I had the pleasure of talking briefly with a friend the other day about her journey through depression/anxiety and about mine. It was so refreshing to be able to talk a bit about my struggles, to not feel like I had to answer “I’m fine. How are you?” She actually brought up her struggles first, and it gave me permission to talk about mine.
For the past year and more, I have only been able to be honest with and share my struggles with one friend. (Thank God for her! What a blessing!). And with everyone else, it’s always been “I’m fine. How are you?”
And I could tell that it has been hurting me to keep it so bottled up inside. I mean, when you talk to yourself every day, pretending that someone has asked you “How are you?” and you answer “I’m fine. I’m fine” (and when you do this a couple times every day), you know you are not fine. You know that you are bursting with stuff you want to tell everyone and anyone.
But there’s no one to tell (except for that one wonderful friend).
And that’s why you practice your lie of “I’m fine” - hoping that you look strong and pulled-together, and yet hoping that others will see through it and pull the truth out of you.
It’s not that I am trying to bottle it up or hide it from people. It’s just that it doesn’t come up and that most people haven’t “earned” the right to hear my struggles and that talking with people has been stressful. So I kinda gave it up. Retreated. Pulled back into a shell. It just felt safer and simpler.
But it was so refreshing to talk openly last night, to not feel like I had to temper what I was saying or hide it or polish it up. She understood because she has been there, too.
Anyway, after our conversation, I decided that I wanted to make a list of the major turning points in my life, of the things that have led me to being who I am right now, the things that have broken me down over the years. (I have a similar list in the post “Just Keep Falling” in November 2014 at myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com. But a lot has happened since then. And I have also included bits from other posts that say what I want to say.)
I used to be so vibrant and enthusiastic and optimistic and hopeful and capable when I was younger. I used to have dreams and felt like I could accomplish things and believed that what I did mattered and that what I said was helpful.
And now, well . . . now I just want to make it through the day. And I feel thankful each time I do. And my only dream or goal is to focus on my daily job of being a wife, mother, and homeschooler. And that’s about all I can hope for and tackle right now. Every other dream and hope has been squashed out of me and every bit of confidence in myself has been crushed.
I really am doing okay. I’m better off than I was last summer (the summer when I broke). But I want to map out what has led me to be this less-than-I-was person. Because if I can see what has led me to be this way then it won’t feel so overwhelming, so unexplainable, so “my fault.” I didn’t break for no reason. I broke because life got to be too much for me. Too “out of my control.” Too messy. And listing the turning points that have affected me so much will help me see how much it makes sense that I am where I am right now. It makes sense. I make sense.
(And it helps to get it out of my head so that it doesn’t keep circling around in there. If I can say it, then it helps me stop dwelling on it. That’s one reason why holding things in hurts us so much. Our minds keep playing it over and over again, wanting to say it out loud, wanting to have someone hear us and comfort us and make us feel like we are normal and like we’re gonna be okay. The longer we hold it in, the more pressing the need to say it becomes and the more we want to scream it out as loud as we can. And we don’t care how crazy or rude or irrational or broken it makes us look. Holding it in hurts us, but the truth sets us free.)
And so, without further ado, here are the major turning points of my life and how they have affected me (this really is for my own benefit, but I hope it might help fellow-strugglers feel less alone in their pain and messiness and brokenness. You are normal. And you’re gonna be okay!):
1. My mom had me at 19. Being an unmarried pregnant teen, she almost got an abortion. Or at least considered it. (I never asked her to clarify how close she came to aborting me.) But thank God, my father married her instead. And then, she and my dad divorced about 2 years later.
My mom said that for the first couple years after they divorced, she and I bounced around a lot and were always on the go. There was no stability. She said that we moved so much that when she got into a fight once with a boyfriend (I must have been about 3 years old) and yelled, “Come on, Heather, we’re leaving,” I ran into my room and grabbed my clothes and cried, “Can I at least take my clothes with me?” That’s sad.
And my father basically never had much to do with me my whole life. He did send a couple letters when I was a young teen, but that’s about it. And I saw him once every several years when we would meet up in Iowa to visit his family.
He is from a wonderful family that I met for the first time when I was 15 (the “first” time I met him, too). And although they have been great and I’ve gotten to see them about once a year since then, I never really felt like I was part of the family, like I really belonged - with them or with my dad or with my half-siblings on my dad’s side who I didn’t get to know until we were older. I didn’t grow up with them or share memories with them or get to be in contact with them. I was just the relative who showed up once a year for a brief visit.
After their divorce, my mom remarried, had a son, and divorced again by the time I was 6 (?). And then she remarried when I was about 8 and had four more sons. And they were married until my late 20’s.
And although high school was a highlight for me (a time when I felt most carefree and most like things were stable and like I had a place and like I mattered), I eventually began to discover the scars that were left from my unstable childhood. I had no idea that the divorces affected me until I was eighteen and re-reading some letters that my biological father had sent years earlier. And for some reason, the thought hit me that I never went to a “daddy-daughter” dance. And at that moment, I realized that I never really had a “daddy.” (A father who never talked to you plus an ex-step dad you lost contact with plus a current step-dad could never equal one real “daddy.”) And suddenly, my heart began to ache.
And it hasn’t really stopped aching.
Over the next years, I would begin to realize how hurt I was inside, how I had always felt like an outsider. With my father. With his family. With my step-families. (My current tally, as of 2017, is one biological father who died in 2015, two ex-stepfathers whom I have no contact with anymore, and one current step-father.) And even with my own brothers as I got older. (I am a lot older than my five brothers and was off at college/grad school and starting my own family when they were still young. And they are all boys, whereas I am the only girl. So that separated us, too.)
This kind of stuff has led me to always feel like I was on the outside, looking in. Like I didn’t really belong. And it has caused me to naturally keep my distance from people, from getting too close, from letting others care about me. It always seemed safest and most natural to not rely on others, to take care of myself, and to stay on the outside. So I kept to myself a lot and held back when I was with others. And I put up self-protective walls, keeping my heart safe from the risk that it would get smashed. Others couldn’t be trusted because life was unstable and people leave and people just don’t care.
2. As I said, high school and early adulthood was a shining time for me. I was happy and carefree. Until I began dating my first real boyfriend. This was very shortly after realizing that I never had a daddy, a real “felt like I belonged to him and mattered to him” father.
All throughout high school, I basically sabotaged any chance of a real, caring relationship with any guy because I couldn’t risk getting my heart broken. But at eighteen, I finally was willing to take the risk because I found someone worth it, someone who had proven himself to be a faithful, loyal, honest friend.
But very shortly after we began dating, all these ugly abandonment fears and “I’m not worthy of love” fears came pouring out. And I became an incredibly controlling, jealous person. I guess I was trying to make sure that I didn’t get my heart broken. I mean, if I could just control everything then I wouldn’t get hurt. Right?
I began to realize that I didn’t feel worthy of anyone’s love, and so I did what I could to hold onto it tightly. And yet, at the same time, I didn’t trust it, so I kept asking him if he wanted to break up with me and date other people. Because I just couldn’t understand why anyone would want to date me.
It was a messy time. And it took me a long time to work through it all, with the Lord’s help and with my boyfriend’s faithfulness (which gave me a safe place to work through my fears) and with the help of my graduate classes as I got my Master’s in Counseling. (I can’t believe my husband stuck with me through it all. What a blessing he’s been!)
But as time went on, I realized that so many of these “abandonment/not worthy of love” fears also affected my relationship with the Lord. And so there was a lot of work to be done there, too.
Goodness, how this kind of stuff messes you up for life! It’s taken years and years to work through the scars of divorce and instability. And while everything’s not perfect and I do still struggle with some things, I am doing a lot better in this area that I was decades ago. So I am thankful!
3. And then several years later, my boyfriend and I got married, I got my degree, and we had a couple kids. And things seemed pretty stable and good. For a little while.
And then, my mom and second step-dad’s marriage fell apart and things between them got bad, like “afraid for their safety and lives” bad. Years of bad! With police, counselors, restraining orders, a tazer (or stun gun?), accusations of spousal abuse and affairs and drug use and bank robbing, a parent in jail for the night, thoughts of if we should commit a parent to a mental hospital, family picking sides, alienation of long-time family friends, etc.
I basically had a nervous breakdown during this time and had to flee to my grandparents’ house in Iowa for a weekend, just to be able to catch my breath. It got to the point where I was praying that my parent would just end their life like they were considering doing. Then they could be at peace.
My greatest regret during this time was that I pretty much abandoned my younger brothers, left them in a very dysfunctional situation. I didn’t really mean to, I was just living my own life with my own kids and trying to keep some distance from all the unhealthy drama. I regret that to this day. Thankfully, they turned out fine.
But I now have very little contact with my brothers. And that’s sad because they all have their own children now. I think the divorce was so bad that we (those of us siblings who could) simply fled and went into self-protective mode. But I wasn’t trying to abandon them; I just needed to have space between me and the divorce during that terrible time. But since they were so young and still fully dependent on my parents, I couldn’t be part of their lives without also being involved with my parents. And so my brothers were simply “collateral damage” in my need to keep my distance from the messy, unhealthy, destructive divorce. And now, I feel like I haven’t really earned the right to be part of their families. And I don’t expect them to include me in their lives when I wasn’t really there for them. Plus, I guess I got used to being on my own.
I had always wanted to have the kind of family where you share in each other’s life, in their joys and struggles, where you grow up together and visit regularly and are there to support each other.
But I have none of that. So many family members – 5 brothers, tons of aunts and uncles, several sets of grandparents, a few different “fathers” – and I have none of that. It’s amazing how lonely you can be even with such a large family.
4. I never liked changes. They always made me feel unstable and unsafe. But after the divorce and my step-dad #2 fleeing to another state and my mom getting remarried, everything felt different. I felt like a stranger when I visited my mom’s home because she now had a new husband, new family, and new friends.
I had step-dad #2 for around twenty years. He was the most “father” I ever had. And it was as comfortable as it could have been. But suddenly, he was out of my life. In our last conversation, he told me that he had a late-birthday present (several months late) to drop off for my young son. And I told him that I was pregnant again – 5 months pregnant. And he said, “I’m a bad, bad grandpa.” And he said that he still wanted to be involved with the kids.
That was the last time I talked to him. (Actually, I think I did briefly talk to him once after that when he called and hinted around that he needed money – like $10,000 dollars. But we had none to give. And since I caught wind that he might have gotten hooked again on heroin, I couldn’t have given it to him anyway.)
And while step-dad #3 is a fine guy, I just don’t need another father-figure. I’m too old. Too tired.
5. Then the economy collapsed and we lost a lot of income. It was already really tight because I had chosen to stay home and raise my children, instead of working. This put us under great financial strain because I still had school loans to pay off. (But I wouldn’t do it any differently. When I stand before God, I know I’ll be able to say that I chose the better option.) But with the economy collapse, buying groceries always gave me a headache because of all the incredibly strict calculating and penny-pinching that I had to do. Buying frozen pizza and apples was a luxury that we barely indulged in. I didn’t even buy bread. It was cheaper to make it myself.
And right in the middle of this, we got pregnant with our fourth son. And while he is an incredible blessing, it was at the worst time financially. (God's brilliant sense of humor?)
6. Every house we lived in has been a huge emotional burden for me at some point. The first apartment we rented our first year of marriage was the only place where I felt like I could breathe. After that, we rented a home that was in terrible, disgusting condition, and it was so tiny. (My parents owned it, and I trusted that it was in good condition before we accepted their offer to rent it. Boy, was I in for a surprise!) And because of our meager resources and the growing housing bubble, we were there for several years, unable to get out or afford anything else. And it made me very depressed and hopeless.
And then we found a new rental that was the answer to our prayers. And the first couple years were good. And then we realized that it was moldy and making us sick. (Mold was literally growing out of the walls. And the owners didn’t believe me that the back room smelled really strong of musty, wet mold.)
And we were busting out of it with four kids. When we began renting it, it was a two-bedroom and we two kids. But it soon became a one-bedroom rental (we blocked off a bedroom that had mold and a backroom that had mold) with four kids. But the economy was so bad that we couldn’t get out of the house. I was desperate to find a place to own, but it was a couple years of sitting in that moldy place before we did. (For the last nine months in that house, I slept in the boys’ bunk-bed with our new baby while my husband and other three boys slept downstairs on the floor by the moldy backroom. I wanted to cry all the time.)
And during the house-hunting time – when I was desperate to get out of a moldy rental that was making us sick - God basically left me. I had so feared abandonment, and then He did it. He abandoned me. (That’s what it felt like.) I cried out to Him over and over again for years about helping us get out of that house. I wanted to wait on Him and follow His leading, but there was nothing! For years, He didn’t lead or respond or seem to care that I was hurting. This was one of the greatest struggles I have ever had to go through spiritually.
Eventually, He did lead us out of that place, but only after years of struggling through every doubt, fear, and self-esteem issue that I had, only after learning to place everything in His hands and to say, “You Will be done. I still trust You, no matter what. Blessed be Your name, even if my situation never changes.”
Looking back now, I can see that this was the good that came out of the “abandonment.” And this trial was critical to my spiritual journey. It was necessary for humbling me, for building and purifying my faith, and for learning to be content and to praise in the pain. But at the time, it just really, really hurt. More than anything. More than being let down by earthly fathers.
7. Also during this time of my parents’ divorce, the economy collapse, and the moldy rental (right before Baby #4), we ended up paying thousands to get some dental work done for my husband and me. And I was dealing with an active infection from a failed root canal that I had for seven years. The next step would have been a thousand dollar procedure to fix it. Money we didn’t have. I was so stressed out just thinking about all the bills.
And we discovered that our one-year-old had Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, even though he never had a bottle or sugary drink. This sent me into years of stress and tension headaches as I tried to slow the decay down and figure out the best course of action for a toddler. Also (I think because the moldy rental was suppressing his immune system) he was susceptible to all sorts of other infections and problems. So we had one minor-ish problem after another with him. For a few years. It was an incredibly stressful time for me, especially since I felt so trapped in that house and abandoned by God at the same time.
