Growing up in a Christian home, I have always believed there was a God. I have always believed there was a man named Jesus who was sent by God to die on the cross in my place. I have never doubted the Bible’s truth. I have always believed. I was in Sunday school, confirmation, youth groups, everything. So I should end my testimony here, right? Wrong.
I went through the motions. While I believed and loved Jesus, He wasn’t my priority. I prayed at night because I felt guilty if I didn’t. I dragged my feet going to church and used youth group as a time to socialize, not worship. Something was missing in my life, but I didn’t realize what was missing was right in front of me. It wasn’t until high school that Jesus grabbed my attention and showed me that I will never live a joyful life, or an eternal one, with Him in the backseat of the car. I had to let Him become the driver.
In high school, I was a people pleaser. It was important to me to have a good reputation and be liked by everyone. I didn’t want to give anyone a reason to think badly about me. So, I tried to make everyone around me happy, and I did in fact maintain a great reputation, but I was miserable. I was constantly basing my happiness off of how other people felt. Over time, I became a punching bag for so many of my friends, but I convinced myself it was OK because it made them feel better. I gave away so much of my energy and time, just to make people happy. I was serving fake, temporary gods and I got nothing in return.
The summer going into my junior year of high school, my desire to keep my “good girl” or “perfect Christian” reputation landed me into a pit of darkness. I made some terrible mistakes that summer and didn’t tell anyone. I still struggle to admit my sin. In fact, I held in my guilt and shame, and cried myself to sleep every night for months. All the while, I began crying out to God, begging for forgiveness. I felt so unworthy and unaware of the forgiveness he had already poured out for me on the cross. “It is finished.” I just didn’t know that.
I spent my junior year of high school making up for what I had done. Doing good deeds, making sure I maintained a solid reputation, doing anything anybody needed in order for me to keep them happy. I was working my way back to God, trying to show Him through these good deeds that I can be forgiven and will never sin again.
Yet, I was more miserable than I was before that summer.
It was easier not knowing God than constantly feeling like I had to prove myself to Him.
By senior year I was exhausted, empty and counting down the days until college, where I could finally escape. I told myself I would dive into my faith in college. So, I put Jesus on the shelf once again and waited to take Him off until it was convenient for me.
The one good thing that came from my senior year was that I signed to row at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As some of you reading this may know, I didn’t row prior to UNC, but by some weird force of nature I was handed a scholarship. I didn’t realize at the time that it was God’s plan for me. I’ll come back to this later.
The summer going into college I spent almost every single day in bed. I was tired. I don’t know if it was depression, and I don’t want to self diagnose, but I was just empty and I didn’t want to talk to anyone or train for the upcoming season. My goal was to get to school where I could take Jesus off the shelf, be this amazing rower and finally get a boyfriend.
However, when I got to UNC, Christ quickly showed me that’s not how faith works. I don’t just get to pick and choose what and when I want to be serious. I don’t get to be “all in” and expect Him to grant all my wishes.
It all hit me in the first semester when I strained my hip flexors, got my heart broken, and fell back into my old people pleasing habits. After all, if I couldn’t row, I had to make sure I was at least liked by my teammates and coaches. The rowing team had 75 girls on it and I was exhausted trying to feel loved. Failing to see the endless love I already had, I felt like God had abandoned me.
That year, I spent my Christmas break mending my broken heart, healing my hips, and trying to earn my place on my team. It was a season of anger, sadness and loneliness. This allowed sin to reenter my life, which only made me feel worse. As a result, I went to see a therapist once-a-week at school where I was told I had a general anxiety disorder. Medication not needed, but suggested. So, I stuck with the once-a-week therapy sessions. It was one of the hardest things I had to do, to put my pride aside, be vulnerable and admit I needed professional help.
Still going to church and craving the Holy Spirit, I searched and searched for Christ. I have always wanted Him but I never allowed myself to just surrender and rest in His love. Feeding my spiritual hunger with earthly things, I was never full.
It wasn’t until February of 2018, when I went to my weekly Athletes in Action meeting, that I was truly saved. The message was on surrender. At the end of the hour, we were asked if we were tired of being tired, exhausted from controlling our own lives, weighted down by the burden of sin and shame? If so, they encouraged us to raise our hand and give our life fully to Christ. I threw both hands in the air, waved the white flag and surrendered my life to Christ.
Immediately, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders and the emptiness in my heart was filled with the love of Jesus. Since then, my mind has been transformed and I feel born again. Church is no longer a burden, but something I look forward to every week. My spiritual thirst is satisfied everyday. Now, I have a purpose in life.
That doesn’t mean that I am now perfect, or that I am never sad or guilty of sin. Instead, it means I can now recognize that everything leading up to the point of my surrender was God’s plan. He knew I was going to be a mess. That’s why He allowed me to broken down and hit my rock bottom, in order for me to see Him clearly. I didn’t have to earn His forgiveness because He sent His son, Jesus, to die on the cross in my place. It was finished. All of my sin was gone. All of my shame was gone. He washed me white as snow and asked me to live with Him in Heaven forever.
I no longer regret the summer before my junior year because that was the first time I ever cried out to God. That was the first time I was ever forced to lean on Him. He gave me this rowing scholarship, despite the fact that my recruitment seemingly came out-of-the-blue, because it was all part of His plan. He brought me to UNC to be transformed. My injury, my broken heart, and my anxiety were the best things that have ever happened to me because it showed me I need Him. I still need Him. Nothing of this world will ever be steady enough. I could get injured again, get hurt by another boy, and you bet, worry about something that probably won’t ever happen. But, one thing will never change: Jesus.
I have joy in every single day. I burst at the seams wanting to tell someone what He has done in my life. I want to scream it from the rooftops. I don’t let earthly things define my worth, but the fact that I’m going to Heaven and I am loved by the King of Kings. That gives me purpose. I remember that every time I get upset or frustrated.
When I get to Heaven, Jesus will not ask me how fast I can row a 5K or what grade I got on my art history final. When I get to Heaven, he will simply say, “well done.”
Now, the desires of my heart and my mind have been renewed and transformed. Following Christ isn’t a chore. I am not bound to this faith by a ball and chain. I am passionate about it because I have been set free.
I feel called to share my testimony because it is so urgent for people hear it. I believe there are three reasons why people miss the invitation into His kingdom: 1) you miss the importance of the invitation 2) you think you are not worthy of the invitation, or 3) you refuse to acknowledge that you are unworthy.
We are all sinful people, and none of us are worthy! But, Christ died for us anyway. He said, “It is finished.” All of the wrath we are supposed to endure has been poured out. He took our punishment and wants us in His family. How can you not celebrate that?
If He is willing to sacrifice His only son for us, then why do we worry about what else He is capable of doing in our lives? If He thinks I am worthy of being loved enough to sacrifice His own son, than why am I so worried about what people think? If He handed me this scholarship to be an athlete at one of the top schools in the nation, why would I not remember I am rowing to glorify Him?
This is His story and I am just the witness.
Hattie Doherty is a member of the University of North Carolina Tar Heel’s women’s rowing team.