Tiffany Found Pure Joy

  • by Tiffany Ogden, Ohio University

I HATE YOU. I hate you. With tears rolling down my cheeks, these are the words I would mutter at my reflection in the mirror. I used to hate everything about me: my personality, my performance, my appearance.

I vividly remember the exact moment I realized I hated my body. I was on the beach with my family, and I didn’t feel comfortable in a swim suit. I was only nine years old. As I got older, my contempt for myself continued to grow. I used to feel so empty. I grew up going to church. I went every single Sunday with my family for as far back as I can remember. I heard stories about God and thought I had an idea of who He is. I thought as long as I was a pretty good person and tried to do what is right, God would love me.

In eighth grade, I began channeling my dislike for myself by physically harming my body, and I started cutting. I suffered from suicidal thoughts and wondered what the world would be like if I wasn’t a part of it anymore. I went to school with a smile on my face and interacted with my friends, constantly functioning in a state of false happiness. My feelings of depression continued until a good friend of mine committed suicide. It was a wakeup call for me to witness the suffering of the people she left behind. 

In college, my struggles were amplified. I fell into the temptation of drinking, drugs, and impurity. I searched for fulfillment and found temporary satisfaction in these things. When the satisfaction wore off, I would be left feeling empty all over again. That didn’t stop me from trying to please the people around me. I thought if I joined in what they were doing, maybe they would accept me; maybe they would care; maybe I would be loved… Maybe I would be enough. My doubts about my worthiness affected all of the relationships in my life. Although I wanted to be cared for by others, I thought if I let them in, if they truly knew my heart, I wouldn’t be enough for them. I thought God hated me. I was convinced He was angry with me for all the ways I was disobeying Him.

My junior year, I thought my life was starting to come together. I was in what I thought was a great relationship, I had a loyal, energetic and caring best friend, and I had my career path set in place. Out of these things, I constructed a mask that resembled happiness. As the year progressed, my friendship began to disintegrate because of my neglect of it and my anxiety. My job security that I had so carefully planned out fell through. My once-ideal relationship had gone from one extreme to the complete opposite. Someone who once claimed to love me ended up physically abusing me and leaving me emotionally scarred. I was so damaged and drained that I believed I was no longer capable of loving others. I stopped even pretending to be happy. My heart was hardened. I shut myself off from God and the world.

I grew up thinking I had to be a certain way or get to a certain point for someone to love me. At the beginning of my senior year, at a retreat for Cru, I learned that God loves me exactly the way I am. He loves me in the midst of my brokenness, my anxiety, my imperfection. I was shocked to learn this. I was broken down to a place I had nowhere left to turn but to God. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God doesn’t get angry with us. He loves us even when we feel we are doing wrong. That’s when I felt it for the first time in my life: pure JOY.

Not only does He love me, but He wants to know me and have a relationship with me. I am not perfect. I never will be, and that’s okay because God IS. God continued to pursue me and cling on to me even when I wasn’t clinging to Him or even looking for Him. I no longer need to fake happiness; the happiness that I feel is REAL.

I still face struggles all the time, but I know in my heart that my God loves me now and will forever, and nothing I do will change that. I used to feel ashamed by my struggles. I felt that because of them, I wasn’t good enough. Now I am reminded that my trials make Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that much more beautiful.