And in response to the Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, I began to scrutinize our eating and research every food item and additive, and I did a major overhaul of our food choices and my cooking. While this ended up being a good change, it was still hard, especially since I was making major changes overnight in a panicked, desperate attempt to stop the decay. (And eating healthy really did help heal the decay in his front teeth. And it healed the active infection from my failed root canal. I never did need that $1,000 procedure. We are all healthier today because of his tooth decay. It’s one of the best things that happened to us.)
But all the stress and the financial strain and fear of everything and feeling abandoned by God led me into a deep depression. I became a shell of a person and gave up the desire to fight for better things. If just felt like I was destined to always lose.
8. A couple years into struggling with all of this (just months after having Baby #4), I also began facing some clearly demonic harassment - five months of nighttime demonic harassment (in the “Supernatural Stuff and Spiritual Armor”post).
It was really scary at the time and I felt like I had no real support. Even my husband didn’t really believe me and kept his distance from my struggle. And a friend from church who offered to bring a pastor with him to pray over our house never came. I felt like I was really alone in that struggle. Like I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it and like those I did talk to didn’t believe me or care.
Now, though, I see that time of harassment as one of the best things to happen to me because it really opened my eyes to the spiritual battle going on all around us, it reminded me of the incredible need for prayer and to abide in Christ and to seek righteousness, and it set my focus on eternity. But at the time, it was terrifying and I basically had to go through it alone. But even going through it alone turned out to be for the best. My faith is stronger for it.
9. And then came this home that we are in now. The first home we owned. What a blessing and long awaited answer to prayer. And it was great at first . . . until we began to find one expensive problem after another that have to be dealt with. And it’s taking years to get them done. Most are still not done.
Oddly enough, I still do think this home was His answer for us and a blessing to us. I just wish sometimes that answers to prayers didn’t always come with crushing blows. I wish that I could enjoy the blessings without waiting for the other shoe to drop. I wish that we could live in a place that actually felt like a home, not a refugee camp.
And dealing with this house has reminded me that I don’t have family to lean on, to call when I am in need. It’s amazing because my own biological father built houses for a living, and yet he’s never been there for his own daughter when I needed a father to help me fix up mine. I watch our young-ish neighbors as their parents come over every couple days and help them fix their place up and celebrate the birth of their first child with them . . . and I think, How cool is that! The way it’s supposed to be. And yet, they probably don’t even realize how special something like that is.
10. Recently, all of my family – cousins, brothers, aunts and uncles, mom and step-dad (all but one brother) – has moved away. It was after an aunt had died of stomach cancer (at about 58 years of age), and everyone else went, “What are we all doing hanging around here? Let’s go live the life we want somewhere else.” And they all left, practically in the same year. I remember that when Christmas came around, I thought, “Oh my goodness, there’s no one left. No one to visit.” It happened so fast.
While we were not super close anyway, my aunts and uncles and cousins were the most tight-knit family I had. We saw each other on several holidays a year. And it was a pleasant, wonderful family. Lots of laughter and love and joy. But now, it’s been years since I’ve seen any of them. And I feel a bit orphaned by the whole change. Once again, I feel alone in this world. Everything is so different now.
And then my husband’s mom died just a few years ago of a brain tumor. And my biological dad died in 2015. He never even told me he was sick. He died in his house, with his other daughter there. And he was buried on his property in his own handmade coffin. I never cried when I heard. And that’s kinda sad.
11. Another huge stressor for me has always been homeschooling. I have very, very strong reasons for why I homeschool my kids, and I wouldn’t change it unless I had no choice. But I’ll be honest, homeschooling is terribly hard when you are your own worst enemy, when you are someone who is always down on yourself. I struggle all the time with never feeling good enough, with being afraid that I’ll fail and never do enough for them. I don’t know how to relax and just “enjoy the ride.” And so I have to fight long and hard to be okay with who I am and with my shortcomings and my choices, to “stay on course” and trust that the Lord will help.
In fact, I was just struggling over all my fears the other day (like I do most days), feeling like I’ll never do good enough or be enough for my children, when I heard the tiniest little voice say, “You’re not alone in this.” It was as if God was reminding me that no matter how alone and frail and pathetic I feel, He is with me and He will help me raise these kids. I might have barely anyone else to lean on, but I always have Him. The burden doesn’t rest on my alone. As long as I keep throwing myself at His feet in humility and desperate need, He’ll help do the things that I can’t do and He’ll pick up the pieces that I can’t carry.
I am not in this alone.
And I cling to that truth with all I’ve got.
12. Despite the fact that I feel so alone in life, I had one friend whom I could talk to freely. She knew me better than anyone. She was the closest thing I had to a “sister.” And I desperately needed our weekly conversations to keep me sane. She was the one person I leaned on, that I trusted completely (besides my husband).
But a few years ago (during my depression over the condition of this house and feeling like God didn’t care), she stopped returning my phone calls. We went from talking once a week for an hour to talking once a year for a half-hour.
It Broke! My! Heart!
What happened is that I had stepped in to try to support her crumbling marriage. But she thought that I stepped in because she had been “complaining” to me too much about her marriage. But no! I simply wanted to help them. I knew how it felt to be a child of divorce. And I knew how much it would destroy her, her husband, and her four children. So I sent a letter saying that I believed in them, that they could work it out, that I loved them as a couple and as people, and that I wanted to help in any way I could.
And in response, she stopped calling me.
There are no bad feelings between us. I still love her dearly and pray for the best for her. But that friendship – of nearly 20 years - is now over. And I have gone through a lot of pain learning to accept it. But I’ve never really recovered from it.
I think losing that friendship caused me to reevaluate myself. It caused me to see myself against the backdrop of “You’re such a loser that even your closest, oldest friend would abandon you.”
Maybe I have always been nothing more than some pathetic joke, no matter how helpful or intelligent I thought I was, no matter how much of a friend I thought I was to others. Maybe I am always the misfit. The screw-up. Maybe I’m not worth sticking with, unless it’s for pity’s sake. I have nothing to really offer a friend. I mean, I used to think that I was good with words and that I had insight and wisdom and could encourage others. I used to think that I was a valuable friend to have. But when my oldest friend could walk away from me that easily then I have to conclude that I’m not who I thought I was.
My self-view has been shaken up terribly bad and I have been going through a huge identity crisis. And it’s making me pull back even more from people. When you feel like you have nothing to offer . . . when you begin to realize that you might not have been as wise, inspirational, insightful, or helpful as you thought you were . . . when you begin to apply “you are such a joke and you didn’t even know it, no wonder people don’t value or respect you or stick with you” to all of the moments of your life, it really does make you want to pull back from everyone.
I mean, what if all the things that I think sound helpful and wise really do sound like idiotic gibberish to others? (Crazy people don’t know they’re crazy, right? They think that what they’re saying sounds completely logical and wise.)
Or what if I come across as a smug “know-it-all” who always thinks that I have the answers and that everyone should listen to me? I can’t stand those kinds of people. But what if that’s me? I mean, the very fact that I keep writing stuff – even though no one reads it – shows a certain level of self-absorption and self-glorification, as though I continue to think that the things I say are worth listening to.
What if - when I am talking to others and think I am being helpful or intelligent or encouraging - others are just looking at me with smiles of pity and thinking, “We’ll just wait for her to shut up . . . and then we’ll go back to talking to those who really matter”?
This whole “self-reevaluation” thing has led me to not want to talk to people anymore. It’s hard to talk to people now. When I talk too long or share things about myself or talk too confidently, all I can think is, Shut up. Shut up now. They don’t care. You’re making a fool of yourself!
And yet, not talking is pathetic too. So what do it do?
I don’t know how to fix this kind of broken self-view. (Or maybe it’s that I don’t know how to adjust to this accurate self-view.) I don’t know how to enjoy people or friendships anymore. I try to make sure to keep the focus on others, to meet their needs, to let them talk about themselves because . . . who really wants to hear what I have to say anyway!?! It’s hard to feel like you deserve to be listened to or cared about when you feel this way inside.
This is where I have been for awhile now, trying to figure out how to live the life I have. A life that I didn’t expect to turn out this way. A life that has more loss and heartache than I planned for. I feel like everything has been stripped from me and like everything has fallen apart. (Except for my own husband and children. And thank God for them! I guess I’d rather have everything else fall apart and my own family be good then have my own family fall apart and everything else be good. And I thank God for another friendship that I have that has been growing deeper. I don’t need many friends, but I do need one deep one. And our friendship is at a point where I can ask her for prayer support as I struggle with all this discouragement.)
13. And at the same time as losing my friend and the struggles with the house, I had to come to grips with the fact that I failed in a very huge area. In the last area where I dared to dream.
I wrote a book about my life that I put on my other blog, hoping that it would encourage other people in their lives and faith and maybe deepen my relationships with others. And I tried and tried to share it with many people I know. But no one wanted to read it.
I can understand when no publishing company wants to publish it, but I can’t understand that the people closest to me (friends, family, church friends) won’t bother to read it, even though I asked.
That has been the hardest thing to accept, that I failed at something I was so excited about and had so much hope for. And that no one really cares that much about me to take the time to share in this dream with me. I had laid bare my heart and my soul in my writing and I was inviting people to read it, to see the “real me” deep inside. And I took a huge risk in asking people to read it. I don’t usually ask people to do anything for me, to care at all about me or something I’ve done. And it wasn’t easy for me to share my writing – myself – with people. I took a risk and offered my heart every time I said “I wrote a book about my life, if you’d like to read it.”
But no one wanted to.
While I never thought I was good at much else, I always thought I was good with words and encouragement. That was my thing. It’s what I could use for good, to help others. But I just don’t know anymore. This failure made me pull back even more from people because I had put myself out there so vulnerably . . . and no one cared. It made me not want to share my hurts with anyone because I couldn’t even trust them to care about my joys.
I can’t tell you how many people gave me excuses like “I have too much to do already . . . I have too many books to read . . . Oh sure, I’d love to read it (but then they never do).” I even put a comment on the church blog sharing the blog’s address so people could find it. It was going to be my last attempt to share it with others. And, lo and behold, someone did look it up. They looked up the post on the introduction to the Bible study that I wrote. But then the very next post on the church’s blog a couple days later, written by the pastor, was a post about how we shouldn’t study the Bible on our own, without input from godly sources. It felt like a direct criticism of me. In my last attempts to dream and hope, I crashed and burned. And all I wanted to do was help others with what I wrote about my journey, my pains and struggles.
This has been one of the biggest heartbreaks for me because it further confirms the idea that I don’t really matter to people, even church people. It’s been hard to accept the fact that I’m so invisible, overlooked, and such a failure. All that time and energy wasted. I had such hopes for it.
I don’t like to hope anymore.
(And additionally, our church has recently gone through some personnel changes that I really don’t like, bringing with it doctrinal messages that I really disagree with. And I wish that we could leave that church and find another one. But my kids are established there and I don’t want to move them from their friends. And so I sit there and listen to the sermons and get frustrated and yet can do nothing about it. It kinda hurts my heart. And I no longer invite anyone to come to our church. I actually tell them to check out the one I wish I could start attending. Everything in my life – except my husband and children – feels like it has changed for the worse.)
14. And if everything else wasn’t enough to make me feel like I don’t belong around other people: For several years, I had developed an ongoing eczema rash (or other “allergy” type rash) that occasionally covered my neck and face in bright red, weeping “blisters” or in really dry, flaky skin. I felt so diseased, like it’s further proof that I just don’t belong around other people.
Eventually, I did realize that it’s a reaction to the mineral make-up I was using and to the coconut oil or olive oil that I used as lotion. My skin is simply too sensitive for that kind of stuff. And last year, I began using a rose lotion which has really helped. So it doesn’t look bad anymore. But I can tell that my skin is still really sensitive, so I have to be careful.
But even if it looks better right now, I still keep my head down. I just feel so ugly. (It doesn’t help that I had to stop wearing makeup because of my sensitive skin and that my hair is prematurely gray and I refuse to color it because of health concerns/sensitive skin. So I am stuck looking like a grandma, like a person who “let herself go” and doesn’t care.)
15. In response to feeling so lonely and like I really don’t have friends and I am not good with people and I have no success with my writing and I can’t fix up the house, I threw myself into the garden. I remember thinking to myself, At least I have the garden. I can find solace there. It can be my “safe place.”
After planning for a garden for 11 years while we rented, I was finally able to have one when we moved into this place. And it was good for the first couple years. It was the place where I could be creative, where I let myself dream, where I felt most relaxed and closest to God. It’s where I talk to Him a lot and enjoy His presence and blessings. It’s where I retreated to when everything else was going wrong. So it’s no wonder that it was the next thing to get attacked.
A few summers ago, we learned that our neighbor has a very moldy garage and that it was blowing all over us when we were outside. The garage is loaded with garbage and it had a broken window and rain would get in there and soak everything. And all that stuff has been rotting there for years, despite my attempts to call the city and the owners and get someone out there to clean it up. But since no one’s living there, no one else cares. Because it affects no one else but my family.
The garage is about 10 feet from the garden, and I can smell the mold all summer. And having just come from a moldy rental that broke my heart, it broke my spirit to be faced with it again. It almost felt like God led us to this house as a cruel joke or experiment. The one place I felt like I could retreat to no longer felt safe or enjoyable. And I spent the summer of 2014 in tears while I gardened in the moldy smell, pleading with God to make the owners do something about it. But nothing has been done. And I am too tired to care anymore. To hope. To feel like life should be more than what it is.
And if that wasn’t enough … I had contemplated giving up gardening altogether, after only a few years of being able to enjoy it. Because it would hurt less to give it up than to have my heart break every time I smelled the mold out there. But I decided to give it one more year.
And things were looking pretty good in the summer of 2015. Even though I didn’t get out there often because of the smell, the garden was doing very well and producing a lot. And the raspberries – which I was eagerly waiting for and carefully tending to – were loaded with blossoms.
And then it stormed.
