He was a charismatic, energetic, young founding pastor, an evangelist who flashed a bright smile as he extended his hand to greet me. This man quoted scripture verbatim, prayed fervently, and executed his sermon deliveries and altar calls masterfully.

I was quickly captivated by his displayed passion for Jesus Christ and his love for others, and after a brief courtship, we ran down the wedding aisle. I couldn’t wait to be a pastor’s wife.

It wasn’t long, though, before I discovered a dark truth about my husband. He wasn’t at all who he appeared or claimed to be. Hiding behind clergy cloth was a pathological liar and a manipulative pedophile.

The coming years were traumatic on many levels. After three years of verbal abuse, multiple separations, and spousal abandonment, we divorced. My faith was shaken to its core; my heart lay shattered in a thousand pieces.

Deep inside, I screamed out to God. Where are You in all of this? How could You have let this happen to me? I am a woman of faith!

I loved the Lord profoundly and had served Him faithfully, and this was what I got? I blamed God for the horrible circumstances of my life—but they weren’t His fault.

The reality is that the Lord had sent me many warnings about my relationship with this man. They had come through the nudging of the Holy Spirit, certain events, and the words of my parents and siblings. Not to mention, an internal siren was blaring. My own gut instinct had warned me to run the other way. But I ignored it all.

I kept looking for the answer I wanted. When I didn’t get it from my usual sources, I turned to other people for spiritual advice regarding God’s will. One adviser laughed at me and scorned my concerns about my soon-to-be husband.

Trusting his judgment over those who loved me, over my own instincts, and over the Holy Spirit’s promptings, I ran mindlessly down the marriage aisle and settled in a place God never intended.

But now, on the other side, I can see my part in the story. Today, I own the fact that I contributed to my unhealthy marital experience.

If I had listened to the warnings, trusted God, and waited patiently instead of stubbornly pushing ahead, I could have avoided the intense depression, grief, and embarrassment I would experience as a minister of the gospel and church leader. I could have avoided the pain of our marriage.

Years of deep soul-searching and authentic self-reflection, prayer, and therapy have brought me to this realization. Thank God for His mercy. He stayed close and helped me navigate many uncomfortable emotions. With every step, He revealed His grace and unconditional, eternal love.

Today, I am healed because of God’s grace and my willingness to partner with Him in self-discovery. God has taken the ugliness of my life and turned it into something beautiful.

My decision to get married was a result of my naivete, my desire to be accepted, my fear and anxiety, and my low sense of self-worth and self-love. I had stopped trusting God’s plan and timetable for my life.

The truth is, I ran to the altar because, as a 28-year-old virgin with no social life, I was convinced no one would ever ask me to be his wife. Church culture had taught me that he—my husband—was supposed to find me.

I had been waiting and waiting, but with each passing year, I became more fearful and disappointed. Godly men came and went, but none chose me. So when this young pastor that no one knew expressed interest in me, I shoved aside the suspicions I had and ran down the aisle.

Why? Well, I could hear my biological clock ticking away. If I didn’t marry this man, surely I’d miss my opportunity to have a family. I was so afraid I wouldn’t have what I desired most—children.

I also ran to the altar because I wanted to be a preacher’s wife. Growing up in the faith community, I had witnessed women hitting the glass ceiling that prevented them from advancing in ministry. I was afraid that the scope of my ministry, though ordained by God, would be determined and severely limited by people in the church. I also knew that glass ceiling didn’t exist for women whose husbands oversaw the church, so that’s who I wanted to be.

I now know that my poor choices were the result of an unhealthy perception of who I was. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see myself as God saw me—His beautiful, handcrafted work of art. I didn’t understand that God had masterfully created me in His image.

Childhood traumas and young adult experiences had left me unable to imagine that I was a person to be valued or loved. Despite my involvement in church and my desire to minister for God, I truly couldn’t see myself as someone He would treasure. I wasn’t good enough for that.

So I ignored the relationship standards I knew should exist and grabbed the first opportunity that looked like my dream.

I quickly knew that’s not what it was, but since I probably didn’t deserve love anyway, I accepted my lot in life. Absorbing my husband’s verbal and emotional abuse, I allowed myself to become a victim of my circumstances.

