All of humanity, believers and nonbelievers alike, find ourselves continually striving to live by an invisible standard and continually falling short. Without God, we find it’s much like fighting to swim upstream, becoming exhausted, floating with the current for a while, and then flailing in a panic-driven frenzy to fight the current again when we realize that we are drowning. We repeat this pattern over and over.

For the unbeliever, this unattainable standard is an enigma. As an unbeliever, I used to tell myself, “Just lower your standards, woman!” I didn’t like the standard that seemed to control me. It was no fun. And, because I couldn’t even control my desire to strive toward that standard, I tried and tried to deny the standard’s very existence. I continually attempted to justify my exceptionally horrifying behavior using some impressive mental gymnastics. But, try as I might, I could not even convince myself. This constant struggle between the truth of who I was and the lie I lived publicly led me to some very dark internal places. Not only did I feel unworthy of respect, I knew I was unworthy of respect. In addition, those who loved me loved the false, public me that I let them see, rather than the real me that I kept hidden. Thus, they did not love me at all. Try living with that for a while.

But God…

…stepped in, and it all made sense! There is a standard! This standard is real and it is outside of me. The reason I felt the need to meet the standard is because it was written on my very heart as I was being formed. I no longer had to struggle to become the perfect standard, because I simply am not the standard. I only know of that standard by the grace of God.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

— Jeremiah 1:5

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them
— Romans 2:14-15

But what to do with the sudden horrifying realization that there is a perfect, loving Standard in God, who has been striving toward a relationship with me? He had been trying to show me the way, the truth and the light — the Light I had not only rejected, but insulted over and over. I had hated the Light! My immediate feeling was one of immense guilt and self-condemnation, not unlike what I had always done.

But in that exact moment of accepting God, I was given the blinding revelation of Jesus Christ.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
— John 3:19-21

What God has revealed to me is that, innately, we all strive toward the Light. The merciful Lord has endowed us with the desire to seek him. It is by our own choice that we reject him, deny this Light and murder our God-given instinct to desire him. Yet, miraculously, the Lord God uses the very deeds done during the midst of our rejection of him to not only bring us to him, but to bring others to him.

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
— Revelation 12:11

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.
— 2 Timothy 1:8-12

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
— Ephesians 2:1-5