And then the next day I woke up to find a giant dead tree from the neighbor’s yard (the one with the moldy garage) sprawled across my garden. It had managed to smash through three sides of the chicken-wire fence, to hit almost every crop but the tomatoes, and to obliterate the raspberries.
At first I wanted to cry. But then I laughed at the absurdity of it and in thankfulness that the tomatoes were unharmed.
But then, I went into a deeper depression than I had been in. A “Why bother or care about anything because it all gets ruined anyway” kind of depression. A “You don’t deserve to have dreams or to enjoy anything in your life” kind of heartbreak.
I had already lost fathers and family and my one close friend and it felt like God wasn’t listening and didn’t care and like He had let us languish in a moldy rental and then led us to a joke of a new house with a neighbor’s moldy garage . . . And now, I wasn’t even able to enjoy having a garden.
Why bother caring or hoping or wanting or dreaming anymore! I just couldn’t do it! I was done!
16. And then . . . it got worse. Then came the summer of 2016 – the year my already-fragile-self broke into tiny pieces that I am still staring at, that I have no strength to put together and don’t care if I ever do.
I had decided to garden again, with no real effort or desire or hope. (The only thing that made it good is that I let a wonderful neighbor use some of my garden beds so she can grow stuff for her family. It’s been a delight to see her and her young children out there, enjoying the work and the harvest. One of the best decisions I ever made! Fyi, I warned her about the mold.) And I guess I have to thank God that I decided to garden because I was going to need it later that summer. I was going to need to have that space to retreat to when I encountered the trials that broke me.
First, on May 30th, came my panic attack, brought on by my despair over all that has gone wrong in life and all the losses and my fears/heartbreak over the moldy garage and the concerns about all the house repairs that weren’t getting done. That panic attack (written about in "My Panic Attack") was the first one I ever had, not counting the minor “nervous breakdown” I had during my parents’ divorce. And it wrecked me physically. I lost six pounds and could barely eat and had no energy for life. And it wrecked me emotionally. I feared losing control again for many months afterward. (I still do.) It was exhausting to try to keep myself calm. Every morning was a trial.
[My wonderful husband did the best thing anyone can do for someone going through a panic attack – he simply put his arms around me and held onto me as I sobbed about how wrong everything was and how much I hated life and how I felt like I was losing control. He just sat with me and listened and held me as I fell apart, never trying to offer pat answers or acting like he had to fix me or scolding me or acting like there was something wrong with me. He just let me go on and on as I cried uncontrollably. And then, he prayed for me, out loud. What a comfort! And I was able to breathe again and to feel like maybe I didn’t have to go to the emergency room after all.]
Slowly, I began to gain my strength and my sanity again. And then . . .
June 3rd, four days after my panic attack, I got word from my brother that my mother had been committed to an in-patient unit because of a risk for suicide. He said that she was acting crazy and the ambulance guys (or cops - can’t remember which it was) had to wrestle her into the ambulance and she had tried to viciously fight them off. They thought she had overdosed on something, so they took her to the hospital and then put her in observation for three days.
A couple days later, I learned that she did overdose on something – Nyquil. Apparently, she couldn’t fall asleep, so she kept taking Nyquil. And then she would forget that she took it, so she’d take some more. And this Nyquil reacted with the normal pills that she takes her for health, and it made her appear “drunk” and loopy. But they adjusted her medication and she began doing better.
And slowly, over the next several weeks, I began doing better. And then . . .
July 19th, I got word that my mother was bleeding out both ends and that she was in the hospital and they didn’t know what was wrong but it was very serious. My aunt wasn’t sure if she was going to come out of the hospital alive (she ended up being in the hospital for over a month). And if she did live, my aunt wasn’t sure that her mind would ever be the same again.
July 20th, I woke up to find that one of my sons had a temperature of 103. And he had it the next morning too. (I am a wreck when the kids have high fevers, anxiously checking on them every couple minutes.)
July 21st, I woke up and thanked God that I had a good night of sleep. And then I found blood in the poop of my 7-year-old. (I felt like maybe I had caused it to happen because I had just been researching “blood in poop” because of what my mother was going through.) And I had to rush around in a panic and find a doctor because we didn’t have a family doctor yet (the one we used to have and that we really trusted had retired). Thankfully, for my son, it ended up being a reaction to bananas which made his rectum swell up, and then he had tried to push out a hard poop which “cut” him inside a little, which led to the blood. But it took me a few couple stressed days to make sure that’s what it was.
July 23rd, I . . . well . . . let’s just say that something else happened that I can’t talk about yet. And that’s all I can say about it right now. But it was the last straw. And I broke. I broke really bad!
Thankfully, we were on summer break with the kids because I couldn’t get out of bed for days. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t move without throwing up. And I threw up a lot. My husband would come home and the kids would be playing video games and I’d be lying in bed in the dark, barely able to acknowledge his presence. And I lost eight more pounds, on top of the six that I lost from the panic attack. It took me weeks to be able to eat normal-ish again. (I still can’t eat like I used to, though. And oddly enough, I had grown to “like” the feeling of being hungry. Because during that time if I didn’t have anything in my stomach, it meant that I wouldn’t have anything to throw up.)
July 24th, I discovered something else that was really stressful. And I can’t talk about that one, either, other than to say that someone had gotten us involved in something without our knowledge that could have gotten us in trouble, and we had to run around in a panic and undo it.
July 27th, I went to a pastor in tears, nearly falling over from the stress and hunger and from my nerves being shot. I could barely stand. I had been crying so hard and throwing up and not eating and unable to get out of bed. I felt like my mind had broken in pieces, literally. I felt like I was in a really bad dream and couldn’t get out and “How could this be happening? It’s not real, is it!?!”
And I told him about what I was struggling with and I asked him for his professional advice (like me, he’s a mental health professional) about what I can do – should do – in the things I was struggling with. And he gave me the right advice – the advice that helped me pause for a moment, clear my head, and put the burdens down. Things didn’t feel so urgent anymore and I had time to rest and wait and see how things played out. And I could finally breathe a little.
July 30th and 31st, a skunk let loose right outside the house two nights in a row and we had to shut ourselves in. And then July 31st, right after the skunk, a bat got into the house (maybe trying to get away from the skunk smell). And we had to run around at 10:30 at night, trying to catch it and get it out. Which my husband finally did by cornering it in the bathroom. But then I told my kids to wash their hands in case of “bat germs” and they went right into the “bat bathroom” and washed up and dried their hands on a towel that the bat had been flying over. And then my youngest picked his nose and made it bleed. And I suddenly was overcome with a horrible fear of rabies. I did some research and found out that rabies is in the brain matter and in the saliva of the bat. And it gets in to our bodies through wounds.
What if the bat spit on the towel and then my son dried his hands with rabies spit and then he shoved it right in his nose and put it right in his bloodstream? I was a panicked mess for the next couple days, not only from everything else that had happened the past week but now from the fear of rabies.
And I was the one who told them to wash their hands!!! It would be my fault that he died from rabies. I was a bad, bad mom.
(Thankfully, we were still awake when the bat got in the house. So I know that it didn’t bite any of us. If we had gone to bed earlier – like I had tried to do – then we probably would have had to get rabies shots. They recommended that if you wake up with a bat in the room then you get the shots because you can’t know for sure that you weren’t bitten while you slept. Thankfully, we had decided to stay up late that night. So thankful!)
I had never known such stress in my life. And all in one summer, too.
All in all, my mom spent over a month in the hospital. One of the main contributors to her health problems was that her gall-bladder had burst, spilling out oodles of gall-stones into her abdomen. And the ruptured gall-bladder led to sepsis. But since the blood poisoning made her look and act drunk, no one knew she was dying of sepsis. They thought she had just been drinking too much. (She'll never admit this ... but we know that she was trying to drink herself to death. That's what led to the ruptured gall-bladder and the severe bleeding she would face in the coming months.)
She also had a double lung infection (which she apparently had for years), both kidneys were shutting down (did shut down?), pancreatitis, and now a scarred heart from the blood infection. (She shouldn’t have lived. God must have some plans for her that He kept her alive through it all.) She was so close to death that she said she literally saw images from her life playing out on the walls of the hospital room. And apparently that is a real phenomenon that happens when a brain is gasping its last breaths.
And all that summer, I was left wondering if she would recover, if her mind would be the same, if she was trying to drink herself to death. Several times, I fully expected to get a call that she had died in the night from her drinking or by her own hand.
September 10th, my husband, sons, and I cleaned out the basement of the house that she was losing to the bank. It was surreal to be tossing out – into the dumpster or onto the bonfire – all of the stuff that she had accumulated over the years, the stuff of her dreams, her previous life, the stuff she had worked for and saved for years. It was sad to see that this is what life amounts to - rotten, musty old things, covered in mouse droppings, sitting in a basement for years before ending up unceremoniously tossed onto a bonfire or into a dumpster. Oh how temporary, meaningless, unfulfilling, and perishable our earthly possessions are! The things that we thought would bring us so much joy!
And while sorting old papers, I found the report card of one of youngest brothers. It was from the time of the messy divorce of his father and our mother. And it broke my heart to see 1 B, 2Ds, and 3 Fs. My brother was only 13 or 14 at the time. And I could see in his grades how crushing the divorce was for him, for all the brothers. How much they hurt and struggled. How much they needed something stable to lean on. I should have been there for them! It broke my heart! I’m a bad, bad sister!
September 11th, my mom called and told me that she been vomiting up blood all night the night before, toilet bowls full of blood. (Apparently, in her despair over everything that was going wrong in her life, she had been drinking and wasn’t eating anything.)
A few days later, some of my fish died.
It was only by the grace of God that I could walk in a straight line, that I could get out of bed in the morning and make my kids food. I’m sure that if someone had jumped out from behind a door during this time and yelled, “Boo,” my nerves would’ve blown, my heart would’ve stopped, and I’d have fallen over dead on the spot. (Which didn’t sound like such a bad thing at the time.)
Everything was bad (except for my husband and children). It had gotten so bad that I was picking beans in the garden one day (having to tend to the garden got me out of the house and into some fresh – moldy – air, it gave me something monotonous and mind-numbing to do) when the thought suddenly hit me – “So this is the point people get to when they decide to kill themselves.”
I knew that I wouldn’t do anything to hurt myself because I had a husband and children that I love, but I suddenly understood how people could be so hopeless that they would calmly make plans to kill themselves and then carry it out. I understood how people cut themselves, because the pain has filled up every fiber of their body, like filling a balloon with air way beyond its capacity, and they feel like they are going to break open and spill out all over the place, and so they cut themselves to let the pain out, to get it out of their body, to relieve the pressure that is threatening to crush them. It breaks my heart every time I hear that someone has committed suicide or that they cut themselves because they hurt so bad. I understand how they got to that point. They make sense to me. Because it could have been me.
So where do you go from here? How do you recover from this? (And I know many other people have stories way worse than this. I know they would happily trade their sorrows for mine. So I want to be sensitive to that. And for an update, my mother is doing much better, nearly as good as she was before the sepsis. So that’s a blessing. But it was touch-and-go for a long time.)
I am not sure where to go with all this or what to do about it. I don’t know what life has in store for me next. I’m not sure how to recover after being knocked down so many times. I don’t even know if “recover” is the main objective here. Maybe it’s just “Learn to live the life I have, through the grace of God, instead of trying to make life into what I think it should be.” (And yet for some people, it may be “Don’t settle for life as it is. Fight it with all you’ve got, with God’s help. Make it right.” And only you and the Lord can know when it’s time to fight and when it’s time to stop fighting.)
All I know is that I wake up every day and say “I need You, Lord. Please, help me” with a sense of desperate neediness and weakness that I’ve never felt before (and frankly, with some hopelessness and joylessness, a sense of existing, not living, and the goal of “Let’s just get through this day.”). And then I get up and put one foot in front of the other and do the jobs that God has placed in my path today, nothing more than being a wife and a mother. And that’s okay.
And you know what? It’s also okay to be desperately needy and weak before the Lord. It’s okay to admit your brokenness.
In fact, as a Christian, it’s the only way to be.
Humility requires brokenness. Letting go of the control. Honesty. Crying out when we are in need.
We need to stop fighting against brokenness, stop trying so hard to polish ourselves up nice and shiny so that we are “acceptable” to the Lord and impressive to others, stop trying to handle everything in our own strength, stop trying to earn His love and attention and grace (those things which are already freely available to us, things that can never be earned but only accepted by a needy, humble heart). We need to take off the “happy Christian” mask and the “I can do everything and do it all with a smile” costume, and we need to fall down before the Lord in humble brokenness, telling Him that we can’t do it without Him, that we need Him to carry us, that we even need Him to help us stand if life has badly kicked us down.
We need to let our brokenness humble us, mature us, to grow and purify our faith. Because brokenness does what self-sufficiency and self-confidence never could – it drops us at the feet of God so that He can scoop us up into Him arms. His strength shines best when we have none of our own.
It’s okay to fall apart in front of the One who can put you back together.
It’s okay to bring your chains to the One with the key to free you.
It’s okay to be weak when you are leaning on the One who is strong.
And it’s okay to not have all the answers when you know the One who does.
It’s okay to be broken, to hurt, to not have it all together, to admit that you desperately need God’s presence and care and grace.
In fact, it’s not just okay. It’s a great thing!
If there’s one thing that being broken has done for me, it’s that it has caused me to truly cherish and cling to God’s grace. I knew all about it in my head before. But now, it pulsates through my veins because it has gotten deep into my heart. When you realize that you cannot do it all and that you are weak and desperately need the Lord . . . when you realize that you are as needy and broken as the next person, that we are all on the same level ground at the foot of the cross . . . it makes you so much more aware of your need for God’s daily sustaining grace. It makes you humble. Deep down - all the way to your toes - humble.
And humility – learning that you are just as human as the next person - makes you more aware of others who hurt, too. It makes you compassionate instead of critical. It makes you want to comfort instead of condemn. It makes you come alongside them, put an arm around their shoulder and help them on their journey, instead of just preaching at them about how a “good Christian” should live. It makes you more comfortable with the messes – messy situations, messy people, messy relationships - because you’ve learned that that’s what life is, instead of always demanding perfection and smooth sailing and that everyone pleases you. It makes your heart hurt for those who hurt and your arms desire to reach out for them, touching them with the same grace and love and forgiveness that the Lord has given you. And these are wonderful by-products of pain. The good that comes from the ugly.