I settled in a place God never intended, far from those good plans and that hope-filled future I’d read about in Jeremiah 29:11. That’s what happens when a person doesn’t understand their worth and value. They settle in a dry, barren wilderness and lose themselves as they search for validation and acceptance from others.

On top of the difficulties in my marriage, I pressured myself to be what I thought a pastor’s wife should be. I wore myself out trying desperately to meet the expectations of others. And I constantly fell short.

And then one day, everything changed. I gave up the chase. I quit playing the victim card. I laid down all the things I thought were supposed to make me worthy and turned to the only One who could. That’s when God took me by the hand and walked with me through the storm.

The light of His presence overshadowed the darkness (John 16:33), and even though pain still existed, His love opened my eyes to the beauty of my life and the person He had created—me! Seeing myself through God’s eyes was the key to my healing.

So how does God see me? How does He see you? Let me share some of the healing truths I’ve found.

God sees a masterpiece, each person fashioned and formed in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13–16) by His very hands (Ephesians 2:10). God can only see beauty; He simply doesn’t make junk.

God sees people of purpose, filled to the brim with gifts and talents that can impact the world (1 Peter 4:10–11). When God looks at us, He announces to all creation, “It is good” (Genesis 1:31).

God sees His home in us. Second Corinthians 4:7 tells us that God places the treasure of His Holy Spirit in broken, messed-up us. And He lives in us (1 Corinthians 3:16).

God sees people who bring value into every space we enter. Jesus calls us the world’s light and says we are salt that brings flavor and healing to others (Matthew 5:13–15).

God sees people He loves, people who were worth dying for (John 3:16). Despite all the horrible things He knew we would do, God still sent His Son to die for us (Romans 5:8). This sacrifice demonstrated His love for humanity and affirmed our worth. Nothing we do or say will stop Him from loving us. Nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38–39).

God sees the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8). This signifies His affection for us and the lengths He will go to care for us. He even calls us His friends (John 15:15).

God sees perfection; people in right standing with Himself (Romans 3:24), even with our flaws and shortcomings. He doesn’t see our sin; He sees the sacrifice of His Son. Our past, no matter how grievous and dark, was removed from us the minute we placed our faith in the work of the cross. (See Psalm 103.)

Throughout the Bible and history, God has declared His love for us and our worth. Isn’t it time that we start loving what God loves? Yes, I mean us.

Matthew 22:37–39 tells us to love the Lord with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. It’s the greatest commandment. But here’s the thing: we can’t love others unless we first love ourselves. Neither will we experience the fullness of His love unless we love ourselves the way He intends us to.

To love ourselves, we must embrace our identities, including our flaws, strengths, weaknesses, and experiences. God accepts us as we are, without limitation or condition. He expects us to do the same. Christ-centered self-love is paramount to the health of every relationship we’ll ever have.

Do you need help loving yourself? Ask the Lord. Meet Him at the foot of the cross where He paid the price to make you right in His eyes. There, lose the “strong Christian” facade. Talk to Him and surrender your self-hate, low self-esteem, distorted self-perception, and anything else preventing you from receiving His love and accepting your worth. Then rise and walk with Him into freedom. Take one step at a time. You’ll find peace and joy in His presence (Philippians 4:7).

Healing doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. Even a believer who fully surrenders to God and walks in His perfect plan may still experience a long, painful journey (John 16:33). But we’re no longer alone.

God promises to walk with us through every storm in life and to give us His strength to endure and wisdom to navigate. And along the way, He will heal every broken place within and reveal beautiful truths about Himself, your circumstances, others, and you.

His truth will help you recognize and reject unrealistic expectations. It will also help you embrace the accurate and relevant expectations founded in God’s Word. As you renew your mind with His truth, you will find yourself in the center of God’s perfect and pleasing will (Romans 12:2).

Unearthing the past and the things that made you who you are can be uncomfortable. But God and the loving faith community you surround yourself with will help you move forward.

It’s a journey, but it’s worth the effort. God can help you find beauty in the storm.

Essie Faye Taylor is a wife, bilingual author, educator, speaker, psalmist, and interpreter. As the author of the Finding the Love You Deserve series for women and teens, she is deeply committed to sharing the healing power of the gospel. Learn more at www.essiefayetaylor.com.