great mental torment and even some suicidal thoughts. I kept adding bricks to that wall to keep all those feelings at bay.
There were also a couple of times the Lord broke through all that darkness and gave me a bit of hope, but I kept choosing the love of man over the love of God.
Then one day it happened, someone found out about my secret sinful, dark, religious life. The huge thick wall of pride and religion I had thought was impenetrable immediately began to crumble and the guilt flooded in. The pain, guilt and shame were so bad that I thought I would lose my mind.
I ended up confiding in my sister, who in turn spoke with the apostle of the church she was attending. He agreed to meet and counsel with me on the condition that I left the church I was attending and remove myself from the influence of the man I was involved with. It was then that I left my life of sin, of “being religious”, and gave my life fully to Jesus Christ and His ways. I began living as a Christian, a true Christ-follower, as I became a daughter and disciple of Jesus Christ. I thank the Lord for not leaving me dead in my sins, for if I’d died in the religious state that I was in, I would have missed eternity with Him; heaven. For the truth is, many who are very religious, like I was, who have fallen to the lie of religion instead of the truth of having a personal abiding relationship with the Lord, can end up missing eternity with Him, while still having baptism waters on their face, leading a youth group and doing all kinds of “church activities.”
From that point on, I was like a sponge, soaking up everything I could about the Lord. It was like water to my dry and dusty soul. I was alive! I could now see how I was dead in my sin, but now I was alive! I was is truly “born again.” I was learning and experiencing what relationship with God was all about, not just the rules. Obedience is important, but obedience without relationship is legalism (it’s just being religious) and holds you in bondage. When walking in a relationship with God, obedience becomes a natural response to His love. During this new beginning, I was being discipled (which is what I was missing after the first time I accepted Christ in high school), I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, baptized with water, began learning how to spend daily times with the Lord in His word and learning how to hear His voice. It was an amazing time. It’s been many years since then and I have learned that life with God is a journey with the seasons constantly changing. He loves us and accepts us right where we are at, and I am forever grateful for that. Yet He loves us enough, not to leave us there. If we let Him, He will walk us through seasons of healing our soul, seasons of dealing with our sin (this is a loving Father disciplining His child) and always growing us up to be mature sons and daughters so He can bring us into seasons of leading others to Him.
He continues to move me out of my comfort zone causing me to depend more on Him, to become more Christ-like in order to be more effective in His kingdom.
The devil would like us to believe that there is no hope, that there is no way we can earn the love of God and we have fallen too far to be saved. I was in this place and in all honesty, he is right about not being able to earn God’s love. But you see, God’s love, grace and forgiveness is freely given to the one who humbly bows their knee, asks for forgiveness and says, “God, I’m yours.” It may not always be easy but the choice is simple - life or death; His way or my way. He is worth giving up everything for. In return, He gives us all that He is. It’s here, right at this place, that the adventure begins and oh what an adventure it is!