It hurts to be broken.
It’s being vulnerable, taking a risk with our hearts . . . sometimes winning, sometimes losing.
It’s leaning on others and opening ourselves up to them, to trust, to hope. Sometimes finding support and acceptance and help, being caught before we hit the ground. And sometimes being let down and battered, falling flat on our faces when others pull back and fail to catch us.
Sometimes, it’s just a minor annoyance, a pain that we absorb with relative ease, and we realize we are better for it. And sometimes, it’s more pain than we can bear, feeling like we’ll never be whole again, wanting to curl up in a ball in a dark, lonely corner and fall asleep forever.
Being broken hurts!
And it leaves us different, changed. It leaves tear-stains on our cheeks. Scars on our hearts. Bruises on our souls. A limp in our walk.
Does anyone care? Is God listening? Does He see us cry? Will He make it all better? When will the pain end? When will I go from just existing to really living? Is this all there is?
Being vulnerable is risky. Being broken hurts.
No matter how hard you try and how much you hope, life can be mean and unfair and unstable. It can leave you exhausted and discouraged and depressed, unable to want to care anymore or to try anymore or to hope anymore.
It can make you feel like you stepped into a giant balloon that you pulled up over your head and tied off . . . and then someone sucked all the air out of it, causing it to seal tightly around your whole body . . . and you can’t breathe . . . and you begin to panic . . . and you start to punch and kick and pull at the balloon that is covering your face to get it away from your mouth so that you can breathe . . . but no matter how much you punch and kick and pull at the balloon, the balloon moves with you, sealed against your skin, holding you tightly inside . . . you can’t get it off because it’s become like a “second skin” . . . you can’t breathe, you can’t get away from it . . . all you can do is accept it, stop fighting it.
It can make you want to claw your way out of your own skin.
Or to run and run and run as fast and as far as you can in any direction, just to get away from where you are. Maybe even to get away from yourself.
Life hurts. Being broken hurts. And the scars that are left on your heart and your soul are ugly and tender to touch. And they never really go away.
But . . . they make us more human. They make us real. The pain lets us know that we are alive. That we need God.
Life will kick us all down at some point. It will stomp on our heads and repeatedly kick us in the sides while we lie on the ground in a battered heap, crying and bleeding and hurting.
And we will have a decision to make:
- Let the brokenness harden us more, making our self-protective walls stronger and thicker, to keep out God and others, to protect us from vulnerability and pain.
- Or let the brokenness soften the walls around our heart so that God’s love can break through and flood it with His healing . . . so that we learn that it’s okay to be human, to be more real with God and others, to let them see our pain and brokenness . . . so that we can see and admit our need for grace and mercy and forgiveness and love and compassion, the very things that God offers us so freely . . . and so that our heart becomes soft enough that it expands, filling with grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, and compassion for others, too, for those who hurt and are broken and who mess up, just like we do.
Being broken either makes us more phony or it makes us more real. It either makes us “different from others” or it makes us more like everyone else - the vulnerable, the hurting, the human. It either fills us with indignation and bitterness or with humility and compassion. It either makes us shut down more or it brings us to life more.
I choose real. I choose human. I choose humility and compassion. I choose life.
It’s okay to be broken!
I do not regret the things that have broken me.
In suffering, I have learned to let go of control and idols and wayward priorities and the kind of “trust in God” that comes only when I am getting my way. I have learned the difference between gratitude and entitlement, between humble faith and presumptuousness. I have learned that it’s okay to not know the answers when you know the One who does, to be weak when you are leaning on the One who is strong, to fall apart in front on the One who can put you back together. I have learned to trust Him, even in the dark. To cling during the heartbreak and long trials. To praise in the pain, instead of just when things are good and I am getting what I want. To be as content as possible in the “lack of . . .” and in the unfulfilled dreams because I know that this life isn’t all there is, the best is yet to come. You can’t learn these precious lessons during the easy times but only in the heartbreaking trials.
In suffering alone can you learn to say and really mean, “I need You. I trust You, no matter what. Your will be done. It is well with my soul because I know You are there and You are walking with me and You are going to work it out somehow, even if I never see how until eternity. My hope is in You. My joy is in You. Whether You give or take away, blessed be Your name!”
In fact, I have learned how stable He is only by going through times when everything else that I trusted in was shaken to pieces, when all my efforts and dreams and hopes have failed, when I have been forced to learn to simply sit at His feet in exhausted silence instead of trying to force my will on life, to “be still and know He is God,” even in the storms. Because nothing else but Him is worth planting my feet on. Nothing else really matters but His presence and comfort and grace.
Going through the world-shaking, sky-falling, self-confidence-crushing times has taught me to listen instead of talk, to follow instead of lead, to transparently and humbly cry out to Him, to desperately reach for Him, to need Him. Not just need His gifts or His help . . . but need Him. Just more of Him.
Even when my world is shaking and the sky falls down around me, my feet are planted on a sure, stable Foundation. The only sure, stable Foundation there is.
I do not regret the things that have broken me.
They are the things that have humbled me. That have made me feel more deeply and purely. Made me reprioritize. Made me stronger in invisible ways. Made me learn that life is okay when bitter is mixed with the sweet. Made me more sensitive to others. Made me learn what trust really is and what it really isn’t. Made me reach more for my God. Made me more human, more real. Made me know that I am alive and that pain can lead to good things and that life is still worth living and that eternity is right around the corner.
Someday, He will welcome me Home and make all things right again. And I’ll see the beauty that was wrought from the heartache, the perfect that was created from the broken. And I’ll find eternal rest and joy for my soul.
And I can live with broken until then.
For it’s made me recognize just how weak and needy I am, how I am just like everyone else. It has made me want to make a difference for others. To extend grace and compassion and forgiveness because I know that I live in such daily need of it, too.
A heart that has never been broken - a soul that has never been humbled – cannot really understand its daily, desperate need for the Lord and cannot feel genuine empathy and compassion for others when they hurt.
I do not regret the things that have broken me.
I just really look forward to finally seeing the beautiful things that God will make from the broken pieces. Someday!
And until then . . . Life is good (even when it’s not) because God is good. A good, loving, gracious, merciful, forgiving, compassionate God. Life is worth living because God knows how to weave it all into good in the end.
Hang in there! It might not be easy . . . but it will be worth it! Because God is good. Always!
Practical Advice for Getting Through the Broken Times (in no particular order)
1. Be gracious toward yourself!
You make sense. You are not a hopeless mess. You are human. And humans hurt. Humans break sometimes. And we all need compassion and grace and understanding and love and forgiveness – for ourselves and for others. So do not feel abnormal, like there is something wrong with you. We are all broken in some way. (It’s just that some people don’t know it yet.) None of us really knows what we are doing in life. (Although some won’t admit it.) We are all just trying to make it through as best we can. So you are in good company – in the company of many other hurting, broken, clueless, weak, needy people. The very kind of people that God holds closest.
2. Simplify! And go slow! And learn to “be still.”
Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
When the stress hits hard and you are losing your ability to stand, simplify everything. Your schedule, your responsibilities, your possessions, maybe even your relationships. Say “no” to things, and don’t feel guilty about it. And do not worry about what anyone else thinks or what their expectations are of you, just do the very simplest things that you need to do each day. Wake up, make food, hug your family, pray, read your Bible, and give yourself permission to slow down and rest.
Above all, quiet your spirit before the Lord. Learn to simply “be still” before Him, knowing that He is God and that you don’t have to be. He can handle what you can’t. He can fix what is broken. He can carry you through when you don’t have the strength anymore.
Sometimes in life, we need to stop with our “To Do” lists. We need to stop trying to impress the Lord with how much we accomplish and with how grand we can make our prayers sound and with how long we pray and with how many church activities we are involved in, etc. And we need to simply be silent and needy and weak and broken at the feet of the Lord.
My New Year’s resolution this year was a very simple one: “Be still” in the Lord. Stop trying to make my life what I think it should be. Stop trying to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. Start learning to relax and to trust that God will manage all the things I can’t. Let Him be God, while I simply fall at His feet, exhausted and in need of a rest from all my worries.
My goal – the goal that I believe the Lord wants for me - is just to begin to want to live again. To enjoy living. To enjoy His presence. To live the life I have and let that be good enough for me, trials and all. And for me, that includes …
- Being kind to myself.
- Replacing negative, soul-killing thoughts with godly, soul-healing thoughts.
- Replacing Satan’s lies with God’s truth.
- Finding the good in the bad, the beautiful in the messy.
- Remembering that this life isn’t all there is, that the best is yet to come, that everything we do is working towards eternity, that someday God will make everything right again - and so I can put my hope in Him when I can’t put it in this life. (Colossians 3:2: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”)
- Slowing my mind and body down and giving myself the time and space to breathe, even just by sitting on the yard swing with a good book and a cup of coffee on the quiet, warm mornings, watching the birds and feeling the sun on my face, while the kids sleep in.
- Doing the daily things I normally do but doing them with conviction and purpose: washing dishes, making meals, schooling the kids, cleaning up piles of paper, being neighborly and friendly towards others – knowing that I am only responsible for those jobs today, the ones that come across my path. And God can handle the rest, all the jobs I can’t do.
- Trying to rediscover the joy and healing effects of gardening - when what I’d really rather do is give it all up because gardening involves the idea that I should be allowed to have something to enjoy, to find pleasure in, to hope for. And I’d really rather deny myself all pleasures and joys and hope because then I won’t get my expectations up and I won’t get crushed over and over again when it all inevitably falls apart. The garden used to be my favorite place to meet with the Lord, to enjoy His presence. But now I feel rather lifeless in it, like there is no point in enjoying it because it’s bound to get ruined anyway. Whereas I used to be passionate about it, now I am half-hearted and barely there. And so I am going to garden again this year, not because I want to but because I need to. I need to get back up on that horse again, to prove to myself that despair and discouragement and hopelessness haven’t gotten the best of me, that there is still a little ember of joy and hope waiting to be fanned into a flame, that I can still “find God” there.
Honestly, right now, my goal is really just “learn to live again,” with the hope that “enjoying life” will follow.
When you get to a bad point - when you feel like retreating from life and like you can barely stand – slow way down and do nothing more than those super-simple daily things. And consider it a victory. A huge victory. A step in the right direction.
(And stay away from the news and from soul-killing people. You don’t need that right now. And stay away from social media if it causes stress.)
3. Know your triggers and the times when you are most vulnerable.
What things or thoughts will inevitably send you into depression or anxiety? Which events, objects, people, times of day, memories, etc. trigger those negative feelings in you? Figuring this out allows you to take control of your thoughts and feelings instead of having them take control of you. It helps protect you from being blindsided by them. You’ll know what starts them and when you are at your most vulnerable, and so you can be prepared for it and take precautions against it, if possible.
For me, even since the panic attack, I cannot read too many news stories. I might check the weather or world headlines, but I stay far away from the tragic stories. I won’t even let my eyes wander over the headlines if I sense that it’s a bad story. In fact, I switched our internet homepage from a news page full of headlines (most of which are depressing) to something totally mundane. And I will start saying “DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT … DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT” to drown out a bad news story that has popped up on the TV news while I rush over to turn it off. I don’t need to have any less faith in the world and in people than I already do. I don’t need my joy and hope crushed any more than it already is. I don’t need to bear the world’s problems on my shoulders right now. I just need to stay away from it all for awhile.
And I am aware that morning-times and lying in bed at night are the hardest times for me, when I am most vulnerable to the nasty, hopeless, anxious voices in my head (not real voices, just my own thoughts – just clarifying). Last summer (the "panic attack summer") broke me so bad that I felt really fragile for a really long time. Like I could break into a thousand pieces with one more tiny trial. Like my mind could implode and I would have to be committed to some mental hospital. I still do feel fragile, but I’m getting stronger.
But for me, I know that I need to be very careful during these times when I am at my weakest and most open to spiritual attacks. On the bad days, I can often feel the anxiety hitting me before I even get out of bed. I don’t know where it comes from or what triggers it. Maybe it’s just knowing that I have to wake up and face another day?
And I have learned that the best thing I can do, especially on those days, is to go really slowly in the morning, to just linger over my cup of coffee, reading the Bible or a godly book out on my backyard swing, watching the birds fly to and from the birdfeeders.
Thankfully, as a stay-at-home mom, I have the luxury of easing into my mornings. Because at this point, it’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity. And I don’t feel guilty about it. There are enough hours in the rest of the day to get the other necessary things done.
And at night when I am lying in bed is the time when my mind races the most with the things that I feel I am failing at, with all the worries I have about life and health and my family, with all the negative things I have ever thought about myself and others and the world, and with how much I just want Jesus to come back again and end it all. And so I have “banned” myself from thinking about deep things at night. If I have a real problem or concern, it will still be there in the morning. So I don’t need to work myself up at night over it - when can’t I solve it or do anything about it or even think clearly anyway. And so I put it off until the next day because I know that I will be thinking better and clearer then, after I have had my coffee and done my Bible reading. (If you need to, pray at night that the Lord helps your mind sort it out and that He guides you into wisdom, even as you sleep. Your body might be asleep, but your mind isn’t.)
I have often found that problems and concerns have a way of getting resolved satisfactorily even when I haven’t spent the night anxiously dwelling on it, wringing my hands and working myself into a frenzy over it. Another part of “being still” in the Lord – trusting that if we commit our concerns to Him, He can and will handle them. Oh! the stress I cause myself, thinking that it’s all up to me!
4. Take care of yourself!
Do what you need to do to care for yourself, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. And if that means counseling or medication or taking a vacation or spending time alone or cutting off contact with people that make things worse, then do it. And don’t feel that you have to please anyone else or to explain yourself and justify yourself to the nay-sayers and the doubters and the “holier-than-thou-ers.”
