For Kim Walker-Smith, the road to her role in the Jesus Culture worship movement was marked by intense trial. Abuse, loss and trauma are all in her past, and she shares most of it in her new book: Brave Surrender. Walker-Smith says writing the book pushed her to be vulnerable in a way she never had to be onstage. Her relationship with Jesus has always been front and center, but the intimate details of her life have not.

RELEVANT sat down with Walker-Smith to talk about her story, the growth she’s experienced and how God has revealed Himself in the process.

YOUR STORY IS MARKED BY TRANSFORMATION. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF BEFORE KNOWING JESUS?

Before Jesus, I wanted to put on a mask and show you whatever I thought you wanted to see. If you needed a good student, I was a good student. If you needed someone excited and lively to get the crowd going, I could do that. If you needed someone kind and gracious, I could be that. But I had an edginess, too, like something could burst out of me and eat you alive. I was angry and rebellious beneath the surface. I had my mind made up about things.

WHAT WERE YOU REBELLING AGAINST?

I had all this anger inside of me because of everything that was going on in my life, from my dad’s first motorcycle accident, to my parent’s divorce, to all the abuse I went through. Anger was my way of coping with the pain because at least with anger, I had some sense of control. I would have rather felt angry because it made me feel strong and that the pain couldn’t touch me. But once that anger was removed, there was no choice but to face the pain and feel it.

AS YOU’RE GOING THROUGH THESE THINGS, YOU’RE AROUND CHURCH AND HEARING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT JESUS. WHAT WAS YOUR IMPRESSION OF FAITH AT THE TIME?

I was aware of God, but I had this understanding of God creating the world like some big old man in the sky, watching us. I thought good people went to church on Sunday mornings and Jesus was somehow connected to God, but I wasn’t sure how. Jesus was the actor who’d be crucified on Easter and make me cry, and my grandparents would explain who He was and what He was doing. I couldn’t comprehend what that meant for my life as a child, but I felt closer and more connected to Jesus and the idea of His love [than the idea of God]. The Holy Spirit was a complete unknown.

The older I grew, and the more comprehension of God I had, the more I thought God could stop all the pain I was walking through. A lot of my anger began to turn toward Him. It started with, “You’re letting these things happen to me,” then, “You don’t love me and you don’t care about me,” then, “I was a mistake. I should never have been born. Why did you let me be born?”

I encountered a God who was not afraid to enter the mess with me and walk through that. It wasn’t anger, it was just love.

Even at 18, when I finally surrendered my life to God and took ownership over my relationship with Him, I still had a lot to process. I couldn’t reconcile that relationship with what I had just lived through, and so before I was set free from those pieces of my story, I experienced His love but I wasn’t fully trusting it yet. A journey of healing had to take place so I could have a full relationship with Him.

BEFORE YOU TRUST GOD’S LOVE, IT CAN FEEL EMPOWERING TO LASH OUT AND ASK HIM QUESTIONS AND MAKE DEMANDS. DID YOU HAVE EXPERIENCES LIKE THAT?

Yeah, definitely. I had a lot of questions, and I felt it was my right to have answers because of what I went through. I had given my life to Him, but there was more to be had because I was withholding myself. I felt I was looking at God through a veil. I wanted to be with Him, but I couldn’t reach Him, and that was because of my demand for answers.

So I had to humble myself. What I thought I deserved didn’t matter, and soon my hunger for freedom outweighed my demand for the answers. I was able to lay my questions down and hope in God’s plan for me. I couldn’t handle being disconnected, and that was the beginning of my healing.

And it still comes up, often. Years later, my stepdad, who I was really close to, passed away from Parkinson’s. He had never stopped praying for God to heal him, and I was so hurt when God didn’t heal him and he died. I found myself again with questions and anger and demands. But that time around, God showed me He’s not afraid of those questions, and He’s not upset when we bring those questions. He meets us where we are. In that moment, I encountered a God who was not afraid to enter the mess with me and walk through that. It wasn’t anger, it was just love.

I DON’T THINK THAT IDEA OF CONTINUAL GROWTH, PAST THE POINT OF CONVERSION, IS TALKED ABOUT ENOUGH IN CHURCH.

There’s this language put out there that once we begin a relationship with Jesus, life is suddenly good, and that’s not the case. Yeah, you experience love and freedom and hope, especially at conversion, but there is a process after that in which your ingrained mindset and baggage still needs fixing and change. That’s why we need redemption. Jesus didn’t lay down His life for a moment with us. He laid down His life so we could have a lifetime of relationship and become more like Him. That’s the Kingdom of God on Earth: His people restored to what it was always meant to be. That’s a process. We need more people in the Church talking about that.

There are so many people in the Church wounded and broken inside and feeling a pressure to be perfect. For me, inner healing was like being fractured in my mind. Because of my trauma, my mind was shattered, and Jesus came along and through His process, put all the pieces back together and made me whole again. Talking about that process in the book was vulnerable and scary, but Jesus came for restoration. Your need for a Savior is always there. I hope we can be a people who want to be the best version of ourselves. That’s Heaven on Earth manifested in us.

THOSE CONVERSATIONS CAN ALSO REVEAL RETROACTIVE EVIDENCE FOR JESUS IN THOSE MOMENTS THAT MIGHT HAVE DAMAGED US.

That’s the kind of healing He wants to bring to us. That’s who God is. He takes nothing and creates something. He takes ashes and creates beauty. That’s why it’s so important for us to live in a place of surrender and live our lives in a way that yields our hearts to Him. When we can do that on a regular basis, we make room for the ways He can intervene in a way we need.

WHAT’S THE HARDEST THING FOR YOU TO SURRENDER?

Oh, man. The hardest thing is trusting God will take care of me. In my mind, I grew up believing no one could take care of me like me. I didn’t believe anyone loved or cared enough, so I felt I couldn’t trust anyone to take care of me. I still reach points in my life where God reminds me to trust Him to take care of me. It’s still hard sometimes. I have a need for control where I ask God to take care of me in a way I feel is right and good, but He says He’s going to take care of me in a way He knows that’s good for me. I have to let that go. His ways are higher and better and He sees what I don’t. I have to trust He’s not only taking care of me, but taking care of me in exactly the way I need.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF NOW COMPARED TO THE PERSON YOU USED TO BE?

I would say my boldness is still there, my strong will and mind are still there, but there’s no rage or anger underneath that person. There’s a peace and calm, and a wisdom that knows God is still there with me and taking care of me. There’s a real strength, too. Back then, I thought my anger was my strength. I wanted everyone to believe I was strong because I was so scared, but because of the foundation that’s been built through what God has done in my life—because of trusting in His strength, not my own—I can yield to Him every day.