At a conference for church planters and their spouses, I was recently asked what steps I took to develop relational authenticity with the women in our church. I had to smile at the question because I didn’t do anything to develop authentic relationships with these women. But God, who is always ahead of me, prepared the way.
Four years ago, our family uprooted our life and ministry in south Texas to plant a church in Longmont, Colorado. As we drove 1,000 miles across the bare, western Texas landscape, tears flowed down my cheeks. For weeks I’d been ignoring the doubts and fears in the back of my mind. Now, they relentlessly assaulted me.
Productivity over Authenticity
My husband and I had been in full-time church ministry for six years and I felt exhausted, depleted, and downright terrified of the future. As my husband looked around at our new city with bright, untempered enthusiasm, I looked at my three little boys—heartbroken over leaving family, friends, and a church they loved. I saw a city I didn’t know (or want to know). I was trying to be supportive and brave, but a deep sense of loneliness and anxiety began filling my heart with a stifling ache.
In our years of ministry, we rarely slowed down. We planned our vacations so we’d never miss a Sunday. I served at three services most weeks when my kids were in diapers and later ran the preschool ministry. We hosted a group we loved in our home. I discipled girls around my kitchen table while my children were napping. But I was rarely quiet. And rarely did I share my fears, doubts, and weaknesses with anyone around me.
Looking back, I realize this was a recipe for disaster. But at the time, it all felt too purposeful and meaningful to be unhealthy. A few times, I was vulnerable enough to tell our leadership that I didn’t know if I could do it all anymore. They were always kind in listening to these complaints. But the message was clear. Keep going. Sometimes, you have to fake it till you make it.
Acceptance in Christ Alone
So here we were, church planting in Colorado. We quickly met a few families interested in helping us start a church in our new city. I’ll never forget showing up to my first women’s small group here. We sat around a table at Panera Bread and shared our “check-ins.” When my turn came, I could feel the hot tears rolling down my face before I even began speaking.
“I don’t know why God brought us here,” I said. “My kids are struggling; I feel so alone and completely unqualified for the job.” I shared these fears and probably a whole lot more—all kinds of things my brain was telling me not to share. As soon as I spoke, I felt my face flush with shame. Even now, tears fill my eyes as I remember the extraordinary grace that met my confession. These compassion-filled women prayed for me, spoke the truth to me, and preached the gospel to my heart in a way that showed me the complete acceptance that was mine in Christ alone.
How many times had I told people that all you must have to be saved is nothing? I sat in the middle of that restaurant, tear-stained and holding just that—nothing. I had run out of “fake it till you make it,” and through a simple gathering of believers, women I’m now blessed to call friends, God reminded me that nothing was all I needed to draw near to him.
The Fruit of Confession and Repentance
These conversations led to more openness with my husband and Acts 29’s leadership. Eventually, I saw a counselor who helped me continue to open places in my heart that had long been buried beneath my bustle and service. God was slowing me down and doing work in my heart below the surface, work that would lead to a deeper delight in Christ, a stronger relationship with my husband, a renewed love for the church, and a new love for our city.
Confession and repentance have become a regular rhythm for me. And you know what? To really be known and still loved by other believers reminds me again and again that I’m really known and really loved by God. He uses our confession and repentance to build authentic relationships in his church, because as we receive the love of God’s people, we taste the love of our father, too. And what greater joy can there be than to know God and to be his child?
The authentic and abundant life that’s ours in Christ Jesus is too beautiful to miss out on. Any attempts to manufacture it in our own strength will just wear us out. I’m done faking it, and I hope you are, too.
Written by: Julie Woods