[Although, if you are married, try to make sure to “stay on the same team” as your spouse and to include them and work through it with them, if it is safe and proper to do so. And be willing to listen to the godly advice and insight of those who love you, who are closest to you, and who have your best interest at heart. They might be able to see something that you don’t see but need to. And they might be able to offer you invaluable help.]
After last summer, I found that talking to people was too stressful, so I basically stopped doing it for a while. For a time, I simply avoided people, except for the one person I could talk to openly and honestly. And instead, I retreated to my bedroom nightly – a couple hours every night - to watch my favorite show, Gilmore Girls. I know it will make me sound pathetic, but I needed that time. I needed my show. I needed to give myself permission to hide for awhile, to take care of myself, to do nothing more than chill out and let my mind relax, getting lost in the safe, predictable “Gilmore Girl” world that I knew so well.
5. Get outside of your house and outside of your head. Do something relaxing and soul-refreshing. Look for ways to help others.
There is a time for hiding … and then comes a time for getting back out there. For engaging in the world. Don’t sit all alone at home in the dark all the time. Open your curtains and let the light in. Take a walk. Go to the store. Smile at others and say “Hi.” Do not close yourself off from the world; it will only make you feel less human and more helpless and hopeless. You need to remember that there is still life going on outside your door and that there is much good out there and much good that you can do in the world. In fact, some of the best “good” you can do is to use your pain to help others. So do not close yourself off from the world. Find ways to engage, to help, to reach out, to let others help you.
Do things that relax you and that refresh you. Find a good hobby. Keep busy in some way (except in those times when you really just need to be still), even just making sure you do what you are supposed to do each day. It does no good to sit around and mope and let things fall apart around you. Clean something, take a class in something, cook something, exercise, garden. Do something to better yourself and your surroundings and your life. It won’t make everything all better, but you will feel a little better to see that you accomplished something instead of just sitting there and moping.
I found that taking walks, painting, watching and feeding the birds in the backyard, baking pies, gardening, and taking pictures of the garden (and posting it on another blog) are very relaxing to me. And writing about my journey and my struggles on my blogs is very healing to me. I don’t have many people to talk to, and so I write it all out. This gets me out of my own head, where I tend to dwell on all the bad things. I write out all the bad thoughts and feelings, and then I write about all the wonderful, spiritual lessons I have learned from it. I “preach to myself,” reminding myself of God’s faithfulness and goodness and love and how He turns ugly things into beautiful things and messes into masterpieces. I do this all on my blogs so that I can see where the journey has taken me and the good that has come out of it, instead of just dwelling on the bad. And that gives me hope.
6. Hold things loosely – life, possessions, and people.
Life: I’ve learned that it’s really stressful to try to hold onto everything tightly, to maintain careful control over everything, feeling like I need to manage everything and to do it all just right. I guess that I think if I can just keep everything under control then I won’t get hurt, that I can ward off disaster and heartache and trials. And yet, the stress of trying to control everything – to keep all the plates spinning in the air - is exhausting. And it hurts me. And the problems keep coming anyway.
We choke on life when we bite off more than we can chew, more than our mouths were ever meant to hold.
And carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders crushes the life out of us. Our shoulders just aren’t big enough for that.
But God’s shoulders are.
I have learned that the safest, most secure place is not to be the one in charge of everything, but to be the one who is lying helpless and clueless at the feet of God, trusting that He will hold everything together and work everything out. He leads, we follow. He holds the future; we only have to worry about our responsibility to live today, in obedience and for His glory.
Our job is not to “do it all” or to “control life and hold the future.” Our job is just to do the daily jobs that He gives us, faithfully, for His glory, trusting that He will work it all out and guide us to where we need to be and use it for our good and for His glory. We put on ourselves way more burdens than what He’s asked us to carry. And we hold onto these responsibilities tightly, as though He needs us to hold onto them, to manage them . . . or else it will all fall apart and it will be all our fault.
But sometimes, the wisest thing we can do is to realize that they were never our responsibilities to begin with, to drop the burdens at His feet and to fall down next to Him, exhausted and needy for God’s care and presence. He is so much bigger and wiser and stronger and more capable than we are. And that’s a good thing. And He is with us through it all, working for our best and for His glory. He doesn’t need us to know what to do; He just needs us to need Him. And knowing this will help us loosen our grip on everything. It helps us put down the responsibilities and the burdens that were never ours to carry in the first place.
Possessions: “Hold things loosely” also applies to possessions. We tend to hold our possessions really tightly when we find our self-worth in them, when we need them to complete us, to define us, to make us important.
But we need to remember that everything that we have is a gift from God. It all essentially belongs to Him, but it’s on loan to us to use for His purposes and His glory. The gifts are meant to be enjoyed and shared, not to hoard or to control us. We need to own them, not let them own us. And we need to make sure that we are worshipping the Giver of the gifts, not the gifts themselves.
Hold your possessions loosely. They do not define you. They do not complete you or make you important. They are things that will burn up in the end or that can be taken from you in an instant, in one random natural disaster. Find your worth in the Lord. Build up your treasures in eternity. Work for the things that really matter and that will last.
People: When I say “hold people loosely,” I know that it’s not an easy thing to do and that it can be greatly misunderstood. I am not saying don’t cherish people or don’t fight for the relationships that matter. I am saying that you cannot control other people. You cannot make them do what you want them to do or make them stay if they are going to go. You should not be manipulating them to fulfill you. You should not let your view of yourself be defined by other people or let your joy hinge on them. You should not put unfair expectations on others, needing them to be a certain way or do certain things to make you feel secure and valuable and worthy. And you should not put the unfair expectation on yourself that if you can just do everything just right, then they will never leave you or let you down.
Other people are human, too. We will all make mistakes and disagree with others and let others down at times. And if we let our self-view be defined by other people and if we let them determine our worth, we will always feel unsure and at risk.
Our self-worth and view of ourselves needs to come from the Lord, to be defined by Him. Our security needs to be found in Him. He is the sure, stable foundation that we can plant our feet firmly on. Not on other people.
Yes, cherish them, love them, enjoy the relationships. But do not hold onto them so tightly or put so much of your “worth” in them that you are crushed when they let you down and are unable to extend to them forgiveness and grace and compassion. We are hurt most by those whom we let define us and our worth the most, whom we hold too tightly because we “need” them to make us feel good about ourselves.
On a different note, do not put the expectation on yourself that it is your responsibility to fix everyone else or to make them make the decisions that are best for them. Sometimes, in our love for others, we want so badly to protect them from themselves, to force them to do what we know is best for them, to keep them from making mistakes and from feeling pain and from facing the consequences of their actions. But we cannot control others. We cannot help those who don’t want to be helped (other than by praying for them and loving them and being there for them). We cannot live their lives for them.
But we can trust that God holds them in His hands, that He loves them even more than we do. And so sometimes, when it comes to loved ones who are making bad decisions and when we’ve done all we can to help them, we need to release them into God’s hands. Into His powerful, capable, wise, loving hands.
Ultimately and above all, that person is a child of God’s. He is their Father and Creator. He loves them more than we ever could, more purely than we ever could. He loved them enough to send Jesus to die for them. And we can trust that even if things don’t go as we want them to go, He will do all He can to guide and protect them, to bring them back to where He wants them to be, and to help them on their journey. And He can use whatever bad and pain there is for good. Hold those you love loosely enough that you allow God to take His rightful place in their lives and that you do not assume responsibility for them that isn’t yours to assume.
Hold life, your possessions, and other people loosely, trusting that God is ultimately in control of everything, that He determines when to give and when to take away (and that He has His reasons), that you are valuable because He loves you, that He loves others more than you ever could, and that the gifts He has given to you are to be enjoyed and shared and used for His purposes and glory.
Does this make sense? I hope so. I know it’s a bit rambly.
7. Read your Bible.
Learn more about the big picture, instead of just focusing on the place you are at in life right now. Learn about who God is and who we are, about how He deals with us and responds to us and loves us and forgives us. Memorize Scripture and write it around your house so that you can recall it during a moment of need, when you sense an attack from the enemy or when your mind starts going to dark places. Learn biblical truths – about God’s love and faithfulness and grace and all-sufficiency and forgiveness - so that you can preach these truths back to yourself, so that you can counter the attacks of the enemy and of your own broken mind.
When we are in pain, we tend to get tunnel-vision, to view God only through the lens of our pain and our confusion about why He’s not getting us out of the pain. But He is so much bigger than that. And we cannot base our view of Him on what is going on in our particular circumstances right now. Life and faith and God are so much bigger than that. Immerse yourself in the Word, with the intention of getting to know God better, not just trying to get what you want from Him or figuring out what else you can do to please Him enough so that He will finally give you want you want.
8. Pray honestly. Get real with yourself and with the Lord. And let your pain draw you closer to the Lord, purify your trust in Him, and mature your faith.
This is possible. Doubts and pain don’t have to destroy our faith in God. They can actually make it stronger and more real. But only if we are willing to be honest about it all with Him (and with ourselves). Bring everything to Him – all the ugly, displeasing thoughts, all the doubts and fears. Cry out to Him. Be honest with Him about everything inside of you.
What is it that we say when we are going through a hard time and people ask us if we are okay? We say something like, “I’m trying to be okay.” But I think sometimes trying so hard to be okay makes us not okay. It makes us worse. But to let ourselves admit that we are not okay and to stop trying so hard to be okay might just be the best way to be okay.
You don’t have to fix it all. You don’t have to know what to do. You don’t have to do it all on your own. You are not alone in your trials and your pain. He is always waiting for us to cry out to Him, to include Him in our trials, in our need, in our pain, to let Him into the broken parts of our heart so that He can heal them. But you have to be honest. To open up the doors that you have closed off in your heart.
Stop feeling like you have to polish yourself up first before He will accept you or help you or give you His attention and love and forgiveness and grace. That’s not how He works. That’s not how grace and forgiveness and love work, gifts that are free and already available to us and that can never be earned but can only be accepted.
He doesn’t want our “good Christian” performance or to see our “good Christian” mask. That’s not what He wants. He didn’t come to die on the cross so that we could impress Him with our proper speech and proper attitude and proper behavior, while hiding the ugly, real, broken, hurting stuff. He died so that we could live fully and have a relationship with Him.
And a genuine relationship requires genuineness. Living fully requires living honestly.
Bring it all to Him, honestly, openly, humbly. He can handle it. He knows it all already; He’s just waiting for us to finally admit it all. To take off the mask and get real. To learn how much we really need Him and how much He really loves us, even as the broken, hurting mess that we are. To finally let Him love us and care for us and comfort us and be our strength when we are weak.
As you open up more and more of those closed-off parts of your heart, you will experience more and more of His healing, of His goodness and faithfulness. And your trust in Him will grow, even if life never becomes what you want it to be and you don’t get the answers you expected.
Pray honestly. Cry out to Him. Be real with Him about your pain and your doubts and your fears and your weakness. Do not try to mask it or to polish yourself up. That will only prolong the pain. And it will make it worse because the harder you try to keep the pain down, the more it will build up inside of you and the more exhausted you’ll get trying to keep it down.
Just be real and raw and honest. That’s a major part of humility.
This is something that was very hard for me to learn because I was the kind of person who tried to do everything right, who tried to please God with my good behavior and good attitude and good prayers. I didn’t feel worthy of love, of attention. I had to earn it. To be worthy of it.
I thought that I was being what a Christian should be, that I was pleasing to Him. But I didn’t realize that I was really just holding back a part of myself, the most real parts, the hurting parts. I had wrapped up the tiny broken pieces of my heart and hid them in a corner of my soul and tried to convince God that I was capable and whole and responsible and happy. Just like “good Christians” are supposed to be.
But I wasn’t. I was hurting really badly.
And the problem was that I didn’t know it was acceptable – that is was good and healing – to be honest with Him. To let Him see the ugly parts of myself, the broken pieces. To take off the “good Christian” mask that I wore all the time (that I kept nice and shiny and polished) and to let Him see the real me, the me that couldn’t do it all, that didn’t know what to do anymore, that was weak and falling apart and desperately needy.
But it was precisely in the weakness and the falling apart and the desperate neediness that I learned that He never asked me to be polished and shiny and happy and capable and pleasing. He wanted me to be me, to be real, to need Him.
Yes, He wants us to be obedient, to seek righteousness, but not by hiding the real, hurting, messy parts of ourselves, as though we are protecting Him from the truth or can “earn” His grace and love. He wants us to grow in our faith and in our character, through Truth. The truth will set us free and make us whole and heal us. Never hide the truth from Him. He knows it all already, He’s just waiting for us to get tired enough of wearing that “good Christian mask” that we admit the truth to ourselves and to Him, that we finally open the door of our hearts – the parts that we have closed off to protect ourselves from being hurt again – and let Him into our lives and our broken hearts, to heal us and comfort us and love us.
When it comes to dealing with anxiety or depression or fear or whatever, I have found it helpful to pray honestly like this: “Lord, I am really feeling anxious and weak right now. I don’t know what to do and I’m scared. And so right now, I ask that You would take this anxiety and fear from me and give me Your peace and joy instead.”
Make a trade with Him, out loud. His peace for your fear. Blunt honesty is sometimes the most healing, helpful way to pray.
James 4:8: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Psalm 86:1-6: “Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. . . . Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long. Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you. Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.”
Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
[And also, as part of prayer, ask Him if there is anything you need to do to make things right or better. Ask Him what your responsibility is. Ask Him for wisdom, to guide you down the right path, and to open and close the doors as He sees fit. And then trust Him to answer these prayers and be willing to wait for His way and His timing. And know that He often moves a lot slower than we want Him to. But His pace is always the right timing. His job is to work it all together for good; your job is to “be still and know that He is God.”]
And honestly, there might be times when you can’t pray. And that’s okay, too.
I have recently gotten to a point like this - where I can’t seem to pray and I wouldn’t even know what to pray for because I don’t know what I need anymore or what should happen. I don’t know how to make things better. And, frankly, I am a bit afraid to pray for anything specific because it seems like the things I pray about don’t happen or they get attacked. I am a bit stumped - paralyzed by all the stuff that’s gone on. In a way, I am too confused and too tired to pray.
