Can God soften a heart hardened by disappointment and rebellion?
Even though both of my parents are believers in Jesus Christ and sought to raise my siblings and me in a way that honored God, my life was headed for destruction from an early start.
A Death and Disillusionment
When I was 4 years old, my parents were expecting their fourth child. My dad worked ten-hour days and rarely had time for the family. My mom was also very busy with three young children and a fourth one on the way. My parents were busy, and I often got into trouble, but I was excited about the coming of a new baby. If it was a girl, I thought she and I would be best friends—unlike my relationship with my younger sister Sarah, with whom I often quarreled.
When my mom had an ultrasound, we found out that the baby was a girl but that she would not live. She had anencephaly, a brain deformity that prevented the top half of her brain from developing. When my mom went into labor, the birth process would end the baby’s life.
I was heartbroken, but having been taught that God answers prayer, I dutifully prayed every night and every morning for the next five months that my sister would live. Seven weeks before her due date, my mom’s labor was induced at the hospital to prevent uterine rupture from excessive amniotic fluid. The baby was stillborn.
When I went to the hospital to see her, I remember telling myself that if God would not answer my prayers, He did not love me and that I did not need Him or anyone else. From then on, I believed the lie that I had to take care of myself in the world. I started on the long road toward self-dependency and spent the next eleven years battling against my need for others and for God.
Locked Up in Rebellion
I became what one might call a silent rebel—silent for a while at least. My parents homeschooled with ATI’s Wisdom Booklets, and when I was old enough I attended numerous Basic Seminars. Yet, I was not dissuaded from my doubts and bitterness.
The adults at my church were oblivious to the state of my heart, but the kids knew everything. I had lots of friends, but I hung out with the wrong crowd. My morals were set by my peers’ morals, and the person I admired most was also in rebellion. I was so controlled by the actions of those I looked up to that I stopped doing things like singing in church and closing my eyes during prayers—simply because my friends weren’t doing it.
By the age of 13 or 14, I was completely locked up emotionally. I refused to cry about anything. The effects of my sin, the grief I brought my parents, and my stubborn will did not soften my emotions at all. I thought crying was a sign of weakness rather than humility, and the only time I gave in to selfish tears was when I was completely alone.
I began having a horrific nightmare—the same dream every night. I ground my teeth until my jaws ached so much that I had to take a large dose of Advil to cover the pain. I was in deep depression and I was truly suicidal.
Going on a Journey
When my parents first proposed sending me on IBLP’s discipleship retreat, Journey to the Heart, I refused to go. After a month or two, my parents contacted IBLP staff and gained permission for me to attend. My mom packed my bags, signed my papers, and walked me to the plane. I was not pleased! I told my parents that I would not change and that not even God could change me. I no longer believed in God’s existence.
When I arrived in Chicago, my team leader knew right away that something was going on inside of me. Although I had successfully concealed the true condition of my heart from hundreds of adults over the years, she saw right through me.
On the way to the Northwoods Conference Center, our van blew a tire. We were hauling a luggage trailer as well, and I knew that fifteen-passenger vans don’t just keep driving in a straight line when they have a tire blowout big enough to burst the antifreeze line! God saved our lives that day and kept the van from swerving off the four-lane highway. I am convinced He did it to show me that He is real and to preserve the lives of all the young ladies in the van with me.
A Turning Point
I spent the first four days of the Journey in resistance, but God got a hold of my heart on Thursday night. I stuck my head into my sister’s room and found that she and her friend were praying for me. Then our group watched a film called The Father’s Love Letter. Although I had not cried for as long as I could remember, I was overwhelmed with the idea presented in the film—that someone loved me. Because I had shut out my family’s love, it was a new thing to know that I was loved, and it was a new thing to realize that I needed someone to love me.
After watching the short film, we were invited to kneel by our chairs, and a young lady at the front of the room poured out her heart to us. I felt my heart being ripped into shreds. However, I was determined not to give in. I had encountered similar things in the past, which I had resisted, and I was not planning on giving in this time. I strained every muscle in my jaw and face to keep from bursting into tears. As I knelt there with my jaws clenched shut and my eyes closed so tight that they ached, I wondered if I’d actually make it through this experience unscathed.
At that moment, my roommate leaned over and started praying for me. As soon as I felt her hand on my shoulder, I couldn’t stop crying. Her prayer was beautiful, and although I don’t remember all the words, I do remember that it came from a heart that desperately wanted me to experience lasting freedom.
I surrendered to God that night. I chose not to hold back the one thing I had vowed never to give up. The moment I released it, I felt like a ton of baggage was lifted off my back. I will never be able to accurately describe how much lighter I felt after that night! I was freer than I had ever been in my life. God did change my life, and I received Jesus Christ as my personal Savior that night.
Continuing on the Journey
For almost a year after I went on the Journey to the Heart, I lived in freedom in the areas I had surrendered to God. However, I experienced little improvement in other areas. I was living in my own strength, and I did not know how to let God take over. More than anything, I wanted my life to look like the lives of those who had helped me change. It was not until May of the following year that I realized it is Jesus I should aim to look like, not another person.
At the ATI Regional Conference in Nashville, I met up with my roommate from the Journey to the Heart. She shared something that freed me to change even more. “You still want to be rebellious inside,” she said. “There are things you don’t want to have to give up.” I knew she was right. I still struggled with rebellion against my parents. I hadn’t been expressing it out loud, but inside, I wanted to tell them that I would do something whether they liked it or not. “Inward rebellion is just as bad as outward rebellion,” my friend explained.
After the conference, I went home and allowed God to change the course I had been taking. After that, things went uphill. In September of 2009, Sarah and I went on a second Journey to the Heart, which was the most difficult Journey I have been on out of the three. God taught me that it is not good enough to love Him inside. I must tell others that I love Him and stand up for what He values. Amid seven girls who were struggling against the will of God, the Lord asked me to take a stand for Him. It was on this Journey that I was able to battle against and overcome my fear of man.
In March of 2010, I had the opportunity to lead a small group at the COMMIT mother-daughter conference in Oklahoma City. There I learned that freedom in Christ is something that is offered to me right now. As I served a team of three girls and three mothers, I realized how small and insignificant I am compared to the mighty God I serve. I was humbled to see that everything I do is enabled by God and fulfilled by His sustaining power and might. At the end of March I went on my third Journey to the Heart. This time God began a work in my heart concerning family relationships and witnessing.
Hoping in God’s Faithfulness for the Future
Looking back, I see how much God has done in my life. Looking ahead, I see how much further I have to go in becoming like Christ and living in His truth. It’s a very long way, but I know God is faithful.
In the last two years, I’ve learned that true freedom is actually found in being a bond slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no real freedom if you are “free” by the world’s definition (to live without restraint). It brings only fear and turmoil, and sometimes temporary happiness that leads to disillusionment when it fades away.
As God continues the work He began in me, I look forward to seeing how much more He will do with my life as He makes me more like Christ. “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15).
—Hannah Stelzl, age 18
Related Command of Christ
This testimony illustrates the command of Christ to Repent. (See Matthew 4:17.) God worked to bring Hannah to repentance and faith in Christ, even though her heart had been hardened by bitterness and rebellion.