It is no secret that the past year has knocked me off my feet. I’ve written candidly about my daughter’s suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization (here), and the far-reaching consequences of a Covid shutdown have brought our business to its knees. It is grueling to watch your daughter endure agony while your husband is deciding whether it is time to let go of a dream business and move on to a new endeavor at 45. And here’s the thing about trusting God in all circumstances….it takes an inordinate amount of faith, hence the concept. This past year hasn’t coaxed me to gently open my hand and release expectations for my life; it has wrenched open my fist and roughly yanked them from me, crushing them in the process.
The truth is, though, I had not realized the toll it had taken on me emotionally. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to do the next right thing, stuffing my feelings and grief down hoping it would dissipate in the process of indiscriminately grasping all the loose threads in the attempt to seamlessly weave everything back to the way it was. But when children continually fight depression and businesses sit empty waiting for customers, things don’t just go back to the way they were before. A divide is crossed, and the only path now is forward. The thing is I didn’t know how to move forward. Some days I still don’t know how to move forward, and part of the reason I’m writing this is to let those who are struggling right now like I am know that it’s ok. It is ok to grieve loss even if it isn’t a death, the loss of expectations can certainly feel like a death.
I am an achiever on all the personality tests be it the Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, or DISC; this girl likes to make a goal, achieve it, cross it off, and pursue another. Go, go, go is my motto. Stillness and lack of activity undo me. Yet, the paradox of an achiever is that when we are overwhelmed, we shut down and can’t find the motivation to achieve anything. The past six months all I have wanted to do is watch Downton Abbey and eat chocolate. My passion and zest have been replaced by exhaustion and malaise, this lingering sense that at any moment the other shoe is going to drop. Even though I still kept putting one foot in front of the other and fulfill the duties to which I have committed, it had lacked the joy and sense of purpose that usually accompanied my homeschooling, teaching, and leading. Despite my best efforts, something still seemed hollow.
There have been hard days where I have literally been on my knees, shouting to heaven, asking God when one breakthrough was going to come, just one small breakthrough in one small area of our lives. There have been moments where God has seemed so incredibly distant and silent; moments where my heart has shattered into pieces in His presence because all I felt was His absence. But I am here to testify to His faithfulness and goodness, even in these moments because He has been there every step of the way. A friend reminded me of this on a really difficult day when she sent this quote from Oswald Chambers: When you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible — with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation. When you are completely comfortable with a person, it is possible to sit in a room together and not utter a word. In love, silence can be a sign of intimacy.” She also reminded me that God chose Job because He trusted him.
Through the months I have come to see God’s stillness and silence as comfort, as simply sitting beside me and holding my hand as I grieve the past few months. And I have relentlessly pursued Him in this process, realizing that what I ask Him for, deeper faith and sanctification come through trials that force me to move forward in faith. True faith survives when everything is falling apart around us, and real faith realizes that He is enough even if another prayer is never answered the way I’d like.
Through therapy and a change in habits, I’m finally starting to feel glimpses of the old, passionate me, the one who doesn’t greet the day with a sense of anxiety and impending doom, the one who faces the world with faith. One thing I noticed is that as I worked through my emotions, I had dropped my good habits. I hadn’t been exercising; my diet had faltered. There were literally days where I ate nothing but chocolate chips and pumpkin seeds. The effort to exercise or journal or even read a book seemed so overwhelming that I just put it off, choosing instead to sit on the couch. So in January, I decided it was time to step out of the fog and back into the light.
One of the first things I decided to do was renew my commitment to clean eating. The second was that I pooled my Christmas gift cards together, even convincing my husband to give up one of his, and purchased a sturdy, reasonable indoor cycle. Riding my bike through a difficult HIIT workout has done more for me in half an hour than a month of Downton and chocolate could ever hope to do. I also began reading through the Bible and journaling my thoughts, including my prayers. I allowed myself to cry and to reflect and to feel the weight of what we had been through in the past year. I gave myself permission to feel the discomfort of grief, of sadness, of uncertainty, of anxiety and then I gave it all to God. I actually started putting into practice the skills I had been learning in therapy, and I added essential oils and red-light therapy to my routine. In a few short weeks, the difference has been phenomenal. The things I didn’t have the energy to pursue were the very things that were waiting patiently to breathe new life into my soul. And when I am healthy, I am better equipped to help my daughter achieve health.
My hope is that this is inspiring and encouraging. Emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical health go hand in hand. I’ve discovered that when I feel the least like caring for myself, those are the times that I need to pursue health the most. Forcing myself to do the things I love has been the very thing that’s bringing me back to where I want to be. A walk with my kids, a HIIT workout on my bike, a weight-lifting session, journaling my thoughts to God bring me out of my head. There have been a few books that have helped me in this process. First, the Bible is full of wisdom on how to deal with anxiety, depression, and malaise. The Psalms are a great place to find the desperate prayers of David. Paul gives practical advice on taking our thoughts captive and filling our minds with what is good, pure, noble, hopeful. Neuropsychologist Caroline Leaf’s research backs this up, and studies show we can actually change the brain by changing the way we think. Josh Axe’s Ancient Remedies and Daniel Amen’s Change Your Brain, Change Your Life have also been transformative. Max Lucado, Lysa TerKeurst, and other Christian writers have wonderful books on dealing with difficult seasons.
Annie and I have both learned that isolation is the worst possible way to deal with overwhelming emotions. Getting lost in your own head, shutting out the world, and shutting down your healthy practices will just lead you deeper into the fog. Blaming God is never a good strategy. I have learned that life happens to all of us no matter how good or bad, faithful or faithless we are. Jesus assured us life would sometimes hand us more than we thought we could handle, but, but He also promised He had overcome the world and that He would never leave us nor forsake us.
I’ll leave you with a verse from Romans 5 that has also been instrumental in my healing and in bolstering my faith when it falters: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Even when God seems silent, He is there pouring His love into our hearts, completing our faith so we lack nothing, and producing hope. And His hope does not disappoint. While I still have a long way to go, I go in hope knowing that wherever my Savior leads and through whatever He leads my family, that He is faithful, and I must move forward in faith. Not sitting paralyzed by big emotions, not running my health in the ground, but putting one foot in front of the other even when it is hard, knowing that I am following His lead.