And like Job falling down on the ground for seven days of silence after all the tragedies hit him, all I want to do now (spiritually) is sit before the Lord in silence, in brokenness. I don’t want anything else and I don’t want to do anything else, other than just be broken before Him for a time. I want to be still in my spirit. Quiet. To let my silence and my brokenness be my prayer.
Except for prayers for others and those “immediate concern or need” prayers, I want to pray nothing other than “Thank You for all the blessings You have already given us. Help me be content with life as it is. Give me only what You want me to have because I don’t know what I need anymore. Help me do my best in my daily job and to not worry about anything else. And regardless of the trials, I believe in You, I trust You, and I love You.”
I have tried and tried to make things better . . . and I have failed. And I am tired of trying. I am tired of thinking that I know what I need. I am tired of wanting. I am tired of waiting for things to be better. I am tired of being tired. I’m just . . . tired!
And so for now, I am going to simply sit in “Job silence” for a while - until it’s time to get up, dust myself off, roll up my sleeves, and get back to it. There will be a time for that eventually. But now is the time for spiritual silence and stillness, for doing nothing more than counting blessings and praising God and learning to say, “It is well with my soul!”
You know, I used to get all upset with myself when I got into these funks, like there’s something majorly wrong with me and like I have to get out of it as soon as possible. And in some ways, my efforts to claw my way out of the “depression” only make it worse, making me feel like more of a failure.
But maybe it doesn’t need to be so distressing. Maybe it’s just a part of life, of being human.
So I’m going to do it differently this time. I am not going to be distressed that I am in a funk, that I can barely even find the words to pray. I’m not going to worry about being some super-human, spiritual giant who can “fix it all,” who is a shining example of what a “good Christian” is supposed to be, facing the trials with a chipper attitude and a smile on my face. I’m just going to be okay with being human. I’m just going to let this funk happen and let it pass, waiting at the feet of God until it does.
And even though it might look like I am being a “bad Christian who isn’t pleasing enough to the Lord or doing enough for Him,” I think it’s okay. I think there are times when wallowing in the dust is all we can do. But as long as we are wallowing in the dust at the feet of God, it’s okay. And I’m okay. Because I trust in a good, loving, sovereign God.
During last summer when I broke, when I couldn’t pray at all, I found immense comfort in two things: letting a friend and my husband pray for me because I didn’t have enough strength or hope to pray for myself, and letting the words of some good Christian music be my prayers.
Last summer, I had to force myself to get out of bed and to go out into the garden. And every time I did, I had tears in my eyes and earbuds in my ears, always listening to my favorite band, The City Harmonic. I needed them. I needed their hope-filled words to be my prayers because I couldn’t pray anymore. I would let the painfully-beautiful truths in their songs fill my heart and mind, offering them to God as my prayers because I didn’t have any words of my own.
And I think that’s okay. When we are at our lowest and we don’t want to try anymore and we are sick of trying to be that “super Christian” and we are incapable of engaging in life anymore, it’s okay to let others pray for you. It’s okay to have no words of your own, to be silent before the Lord.
Sometimes silence – heart-breaking, confused, distraught silence, when we are lying helpless at the feet of God, when all we can pray is “God! Oh, God!” – is the purest form of prayer.
It’s in the silence that we learn to “be” with God, to feel His presence more, to listen more, to stop trying so hard in our own strength. Let the silence teach you to “be,” instead of “do.” Let it teach you to listen, instead of talk.
“But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)
“Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (Ecc. 5:2)
9. Pray Scripture back to God
Another thing to try when you don’t have any words of your own is to pray Scripture back to God. It’s taking the promises that He has given us in His Word and praying them to Him, basically telling Him which promises we are grabbing onto and trusting Him to fulfill.
I have tried just about everything else I can think of to get through my anxiety (except medication and therapy, which isn’t out of the question). But sometimes, the things I have tried only seem to help on a surface-y level. And I can tell that my soul needs something more. And so what I did was look up the verses that speak the most to me and put them into prayers. And when anxiety and discouragement hit hard, I will pray these back to God. Even just reading His promises is comforting to my soul. Here are some of the ones I have written up so far. I hope they help you, if you need it.
Prayer for when Anxiety Strikes
Psalm 55:22: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”
Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Lord, You say that we can present to You all of our concerns and needs. You say that You will never let us fall, that You will sustain us, and that we will be filled with Your peace, if we are praying with thanksgiving. Well, I am pouring out my fears and doubts and concerns right now to You. I am acknowledging how weak I am and that I need You. I am casting my cares on You because they are too heavy for me. They are too much for me to handle and I need Your help. I need to put them in Your hands and let go of them because the weight is crushing me.
And I thank You for all of Your faithfulness in the past, how You have always helped me through the hard times and have never left me alone. I thank You that You can carry the things that I can’t. Now Lord, please, I need Your peace, the kind of peace that protects my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. I feel scared and vulnerable and fragile and so broken. I have no peace of my own. I need Yours, please. Thank You for being a God that truly cares about us and that won’t leave us alone in our pain. Thank You for being faithful. Thank You for being there, even if no one else is.
Prayer for Peace in the Face of Fear
2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.”
Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
2 Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of sound-mind.”
Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep in perfect peace he whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
Lord, I feel completely hard pressed, crushed, persecuted and struck down. Life is bearing down on me and it’s too much for me to handle alone. I need You. Every moment. I need You to keep me from going under all the way. I feel so broken, and I can’t fix it on my own. Please, help me.
You say that You will be my strength, that I don’t have to be afraid because You are with me. Well, I need to feel Your presence now. I need to sense that You are with me. Before I crack completely. Lord, this spirit of fear that I am living under is not from You. I know that. But my own mind has become an enemy. Please, Lord, help me. You give us a spirit of power, of love, and of sound mind. And I need that power and love and sound mind right now.
I am making a trade with You, Lord; I am giving You the fear and anxiety and unanswered questions, and I am asking You to give me Your peace and power and love and sound mind. I cannot seem to make my mind do what I want it to do. But Your Word says that You will keep in perfect peace the person whose mind is set on You. I can’t keep myself in peace; I need You to do it for me. Help me to set my mind on You. Help me to block out the enemy’s whispers. Help me to hear only You, to trust in You, and to feel that peace.
Lord, I need You!
Prayer for the Brokenhearted and Exhausted
Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
1 Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Lord, I am crying out to You right now. I am brokenhearted and I need You. You promise to save those who are crushed in spirit. You promise to lighten my burden and to help my soul find rest. I need that right now. Please, help me find rest for my soul.
I am falling down before You right now, weary and exhausted. I cannot keep carrying the burdens I have been carrying, and so I am putting them down at Your feet right now. Help me learn what Your yoke is - the jobs and responsibilities that You want for me, not the more burdensome ones that I place on myself. Help me to let go of my heavier and harder yoke so that I can take up Your lighter and easier one instead.
In fact, I realize now that even the depression and anxiety and fear are burdens that I have been carrying around, and they have become too crushing for me to carry anymore. And so I am putting them down now. I cannot bear those burdens any longer and I am giving them to You.
Lord, I admit that I have been trying to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, but it’s too much for me. And it never was my responsibility to begin with. And so I am putting the responsibilities that are not mine back into Your hands and asking You to take care of the things that I can’t take care of. I am humbling myself before You, admitting that You are God and I am not. I cannot keep trying to do Your job. And please forgive me for doing so.
I cannot carry the world’s problems or anyone else’s problems. I cannot even carry my own problems by myself. I am not big enough or strong enough. But You are. And so I am trusting in Your wisdom and Your capable hands to carry all these problems and to help me through mine. I am getting off of Your throne and humbling myself at Your feet and asking You to lift me up again when it is time.
I trust that You really do care for me and that You can handle my concerns, and so I give You all of my anxieties right now and ask You to fix them in Your time and in Your way. (Maybe list each anxiety right now, on paper or out loud.) Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness and for being able to handle the things that I can’t, for promising to work good things out of all the messes in life. Please, just put Your arms around me right now and give me Your comfort. Tell me that You are with me and that it will be okay.
Prayer about Resting in the Lord
Matthew 6:25-34: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? . . . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Psalm 46:1-3, 10: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. . . . Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 37:7: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”
Psalm 25:9: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way…”
Lord, You know how easily I give in to worry, to the concerns of life, the fear of the unknown, the fear that I will make too many mistakes and mess everything up and be too weak to handle everything. You know that I can make myself crazy with fear. But it’s hurting me. It’s exhausting me. It’s crushing me. And I can’t do it anymore. And I know that You never wanted me to live that kind of fearful life anyway. I have been choosing it because I have let myself believe that it all rests on me, that I am alone in this and that I have to be big enough and strong enough and wise enough.
But I don’t have to be “enough” . . . because You are. I don’t have to listen to Satan every time he says, “You see that burden right there? You better pick it up. There’s another one. It’s yours, so pick that one up, too. Have you thought about this concern and this other fear? They’re your responsibilities, too, so you better carry them because no one else will.”
Satan lies. And I have been listening to him for too long. I have been listening to the one who wants to discourage me and exhaust me and crush me. And most of the burdens that I have been carrying around were never my burdens, my concerns, or my responsibilities to begin with.
You don’t ask me to take responsibility for most of the things that I worry about. The only things that You really ask of me are that I live humbly and obediently before You, that I do the daily jobs that You have given me and let You take care of everything else, that I bring You glory in whatever I do, and that I rest in You and trust in You. Because You are God and I am not! You are the One who is big enough and strong enough and wise enough. And I am not alone in this world. You are there, carrying me and making things work out right, if only I will trust You enough to let You do it.
And so I am throwing myself upon You right now. I am going to lean on You now, instead of on myself. I am going to trust in You to make my path straight, to handle the things I can’t handle, to know the things I can’t know, to work things out for the best, and to carry my concerns and my fears. Even when it feels like the earth is falling apart, You are still there. You are still in control and holding it all together and will make everything work out for good.
I don’t have to always know what to do . . . because I know You. And You will guide me in the right path and take care of me and handle my concerns and keep me safe and bring me peace. My focus today is not to fix anything or make everything okay; it’s just to be still in You and to know that You are God. You are my refuge and my strength.
[Now find your own verses and put them into prayers and pray out loud. It helps your soul in a deep, supernatural, mysterious way.]
Going through painful trials often gives us tunnel-vision. All we see is how everyone else is treating us wrong and how life is being unfair. And we make the pain worse by dwelling on all the ways we’ve been cheated in life. We catalog our hurts, the ways people let us down, the ways they treated us poorly, the ways God let us down, etc. And we grow bitter and more discouraged and more closed-off.
Bitterness is a poison. And it will slowly destroy our relationship with others, our faith, our emotional health, and our physical well-being. Good never comes from carrying around giant chains of unforgiveness and bitterness. It only weighs us down, making our futures as pathetic as we think our pasts were. And it deprives us of the kind of joyful, content life and the relationship with God that we were meant to have.
If you catch yourself dwelling on all the ways life has been unfair, pray and ask God to reveal if there is any heart attitude that you need to deal with and ask forgiveness for. Is there anyone you need to forgive? Any grudge you need to let go of? Any wrong that you need to place in the Lord’s hands, for Him to deal with? Any heartbreak that you haven’t dealt with yet? Anything you are beating yourself up about?
Sometimes, the best way to heal and to deal with pain is to forgive, to let go of bitterness, to ask forgiveness, to make the first move, to forgive ourselves, to accept God’s forgiveness and “go and sin no more.”
Mark 11:25: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Basically, if you won’t forgive others then you don’t really understand the nature of forgiveness and God’s forgiveness toward you. If you don’t really understand what forgiveness is and you haven’t learned who you really are before Him then you won’t be able to grasp God’s grace or share it with others. You can’t give to others what you yourself never really got.
If we need to forgive others but can’t, we should ask for God’s help in doing it. He will help us do what we cannot do on our own. But be prepared that it might mean that God has to hold a mirror up to us first so that we can get a good, long, accurate view of who we are before Him. And then when we understand who we are and what He has done for us – His grace, love, and forgiveness despite our sinfulness and brokenness – we will be able to extend it to others.
Somewhere along the path to a whole, humble, genuine, trusting relationship with Him, all serious God-seekers will be forced to face and struggle with the issues that we hold deep in our hearts – the fears, the resentments, the bitterness, etc. And we will have a decision to make: Continue to hold onto the fears, resentments and bitterness or place them fully into God’s hands and grab onto Him instead.
He will not allow us to hold onto both. We cannot hold on to fear, resentment, selfish desires, bitterness, etc., and yet still hold onto Him, too.
And these “decision times” are usually incredibly hard and painful because they often hit upon the scars and wounds and broken parts of our hearts and souls that we have tried to keep wrapped up, hidden, and safe for so long. They hit upon the self-righteousness that we have built up by holding grudges against others, by tearing them down, by punishing them in the ways we see fit and necessary.
Choosing to forgive, to let go of bitterness, often involves being vulnerable all over again. It often means letting go of the control that we hold onto tightly to prevent ourselves from being hurt again. And that is scary.
But God is after complete healing and growth and wholeness for us, and so He eventually asks us (“forces us”) to examine our unforgiving hearts. To work through the pain, to choose bitterness or choose forgiveness, and to allow Him to be God.
Not too long ago, I was bothered for days because someone was sharing something about me with others that was a misrepresentation, and they were delighting in this misrepresentation. But they would not listen to me when I tried to correct them. Well, I was really bothered by this, but I had no recourse. So I complained in my head about it for days. And it was eating me up inside, making me bitter and miserable.
But what finally put a stop to it is when I realized that, in God’s eyes, my thoughts and critical attitude were probably “more” sinful than what this person was guilty of. And I found myself saying, “Yes, Lord, what they did wasn’t right, but I am guilty of pride, unforgiveness, and a harsh, critical attitude. And this is a sin against You. Forgive me!”
