We all have childhood dreams, don’t we? Some of us pursue them. To some of us, they seem more like a childish fantasy to be put aside at the proper time. Adulthood and fantasy don’t mix in the real life. We’re not princes and princesses, but paupers pursuing paid work—or else we’re starving artists.
Isn’t that the way of things?
No wonder then that my dream to write—which seemed both to peak and peter in high school—turned out to be a foolish hobby to be set aside.
Instead, I pursued science. I rode a rocky rail through graduate studies at RPI, stalled when it came time to edit my first paper, then finally made it through—by the skin of my teeth it seemed.
If “mediocre” was my word in high school, then “failure” was my label as a post-grad.
That label fused into my soul as I began teaching, airing my inadequacies for every student to see. Dumped into the deep end, sinking, I felt like the biggest fraud that ever lived—with an audience of witnesses in every classroom.
I thought the first year would kill me. It didn’t. Another year, another move fulfilling another sabbatical replacement. The second year was better—I was improving—but I never made the cut in my heart. Three years and three states later, I looked for university positions in my field and found none.
Just like that my 12-year pursuit (4 years to get a bachelors + 5 for the PhD + 3 as a professor) came to a timely end.
I didn’t really want to continue on that path anyway… which was good since that train had derailed. That rocket ship had flown. But without the train, the track, the rocket—I was like a floating astronaut, stranded—once tethered by my job… now bound to vacuum.
All my life’s pursuits had lead to this moment, crystal clear in retrospect: I was finished. I didn’t want to teach anymore. I didn’t want to do research or work in industry. There was, in fact, nothing I could imagine wanting to do with the PhD I’d been so eager to earn in my own strength. Nor could I imagine anything I either was able or wanted to do with my life, period.
Thus began the years of emptiness. I lived in dread of a single question from strangers—“what do you do?”—and another from friends—“found a job yet?”
I shudder to think what my life would’ve been if I hadn’t been married then. As it was, I became a stay-at-home wife, pursuing meaningless hobbies like brewing beer… and writing a novel.
In all these pursuits I was searching for significance—for purpose… or else just hoping for distraction.
As time passed, I began placing all my worth in my writing, growing happy and hopeful when all was well… only to feel the weight of mountains crashing down at the tiniest snag, the smallest setback. Any whispered suggestion that I could do better—even well-meant critiques from friends—amounted in my mind to utter failure and hopelessness.
Cue the identity crisis that prompted these words:
“As the prodigal son attempted to transform his father’s fortune into joy, so I use my Father’s “talents” in hopes of earning satisfaction. And yet…my talents aren’t enough. I’m mired in emotional squalor, feeding—starving—on the deficit of my own futile attempts to find meaning within.”
During this time, my prayers were pathetic and desperate. I knew I needed steady devotions, but with much of Scripture triggering the very angst I fought desperately to escape, I barely summoned the nerve to face it.
Nevertheless, with the tiniest seed of faith, I searched for verses that fed my soul rather than shredding it. Instead of passages urging me to do more and try harder to be good, I drank in every verse proclaiming God’s power and strength… like Isaiah 46, which prompted one of several blog posts on my journey toward the light.
If you catch nothing else, catch this:
Since about halfway through grad school until the summer of last year, I struggled off and on with anxiety and depression. That’s over ten years of struggle. More than a decade living with an Ecclesiastes 1 mentality, just ready to be done with this strange experiment called life.
Was there anything I could’ve done to have shortened this period? Perhaps. We can never know what might’ve been, but here’s what I’ve learned from looking back:
- Anxiety and depression aren’t things one just snaps out of. Studying the Bible can help, but when our understanding is skewed because we’re blinded by life-long misperceptions, it can also hurt. Which leads me to my next point…
- Whenever I felt condemned for not living up to the Bible’s standards, that wasn’t God’s voice in my ear. Unlike me, He knew I was on a transformative journey that would take some time to manifest. (Conviction is another matter, but when God bids us change, He promises to walk beside us as our guide and aid.)
- Even when the Bible seems to be a burden, seeking God Himself is always the right path. However, it does take faith to press into Him when our emotions keep telling us God’s not interested. (I assure you, He is.)
- When a person is struggling with anxiety and depression, they generally don’t need to be EXHORTED (urged to do better); they need God to be EXALTED. Whereas exhortation presses us down and aims our focus on ourselves and the shoulds and oughts of future action, exultation fixes our gaze on God—His sufficiency, power, and strength to deliver us from whatever ails. Worship is a powerful weapon, my friends! If you’re in need of a little pick-me-up, try reading through these enemy-shattering bombshell Scriptures.
- For my type of anxiety and depression, renewing the mind was critical. Note, however, that the burden of our transformation is not ours to bear. We can read resources that will help to change our mindsets, but only God can initiate transformation. As such, the journey is inherently a cooperative partnership—not something we can do by ourselves, which is a bit of a relief really. Ultimately, the heavy lifting of our transformation is on God’s shoulders, not ours. What I’m trying to say is—unless we think the weight is ours alone to carry (so that the other side of the yoke is left empty)—His yoke is indeed easy and His burden light!
- Not everything which is good advice in general will be good for every individual in any given moment. God knows we’re all different. He speaks our language even when others—even well-meaning people—don’t. As such, not everything spoken, written, etc—even those things that are spoken to us with an intent to help—should be taken into our spirits. For that reason, also, it took me a while to find the right resource to aid me in renewing my mind. In the timing and manner I found this particular book, I know God brought it to my attention. Then He used it to heal me of my anxiety and depression.
Here’s the bottom line: God was working in my life, even when it felt like I’d been abandoned. He took the most painful parts of my story and turned them around for His glory. As I said in an earlier post about these struggles:
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.
For each one reading this post today—each person out there who’s still struggling beneath the weight of their anxiety and depression—I pray God would guide you to the resource that speaks to your heart—and heals your hurts. For me, that resource was, without a doubt, Ted Dekker’s Forgotten Way Meditations. I’m so grateful to God for leading Ted to write that book, for guiding me to read it, and for using it to heal me.
If you’d like to read more about my transformative journey, check out these earlier posts:
- My Testimony: the early years (and how God used biblical fiction to draw me back to Him)
- Identity Crisis: on the verge of breakthrough
- Forget yourSELF: The problem with selfish thoughts and some practical solutions for combatting them
- Lessons beyond healing: my temporary regression back into anxiety (and what it taught me)
How about you? How has God shown Himself powerful in your life? What’s one book, novel, movie, or other resource that God used for your spiritual growth or transformation?
Not on the upswing yet? Don’t fret. We’re all a work in progress. If you have prayer requests or just need to reach out to someone who understands your brand of pain, feel free to write to me through my contact page. Seriously. I believe God let me suffer with these issues for so long in order to instill in me a heart that hurts for the mentally and emotionally distraught. I love you. God loves you. I pray He’ll help you lift your eyes to see Him smiling down on you.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4