At the age of twelve, tired of being bullied, suffering from low self-esteem, and needing an all-powerful bodyguard, I felt a desperate need to know that God loved and believed in me as much as I loved and believed in him.
Growing up in a Mormon home, I had been taught by my parents and Sunday School teachers that God was a loving father who would not, even could not, deny me the righteous desires of my heart, so long as I asked for them in faith. Our religion had in fact been founded upon that very principle, as told in the story of Joseph Smith’s claim to having received an answer to earnest prayer in the form of a boyhood vision of God the Father and his son Jesus Christ. I was no boy prophet, but I was fairly certain that I had enough faith, and it seemed to me that a desire to know just how much God loved me had to rank somewhere on the top ten list of righteous requests I could have made, most likely sandwiched between world peace and becoming a close personal friend to John Denver.
I had to know, and if I asked him, God had to tell me; those were the rules.
And so, believing in those rules, I drafted a contract with God, in the name of his son, Jesus Christ. I wrote it in pencil, on a piece of paper pulled from a personalized notepad given to me that past Christmas by my aunt (who was actually my second cousin, because, Utah).
My simple request for heavenly affirmation read something like this:
I, Matthew Tod Deane, promise to try harder to be perfect.
(Matthew Tod Deane
I the Lord, know and love Matthew Tod Deane, and I hereby forgive him of his sins in the name of my Father.
(The Lord Jesus Christ)
I signed my half of the contract and placed it on my nightstand along with a pencil, because I didn't know if Jesus carried writing utensils with him. I was nervous, excited, and hopeful as I drifted off to sleep that night. Jesus was going to visit my room as I slept, and come the morning I would have the loving affirmation that I so desperately needed.
But Jesus didn’t visit my room that night.
He’s testing me... I thought to myself as I sat on the edge of my bed, the tears of rejection dripping down onto the empty space where I had expected Jesus to sign his name. I need to prove my faith before he’ll sign!
I wiped my cheeks, said a little prayer to my Heavenly Father, and hid the contract under a pile of underwear inside my closet before setting out to prove my faith.
I tried hard to overcome my imperfections that day. That evening I put the contract back on my night stand and said an earnest prayer, respectfully reminding God that I had done as much of my part as I could do, so it was time for him to do his.
I woke to disappointment for the better part of a month until one morning, my head at last too heavy to hold high and my heart too broken to hope, I tore the contract into tiny pieces. I dropped them into the irrigation ditch behind our house, crying quietly to myself as I watched them swirl away in the dirty current. They took with them my dream of ever being good enough, faithful enough, and lovable enough for God to believe in me. It wasn’t his fault he hadn’t signed it, it was mine.
I just wasn’t enough.
Seven years later, feeling inadequate and nervous, but at the same time excited and hopeful, I signed another contract with Jesus Christ. The conditions of the contract were these: I agreed to spend two years as a full-time missionary, telling the people of Paraguay that God loved them. In return, God would bless me beyond measure (if not in this life, then certainly in the next) for my righteous, tireless, rule-abiding efforts. I signed the contract in pen, sealed it into an envelope, and mailed it back to Salt Lake City without having ever placed it on my nightstand.
Not even for one night.