Demand for perfection was a standard I could not meet
Terrified by thoughts of what would happen when she died, Michelle Otto suffered panic attacks for many years and lived in constant fear of what was to come.
Although she was brought up going to church with her parents, Michelle says she always saw God as distant, waiting to pounce on her for any wrong doing.
“I heard one of my mum’s friends share on one occasion from the New Testament book of Revelation and as a little girl I wanted to know God and love Him but I grew up very frightened by all I heard about the ‘end times’ of this world as we know it. This fear permeated every aspect of my life,” she says.
Michelle was around the age of thirteen when she heard her pastor preach a sermon explaining what it meant to be in a relationship with God.
“I began to understand that it was all about reading God’s love letter to us - the Bible, praying, listening and being obedient to what God tells me to do,” she says.
She realised that knowing God was like having a relationship with a loving father who she could openly talk to and learn from.
Sadly she says the impact of this revelation only lasted for about a year before she began to struggle with her past fears and thoughts.
“I was raised to believe that once you committed your life to Jesus you had to always be as the Bible says; ‘Holy as He is Holy’ and I was told I could never sin,” she says.
“Over time I became frustrated with myself for not being perfect enough and disillusioned with a God who I mistakenly thought demanded perfection from me.”
Michelle says she was in a constant struggle trying to be ‘good enough’ to keep her salvation and tried to avoid God when she knew she had failed Him.
“I was so worried I couldn’t come back to Him because I had messed up too many times for Him to forgive me. I eventually decided that it would be better for me to walk away than to be a hypocrite.
“I still believed in God but I just believed I wasn’t good enough to be considered His child.”
It was only years later when Michelle had married and had a daughter that she decided to go back to church, fearing that her daughter may otherwise miss out on becoming a Christian.
Michelle says on the outside it looked like she had come back to God but inside she continued her private struggle of never feeling good enough. She began to have panic attacks brought on by her worry about where she would go when she died.
“During this time God brought a wonderful lady into my life that could see my pain,” she says.
“She began to speak truth into my life and tried to explain to me that it was not how good I was that kept me as a child of God but rather that it was just enough to be His child.
“She was reminded of when Jesus said in John chapter 10, verse 28, that no one can snatch God’s children out of His hand.”
Michelle’s friend also showed her in Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8 to 9, where it says, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works so that no one can boast.”
“I didn’t believe her right away,” she says.
“It took years of crying out to God to help me know if she was right according to the Bible, or if it was the way I was brought up to believe what a Christian is.
“I wasn’t willing to believe just because it sounded good or because it may have helped me sleep at night.”
Instead she did what she knew the Bible says to do in Jeremiah chapter 29, verse 13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
“One day after much searching of the Scriptures I knew that to be focused on my own works and actions was useless. It was like what Isaiah chapter 64 and verse 6 says; ‘But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness (attempts to find acceptance before a holy God) are like filthy rags,’” she says.
“I realised that He wanted my heart even with all its failures and that He is like a patient Father who loves me just for who I am.
“I am still growing and learning and the years of ‘stinkin-thinkin’ — as my pastor says — is difficult to undo but now I am not afraid when I mess up or sin.
“I can safely confess my sins knowing, as it says in 1 John chapter 1, verse 9, that, ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’.”
Michelle says the exciting thing is that she knows she did not stop being God’s child even when she doubted Him.
“I am humbled every day that He could love me like that and I don’t have panic attacks anymore. When one starts to creep in God helps me relax because I know where I am going because of His grace, His undeserved love for me.”