It helps us keep a soft, forgiving, repentant heart when we look at ourselves instead of at others. Of course, it is a great thing when we move from saying, “Look at the wrongs they have done to me” to saying, “Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they’ve been doing.” But it is an equally great thing to move from “Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they’ve been doing” to “Lord, forgive me for I don’t know what I have been doing.”
God will deal with the sins of others. He is the one who will avenge wrongs. We just need to be concerned with the plank in our eye and with our sins. And all sins, whether they are actions or thoughts or attitudes, are really sins against God. He alone really has the right to avenge them. And He will right all wrongs in the end. If we keep this in mind, it will help us to put bitterness, criticalness, and indignation aside. (These things just kill us slowly on the inside anyway.)
Not only do we have the responsibility to forgive others and to seek forgiveness from God, but we are to ask for forgiveness from others for any offenses we have made against them.
Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
Being reconciled to others is so important to God that we are not even supposed to offer our gifts at the altar until we do. But how many of us sing God’s praises at church while we have unfinished business in a relationship with someone else? How many of us won’t seek reconciliation because we don’t think that we should have to? “We didn’t do anything wrong; it was all them . . . right!?! Besides, it’s history now!” And how many of us harbor bitterness towards others for some offense? How many can’t let it go because it seems so justified? “They deserve it, right?”
Forgiveness is not so much about the other person; it’s about our relationship with God.
Unforgiveness is a sin that will block God from hearing our prayers (Psalm 66:18: “. . . If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened”). And even worse, unforgiveness (or any resistance to confessing any sin in our lives, for that matter) shows hard-heartedness, which is diametrically opposed to a healthy, open relationship with God. And we will further block ourselves off from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. And the longer we refuse to forgive or to ask forgiveness, the more we will entrench ourselves behind the wall that we have put up between us and the Lord. And the more numb and desensitized - and self-justified - we will feel.
It’s all about our heart and if we humble ourselves before a holy God.
There is another aspect to forgiveness that we might struggle with. And that is forgiving ourselves and “forgiving” God. Sometimes it is easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves for the wrongs we have done. Some of us live our whole lives punishing ourselves or keeping our distance from God and others because we feel too guilty for things we have done. We do not feel that we deserve to be forgiven, and so we do not accept the forgiveness that God is so ready to give us. Like knowing and accepting that His love is a free gift, we have a hard time knowing and accepting His free gift of forgiveness. And for some people, His free gift of salvation.
Maybe we have never experienced true mercy and grace from other people in our lives? Maybe we have never been given anything and we are used to earning everything we have? But we cannot earn forgiveness and grace and mercy. The only way to truly be forgiven is to accept it with a grateful, humble heart. And when this happens, we find God’s love and His healing. And we begin to want to live a life that honors Him, out of thankfulness for the unearnable gifts that He gives us. If we are still trying to earn anything from God then we don’t have a correct understanding of Him.
I want to look for a moment at the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. (I wonder how they knew it would be happening at that exact time? When Jesus was there? And why did they not bring the man who was just as guilty? Sounds like a set-up to me. Just speculating.)
They are trying to trap Jesus, “in order to have a basis for accusing him.” And instead of answering their question about if she should be stoned, Jesus writes on the ground. We don’t know what he wrote, but we do know that it is enough to make them all leave after he says, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (Verse 7) (I think it’s interesting to note that the older ones left first. I think as we age, we lose some of that dogmatic, self-righteousness that we might have had when we were young, and we begin to see that we are just as human as the next person.)
What I want to specifically note here are two things.
1. Jesus was more disturbed by the unforgiving, self-righteous attitudes of the “spiritual elite” than He was by the humiliated, shamed, guilty woman. And this should be sobering to those of us who are more bothered by what everyone else is doing wrong than by what we are doing wrong. And those of us who are so eager to accept forgiveness that we don’t deserve but who are unwilling to give it to others.
2. And Jesus wasn’t nearly as concerned with where the woman was coming from. He was much more concerned with where she was going. “‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (John 8:11)
I point this out because I think too many people do not realize how ready and willing God is to forgive them. They hold onto their guilt as a sort of punishment, too full of shame to accept God’s forgiveness and love and healing. But God is much more concerned with where you are going than where you’ve been. Accept His forgiveness, let it make you free. And forgive yourself and “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
And as I said, some of us might struggle with forgiving God. Maybe our own sins and shortcomings don’t bother us, but God’s “shortcomings” or the ways He lets us down bother us immensely. This is a whole different kind of heart attitude. This is one where we feel like life should be the way we expect it to be, and it really upsets us when God doesn’t make it so.
Some of us have lost health, loved ones, jobs, homes, etc. And we struggle with wondering how a good, loving God could allow this to happen to us. And we become unforgiving toward Him, living as though He failed us or owes us some explanation. But at some point, we have to decide if we will still trust God even when things don’t go the way we want or if we will harden our hearts toward Him because He isn’t the kind of God we thought He should be.
If this is where we are at in life right now, I believe that we need to look at our expectations of God. Because I’m going to guess that we do not truly see Him the way that He is, the way the Bible says He is. When we try to smoosh Him up into a little box that we made or to define Him according to our faulty or unreasonable expectations, it is easy to lose hope and faith and trust when things go wrong. He isn’t the God we thought He was.
But it isn’t God who is failing us; it is our own ideas of God and life that are the problems to begin with. And we need to sort these out if we are going to be able to see the situation clearly, to “forgive” Him, and to humbly trust Him and seek His comfort when things go wrong. Life is hard enough without holding grudges against God. Or against others or ourselves, too.
Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
11. Cry when you need to. Distract yourself if you need to.
For months after my panic attack last summer, I would wake up nearly daily with anxiety. I felt very fragile. Vulnerable. I could feel this buzzing of anxiety in my brain. And I was always afraid that it would suddenly overcome me and I would lose control of my mind and begin panicking and end up in the hospital. And of course, our natural response to that fear is to do our best to control ourselves, to manage our emotions and to keep ourselves together.
But one day, instead of trying to hold myself together, I began to cry. To sob. I was just so exhausted. And when I was done, I felt better. More relaxed. And I realized that sometimes that anxious feeling is really just a need to cry that has been building inside of me. And I didn’t even need a clear, obvious reason to cry. I just needed to cry. To vent it out.
And so I made myself a mixed CD of the City Harmonic songs that spoke the most to me, that always made me tear up, that always gave me a little hope. (I own the CDs – in fact I paid for the music twice, one set of CDs for me and one for my mom – so I wasn’t “stealing” the songs.) And I labeled it “When Anxiety Strikes.” And I listened to it whenever I felt the buzzing in my brain. And inevitably, it would make me cry (in a good way) and I would feel a little better.
And on other mornings, it helped to distract myself with non-serious-drama shows on TV. If I woke up with the feeling of anxiety, I would turn on a show that didn’t have any bad stories or heavy drama, which in my case happened to be Green Acres (reruns on TV) or my 7th Heaven DVDs – simple shows that are so cheesy that they are relaxing to an anxious mind. And I would watch it for about an hour, until the anxiety subsided and I had built up the energy to tackle the tasks of the day.
12. Decide that you are too tired to be anxious.
The last time that I felt a panic attack coming on and was afraid that I was going to lose it, I found myself saying, “No! I can’t do it! I don’t have the energy to be anxious. I am too tired. Lord, You panic for me. You worry about the worries that threaten me. Because I am too tired to deal with it all.” And so I decided to not panic, to not pick up that burden that day. I was exhausted and didn’t have the energy to be anxious.
And oddly enough, that simple decision really helped that day. The anxiety subsided. And it hasn’t come on that strongly ever since. (Although, it does still hit me from time to time in lesser degrees. It’s still a battle.)
13. Lighten up. Decide that it’s time to stop crying.
You know how I said earlier that sometimes we need to cry, especially when it comes to anxiety. Well, sometimes, when all you’ve been doing is crying, it’s time to decide that you’ve cried enough. Sometimes, continuing to cry about the same thing happens because we are letting our minds dwell on that thing over and over again. And we need to “take our thoughts captive” and begin turning our focus to other things.
A therapeutic tip: Schedule the times that you will think about the “bad things” and cry. Maybe once a day for ten minutes or once a week for an hour. So when the bad thoughts pop up and you feel like crying again, remind yourself that you have a scheduled “cry time” at 8:00 a.m. every Monday morning for an hour. And write it down – the schedule and the things that pop in your mind throughout the day that you want to think about during that time. This can be helpful because it lets your mind rest in between the scheduled times and it gives it some relief knowing that you don’t have to try to stuff it forever, that you will eventually let it come out again if it needs to come out.
And in between “cry times,” lighten up about whatever you can lighten up about. Find things to laugh about. Not everything is that dark every day unless you let it be that way. Find the bright spots, the things that make you smile. I have a little, solar-powered, dancing frog. And he dances perfectly to George Ezra’s “Budapest.” Sometimes, I will put on that song just so I can watch the frog dance to it. It makes me smile every time because he looks so happy, just dancing away there to some fun music. And I love to watch the birds at my bird-feeders or get down close to my flowers and watch a bee fly among them, looking for pollen. It’s soothing to my soul.
When the problems seem so big and overwhelming, narrow your focus down to one simple thing. Enjoy one tiny moment! Marvel at one tiny wonder! There is still beauty and goodness and delight in the itty-bitty and mundane things that we overlook every day!
Or maybe search “restore my faith in humanity” on Youtube and see what inspirational videos come up. Sometimes, it helps to be reminded that there are still good people in the world. Or maybe Google “Dover Police DashCam Confessional (Shake it Off).” It’s that police officer singing along with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” while on patrol. Just plain cute! And then there are the funny “Bad Lip Reading” clips. Particularly the “Ted Cruz” one, the “Bernie & Hillary” one, or the “First Republican Debate Highlights: 2015.” This is some of the funniest stuff I have seen in awhile. Light, fun, and off-the-wall. There are also a bunch of movie ones, like The Avengers and Star Wars. It’s just perfect for a tiny break from your stressful day. A simple way to lighten up a little.
14. Sing. A lot.
I have learned that it is important to sing - out loud - throughout the day to some fun music or for no reason at all. Just sing. If you can keep singing, no matter what life hands you, then you are going to be okay.
15. Count your own blessings, not someone else’s. And be thankful for the things that haven’t happened.
Part of dealing with the trials and the pain is to count our own blessings, not the blessings that others get, which only makes us bitter. And when we are so focused on our own pain, it’s hard to remember that others have pain, too. Sometimes way worse than we do. And I think it’s important to also remember to be thankful for the bad things that haven’t happened to you, the trials that you’ve been spared from. The newspaper headlines that didn’t have your name in them. There are so many things that could’ve happened to me or my family but that haven’t. And thinking of all the things we have been spared from makes me thankful for my trials and my pain. Because I know it could be so much worse.
If you take the blessings in your life for granted, all you are left with is the pain. One helpful thing to do is to start a notebook where you keep a running list of the blessings that God has given you (read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts). Basic things like enough food to eat or strength to lift heavy things or legs to walk. Simple, overlooked things like a pretty sunset or an interesting rock you found on a walk or a goldfinch at your birdfeeder. Or more “hidden blessings,” the silver linings on the storm clouds, the few roses among the many thorns - things like the fact that you hug your children every day because you were never hugged as a child or that you had one friend you could confide in when everything went bad or maybe how someone else found a little encouragement through your painful story.
Maybe set a goal for yourself, such as writing down 10 things a day. And bring some paper and a pen with you wherever you go so you can write things down when they are fresh in your mind. The harder discouragement strikes and the more trials there are, the more deliberate we have to be about looking for the good.
Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Notice that “with thanksgiving” is part of what helps us find that “peace in God,” even in the face of the things that make us anxious. Do not forget the “thanksgiving” part. It is critical to the health of your faith and your mind.
Good can be found in everything. Focus on that part of life. Because our thoughts will be molded by what we focus on. And our feelings will follow our thoughts. And our self-view, our view of God, our faith, and our outlook on life will be affected by our thoughts and feelings, which in turn will shape our futures.
It’s not what actually happens that has the biggest effect on us.
It’s what we choose to focus on - to remember about it, to learn from it all - that will affect us and our futures, long after the original hurts happened. (A truth retold by Ann Voskamp in her book, The Broken Way: a daring path into the abundant life.)
We can’t change the past, but we can change how we let it affect our futures. (And this is best done with the Lord’s help, not on our own. We are simply not strong enough. And we don’t have to be.)
Count your blessings. Be thankful for the tragedies that have never happened to you. Find the silver linings, the roses among the thorns, the beautiful lessons and truths that came from the pain. Watch carefully where your mind goes because it will affect your thoughts, feelings, views, and future. Stop the negative ones immediately (pray them over to God) and replace them with godly truths.
For many of us, managing our thoughts and feelings and outlook will be a long battle and daily work. But it is necessary. So give yourself the time and space you need to do it. It will be worth it.
And personally, I recommend that when you are going through the really hard times, listen daily to some uplifting Christian music. Fill your heart, mind, and home with it. I believe that it will help protect you and your faith. Demons are attracted to negativity and discouragement and anxiety and fear, etc. And if you give yourself over to those negative things, you give them “open doors” and “welcome mats” and will be more vulnerable to attack. But filling your home and mind with godly music is repulsive to them and it will keep them back more, protecting you more from attack and giving you time to gather your strength.
You don’t believe me?
“Whenever the [evil spirit sent by God to torment him] came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” (1 Samuel 16:23)
There is power – good or bad – in the music we listen to, in what we fill our minds with.
Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - is anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.”
Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
16. Learn to praise Him in the pain and to trust that He walks through it with you and will bring some good out of it.
Likewise, I think that praising God – even in the pain - also protects us. It makes us less vulnerable to the attacks of the Evil One and protects our hearts, minds, and faith more.
I am not one of those who thinks you have to thank God for the pain, for the heartbreaks, for the tragedies. It’s masochistic to thank God for divorce or abuse or disease or death, etc. None of this stuff was in God’s original creation when He looked at the world and at people and said, “It is good!” These are all effects of the Fall, of evil. And I don’t think we have to be thankful for them. When God Himself didn’t want these things or plan for things to be that way.
