The other day, God taught me a very important lesson—a jumble of lessons, really, about faith and fear, idolatry, the power of words, and more. However, the real story begins a few month back, amidst my ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression, mostly rooted in my failure as a writer.
You see, throughout the course of my writing journey, I frequently wore labels like “inadequate” and “hopeless.” I rarely experienced God’s joy or peace in my life. If I did experience happiness, it was always a product of fleeting circumstances. For a long season, Scriptures and sermons either fell flat or filled me with self-condemnation. I was trapped in an endless cycle of situational moods—happy when I did well and miserable when I failed.
In short, my emotions were torturing me—and it felt like Hell.
Let’s be clear here… Everyone struggles with their emotions from time to time. Everyone deals with frustration. That’s not what I’m talking about… Anxiety and depression—that suffocating joy-sucking black hole in a person’s chest and the bee-hive explosion of buzzing angst that hijacks all hope until the victim is desperate for unconsciousness—those emotions are often beyond our power to control.
I had begun taking steps to get free—steps as slippery as walking through quicksand. I was trapped in a pit only God could lift me out of… I just had to reach out and take His hand.
If that makes it sound too easy, well…it was. That’s because after all my efforts and struggles, I didn’t do it—God did.
It really was a miracle… I’d come to the end of myself, anxiety attacks slamming me one after the next. I was fighting to keep my head above water, but—ultimately—I was drowning. Though God had given me a few passing words of inspiration, I wasn’t expecting much. I was simply desperate for relief.
That was when God led me to a devotional book composed by another writer of fiction: Ted Dekker. Within days of beginning the meditations in his book, “The Forgotten Way,” the anxiety and depression were gone. In vague whispers of emotion, I remember the transition… one day, feeling like the world was caving in… the next, drinking full breaths of glorious freedom, each one sweetened with a joy and peace that seemed to have been hidden all my life—but not by God.
God wasn’t hiding Himself, you see? My skewed perceptions—the same ones that turned God’s word against me—they were the culprit. The truth is, our reality is shaped by what we truly believe, which means some of us are living in Hell even while the kingdom of Heaven looms near.
Ted Dekker said it like this:
“Everything we say, do and think aligns us with darkness or light, love or grievance. Thus, everything is a spiritual practice, whether we are aware of it or not. We are constantly, in every moment, aligning with one way of being or another. The choice is ours to make each moment of each day.”
In the days that followed my newfound freedom, I experienced frustrations—normal highs and lows—but nothing like before. I wasn’t happy; I was joyous. I wasn’t perfect; but neither was I condemned. I was able to love my daughter more. She hadn’t changed at all, mind you—but I had. Through “The Forgotten Way Meditations” God renewed my mind and transformed my life.
He saved me from the emotional Hell I’d been living in.
God taught me so many lessons through that entire experience…
Yesterday, I had the exam.
It began with a post I saw on Facebook, one person’s expression of gratitude for a wonderful friend in their life. This is what it said:
Instantly the self-pity flared. I knew I shouldn’t write what I wanted to write, but in that moment, I just wanted to be visible. I wanted human understanding. So I did it anyway. Here’s what I wrote:
The moment the words were out, and especially as the human sympathy rolled in, the emotions behind my words became more real. Suddenly, they had power. Before voicing my fears, all I had was a little niggling doubt—something entirely manageable. But after?
I’d opened the floodgates to the enemy. The anxiety struck anew—and it wasn’t pretty. It bowled me over with unstoppable power, reminding me of the greater Power that had rooted it out of me to begin with. I was like Adam and Eve, longing for the very fruit that made me sick.
Take a moment to ponder what actually happened here… I aligned myself with the enemy rather than God. I expressed faith in satan’s intentions instead of God’s. I denied all the work my sweet Savior had already worked in my life. Because, you see:
Here’s the thing: We can either have our self-pity or we can have God. Our minds can’t hold onto both at once because they’re polar opposites. Self-pity can’t survive even a tiny drop of God’s love. The One who knows all, saw our predicament before the foundation of the world and planned His own death in accordance by creating the tree He would die on. The longer we gaze at God, the smaller our problems become.
If we’re seeing our self-pity, we’re not wholly seeing God… We’re in danger of stumbling… And so, in those lucid moments, you have a choice just as I had a choice. A choice to magnify our view of God or to allow our self-pity to drag us down.
It wasn’t a difficult choice, really. I just didn’t realize the power of my own words. I didn’t take my idolatry seriously.
Besides that, I’ve learned that renewing the mind is an ongoing battle. The freedom God won for me doesn’t give me a free pass for the rest of my life. Now, instead of enjoying God’s peace, I’m battling an anxiety hangover. It feels like exhaustion and heartburn all mashed up inside. I know it’ll pass; I don’t regret the lessons I learned; but all this unpleasantness could’ve been avoided.
In retrospect, I feel a bit like Peter asserting he would never deny Christ—only to suggest through my words that God’s work in my life somehow wasn’t enough. That’s one new lesson I believe God wants me to absorb more deeply: He’s the Source. He alone is enough. Absolutely nothing else—and no one else—can satisfy.
It was a hard lesson to experience—like the wake-up call Adam and Eve had, no doubt, after eating the accursed fruit. To have experienced the sweet communion of Christ, the joy and peace of living free of my emotional shackles, experiencing Heaven on earth—only to fall back into the grips of Hell.
Yes, it was hard, but this, too, is God’s grace in action. I’d forgotten how awful the anxiety felt. I was in danger of forgetting all His benefits, He “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name!
Now, to my very core, I am convicted of the Scriptural truths found in Psalm 73, verses 25 and 26:
Be blessed, my friends… God loves you.
And if you’d like to learn more about mental illness in the church, I just learned about a new book coming out soon: Whispers in the Pews by Chris Morris.