Yes, God lets the bad things happen. And that’s because He has allowed mankind to affect things, to have certain responsibilities, to cause consequences, and to have a certain control over the world and events of the world. And it’s also because evil is alive and well, affecting things, too, leaving its mark everywhere.
So we cannot “blame” God for the bad things, even though He allows them to happen.
The thing is, we want our free-will, don’t we? We want to make our own decisions and choose what we want to do. But the moment we cause bad consequences for ourselves or when others have caused them for us or when nature has gone haywire, we blame it on God, acting like He is the one causing everything.
But part of having free-will is having the job of choosing between right and wrong, between good and evil. And humans have been doing this for millennia, from the moment Adam and Eve ate the fruit and introduced death and destruction and decay into the world. They passed down to the next generation a broken world, broken minds, broken bodies, etc. And we will all pass it down to those who follow us.
Bad things are the consequences of having that free-will that we like having. These bad things are because of us and because of evil. And so I do not think we need to thank God for them, as though He deliberately caused them and wanted us to have them. (Not that He doesn’t deliberately cause “bad” things at particular times throughout history. But I think it’s generally more that He “allows” them.)
He allows us to affect things. He allows the bad things to happen. And even if He didn’t deliberately cause them, He did allow them because He knows how to work it all into His plans and how to turn it all into good. And He can help us through the painful trials. We don’t face them on our own. He is there with us, guiding us and giving us the strength and wisdom and peace to get through it all (if only we will accept His help). And eventually, He will make all wrongs right again and do away with evil (and its effects) for good.
Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
And if nothing else, that is what we can praise Him for. We can praise Him for the blessings that come from the pain. We can praise Him that He holds everything in His hands, that nothing that happens to us happens without His knowledge and consent, that He allows whatever He does because He knows how it can be used for good, that He gives us the strength to face the hard times, that He cries with us when we hurt, that He holds us when we ache, that He carries us when we can’t stand anymore, and that eventually He will make all things right again.
You know, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past depressing years, it’s that faith is messy sometimes. Faith hurts sometimes. It’s not as easy and predictable and “magic-wandy” as I used to think it was. And I think a critical part of strengthening and purifying your faith – of learning humility - is going through the trials and learning to praise Him in the pain, regardless of what’s going on in our lives.
Because it’s in the trials and the hurt and the messiness that I have learned to see God for who He really is and myself for who I really am. It’s where I learned more about His love, grace, faithfulness, forgiveness, all-sufficiency, etc. It’s where my faith grew (after much confusion and pain) and where my trust in Him was purified.
I think many of us have faith in God at first because we think it will fix every problem, or because it’s fun and gives us an emotional high, or because we think it will make life the way we want. But the trials and pain and “unanswered” prayers force us to decide if God is real enough for us to have faith in Him, even when those things don’t happen. They force us to decide if He is enough for us, if we will cling to Him anyway, if we will trust that He is still good and faithful, even when life is messy and it hurts and prayers don’t “work.”
Painful trials are a line in the sand. It’s God asking us “Which side do you choose … and why are you choosing it … and will you still stay on My side even if I don’t do all you want Me to do?”
I think our faith becomes more real and strong as we face the hard times and trials. It’s easy to “have faith” when life is going like we want it to. But that’s not really faith, now is it? It’s gratitude that life is good. It’s happiness because we are getting what we want. And many times, it’s idolatry in disguise.
I mean, how many times do you hear that someone has left Christianity or turned their back on God because it “didn’t work”? They were going through a hard time or needed some answers or were looking for something more, and so they decided to “try” God and faith. But then when it “didn’t work” the way they expected, they gave it up and decided that it’s all just a fantasy anyway.
Trials and pain force us to decide if we really believe that God is real, that faith matters, that He’s good enough and faithful enough to keep clinging to, that there is more to this life and eternity than the circumstances we face. They force us to decide who we really want on the throne in our lives.
And that’s the scary part. It’s why many people turn from God. If we sit on the throne ourselves, then we get to handle things our way and we believe that we don’t have to answer to anyone. And we like that power. But if God sits on the throne, then we have to accept His answers to our prayers, in His timing and in His way. And that’s a hard thing to face when we are hurting and want relief.
I think that to make it through our painful trials with our faith intact, we oftentimes have to take inventory of what our expectations and misconceptions are of God and of ourselves and of faith and life. We need to get rid of our wayward, unfair, unrealistic expectations and misconceptions of how life should be and how God should be and what He should give us and what He should do for us … and we need to replace them with biblical expectations, based on what the Word says about who He is and how He acts.
Oftentimes, it’s not God who lets us down. It’s our misconceptions and expectations that let us down. If we base our views of God and faith on what we wish was true and what we expect to be true – instead of on what the Bible says in true – then we will be let down when the trials come. Because we will think that God failed us and that He can’t be trusted. If we base our view of God and our belief in Him on our circumstances – instead of getting to know Him as He really is in the Word – then it’s just a matter of time before we decide that faith “didn’t work” and we turn our backs on Him in bitterness and go our own way.
Because He wasn’t who we thought He should be.
But once again, it isn’t God who lets us down. It’s our own views – our expectations and misconceptions – that ruined our faith because we were building our faith around them.
And I think this is sometimes why God allows the hard trials, the deepest heartaches. They are what cause us to take a good, long look at what we believe about Him, about faith, about life, about ourselves.
And if we are wise, we will evaluate them and toss out the bad and replace it with godly, biblical truth. (And if we are unwise, we will simply grow bitter and turn our backs on Him.) And as we begin to understand deeper biblical truths and to see God for who He really is and ourselves for who we really are, our faith will grow and our trust in Him will become more pure (moving from a “what’s in it for me” trust to a “I will trust You regardless of what happens in my life because I know You too well to turn my back on You” trust) and we will be humbled before Him, as children at the feet of the Father. And we will be able to praise Him for who He is, even when we hurt because of life.
A faith that is based on the idea that we can manipulate God to give us what we want is not true faith in God at all. It’s faith in ourselves, in our faith, in life working out as we plan it. And that is not faith in God.
We want to lead and we want our prayers to control God, whereas true faith in God says, “Whatever happens, I still believe in You. And I will follow where You lead.” Our hope should not be in the idea that God will eventually give us what we want if we just pray the “right way” and then wait long enough for His answer as we tell Him that we trust that He will do what we are asking because of our “great faith.” (Oh, how many times I fall into that!)
Our hope should be in the fact that God is here now and that He is working things out in His time and in His way, even if they don’t match our time and way. It’s not letting the darkness and confusion pull us away from God, but letting it draw us even nearer to Him. When we have learned to seek, desire, and enjoy Him more than the things He can give us, then we will find peace, contentment, and joy, even in the hard times. Because our faith will be in Him, not in some idea of who we think He should be and how He should act and what He should give us.
In the trials and the pain, we say “I have faith in You that You can do what I am asking You to do.” But God might just be saying, “Yes, but will you still have faith in Me if I don’t do what you’re asking Me to do?”
Genuine faith in God is not one that says, “I asked for this and I believe that You can do it, so I’m claiming in faith that You’ll do it.” (Unless it is in reference to a clear biblical promise God has given us, like for wisdom.) That’s presumption about what God wants and about how He should answer.
Genuine faith in God is a faith that says, “I can’t see what’s ahead and I may not get what I want, but I still believe in You. I believe that You can do what I am asking. But if You don’t, I know that You are good and that You will work all things out for good. You are God and I am not!” This is putting our faith in God. This is humility. (And this is quite a journey, learning to get to this point of trust.)
It’s letting God be God, while we are the children at His feet. We can ask, but we have to let Him decide how to answer. We can desire and plan, but we have to include Him in the planning and be willing to let Him interrupt and change our desires and plans. And when He wills that a mountain moves, it will move when we pray. But in His time and in His way!
If we can’t say “Blessed be Your name” during the hardest trials then we don’t really mean it during the easier times either. If we won’t follow Him in the hard times – if we turn our backs on Him when the going gets tough or when we don’t get what we want – then we were never really following Him to begin with.
The genuineness of our faith isn’t tested and proved by how well we handle the successes, how many earthly “blessings” we have, how much we serve at church, or how polished our words and prayers are. The genuineness of our faith is tested and proved by how well we shoulder the crosses He places on our backs, how well we handle the trials and if we continue to follow Him even when times are hard and our hearts hurt.
As I laid there one night thinking about everything I’ve been through, I asked myself if I really wished I was one of those people who has “the good life”? Who has it easy? Do I wish that my life was one of smooth sailing?
Well, of course, yes. That sounds great. But honestly . . . no, I don’t.
While life sucks sometimes and the burdens are heavy, I wouldn’t trade them for “the easy road.” I’d rather struggle with deep loneliness, feelings of failure, and unfulfilled dreams than struggle with how big of a television to buy. I’d rather desperately desire more of the Lord’s presence than desperately desire the newest upgrade for my phone. I’d rather know pain so that I can sense it in others than know such incredibly self-centered happiness that I fail to notice and have sympathy for those who ache. I’d rather cling to a tiny bit of grace than a whole bunch of toys. I’d rather know my brokenness so I could know His grace so that I could pass it onto others than have so much self-confidence and self-sufficiency that I don’t need the Lord’s grace and don’t know how to extend it to others. I’d rather spend my days struggling with deep, meaningful ache than fritter away my days on meaningless pursuits. I’d rather struggle with a confusing faith and a mysterious God than have simplistic pat answers about how faith works and have a shrunken, easily-manipulated God that I keep tucked away in a little box until I want Him to do something for me.
It is in the struggle and the longing and the pain that I have learned just how sufficient God’s grace is, even if life still hurts. I have learned that God truly is enough, because nothing else in life really satisfies. Nothing else in life is that firm of a foundation. I have learned to keep my eyes on and to work for eternity, because this life holds very little for me and it will all pass away soon. I have learned that God is so much greater and more mysterious than I ever imagined, and I’m learning to be okay with that . . . because that’s what makes Him the God that He is and not a god of my own imagination (which would be no god at all). I have learned to sense pain in others and to desire to speak a word of encouragement or eternal hope to them, because I know how a broken heart and broken spirit feels. And I know that these trials are building something in my spirit and my faith that will come to fruition and fullness in eternity. And so I can bear with them for now. For they are temporary. And they are building a character and faith and trust that will reap rewards in eternity.
And so I can call them “blessings in disguise” and thank Him for the good He brought out of the pain.
James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
To be clear, when I pray, I do let the Lord know about my wants and needs because transparency and connection matters, but I’m learning not to demand my way and not to let my faith be defined by the answers I get from Him. I’m learning that my job is to ask, but His job is to answer. His job is to guide and provide and lead and work things out, but my job is simply to trust Him to do this. To thank Him for it. To find any and all blessings that He has already given me – the ones I overlook or take for granted – and to thank Him for them. To trust His timing and to trust that He will work it all into good. To fall into His embrace every day and to keep putting one foot in front of the other in daily, humble obedience. To work for eternity and not for the temporary.
Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in a steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I have had to learn to live the life I have and to praise God anyway. While it’s been really hard and I have gone to some dark places in my mind, I really do believe that the struggles have purified my faith in God. I got to a place last year (the year I broke) where I thought, “I wish I could give up my faith! It would be so much easier to not have to feel that God Himself was allowing this or like He wasn’t listening to my desperate prayers. If I only had me to rely on, then I could do whatever I wanted instead of waiting on Him.”
But I know that’s not the answer. And I know life would be so much harder if I was the only one I could rely on.
So why do I stick with my faith, when it doesn’t seem to be “working”? When so much has gone wrong?
I guess I stick with it – with the Lord – because I have been through enough with Him to know He’s real, to know that there is nothing else out there that’s worth believing in. I know Him too well to be able to turn away from Him. And I have learned that I cannot base His existence on whether or not I get what I want in life. How short-sighted and self-centered!
Faith that is based on getting what we want is not really faith at all. And I guess that’s what I mean when I say that the trials have “purified” my faith. They have caused me to say, “So why do I have faith, if it’s not because I think my faith will make my life smooth and carefree and happy? I have faith because I know He’s real, because there is no one else to go to. And so I will still cling to Him, no matter the trials. I cling to Him not for selfish reasons but because I know He is real and because I have been through enough with Him to trust Him and to know that He is good. Even when life is not. And I have faith because I know this life is not all there is. Everything in this world – the possessions, the blessings, the trials, the pain – is temporary. And I am going to live for something more permanent, for the world beyond this one. The best is yet to come. And God will eventually make everything right and make something beautiful out of the messes and He will carry me through, if I will humbly throw myself at His feet and into His arms. And that is what I can have hope in when I can’t place my hope in anything in this world.”
While I have been praying quite honestly that God will shield me from more trials for awhile until I can regain enough strength to stand, I can see the sweet lessons – the bittersweet lessons – that the trials have taught me. And I know that I will be okay!
My hope is not in anything this world has to offer. My hope is in the Lord alone, in that fact that He walks with me through the hard times, that He will make something good out of it, that I will see the rewards in eternity, that He will eventually make all wrongs right again, and that all of this struggle will be worth it when I hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
And until then, I am learning to praise Him – just because of who He is. And I am learning to trust Him, no matter what happens, because He has proven Himself to be a good, faithful Father time and time again. It is because of the trials that my faith has grown from a “gimme” faith in a god of my own imagination into a real, hard-won, lasting, sustaining faith in God as He is - a God who is mysterious, who can’t be manipulated by me, who has His own plans and timing, and who loves us immensely. Enough to die for us so that we may have eternal life, where He makes all things right again.
That is a God worth clinging to!
Yes, I may be broken.
But that’s okay.
Because I know the One who specializes in fashioning beautiful things out of jagged, broken, messy pieces. I am going to be okay. And you are going to be okay.
Just give the ugly pieces to the Creator of beautiful things ... and see what He can do with them.
Just give the ugly pieces to the Creator of beautiful things ... and see what He can do with them.
It’s okay to fall apart in front of the One who can put you back together.
This is my favorite gazing ball. It's made from broken pieces.