I recently recorded a TV interview with 3 Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN), and it was turning point for me, a non-TV watcher. For a long time I’ve denigrated TV and avoided it, but as I prepared for my interview, watching the program I was going to appear on, something interesting happened: I realized that Christian programming was filling two important needs for me: One, spiritual uplifting, and two, human contact.
I also realized, like never before, what an important role Christian TV and radio fill at large. As a lifelong writer and reader, I’ve always favored getting my dose of God—and relaxation, and entertainment—through books. But now that I am a mom of small children, AKA a woman who doesn’t get out much, I find myself craving human contact via sights, sounds, faces, and voices—things I don’t find in a book. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m committing to watch more TV these days…and maybe you should, too.
Please don’t take this as permission to just switch on the TV and zone out. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about watching uplifting, positive programs and filling a void in your life, or bridging a gap, that pertains to family and spiritual life.
In my case, I don’t have family living nearby to just drop in on me and my little ones—and one-year-old nap schedules and three-year-old temperaments make it hard to go out sometimes. So I don’t see other adults much. Additionally, I’m finding it hard to read my Bible and pray like I used to (since the babies)…so I have some voids.
Put another way, it feels hard, sometimes impossible, to build and sustain non-immediate family relationships right now (including with God), with the kids so needy and my energy and waking hours so spoken for. Yet it’s a time when I could really use relationships (and God’s Word) to encourage me and lift my burdens. I need to be around other humans, or at least hear their voices and see their faces through some medium, to remember that my perspective isn’t definitive, and I don’t have an endless supply of hope and joy to draw on. I speak a lot of uplifting things to others (including my kids), but sometimes, I need to hear others speak words of life to me. But when you’re stuck at home, how?
I didn’t quite know how to bridge this gap, until I started watching 3ABN two weeks ago…and discovered TV really does deserve a place in my schedule. At least for now.
Later, of course, when the children are older and it doesn’t hurt my trust levels with them, I need to get back in the saddle of courting friends and social circles and Bible studies and prayer groups—things I love and desperately miss. But for now, flesh and blood human contact is sparse, and I need to bridge the gap. Thanks, 3ABN, and all the Christian TV and radio programs that fill such an important void for so many. I’m honored that this nearsighted writer was able to participate in creating some God-centered TV programming, and I’m tickled that God used my witnessing assignment to witness to me!
If you feel a spiritual void in your life, or a need for human contact, I hope you’ll tune in to some kind of Christian programming that can uplift you. While it’s not a substitute for a relationship with God or anyone else, it can help bridge the gap when we’re literally stuck at home or stuck in a rut spiritually. Happy TV watching!
“I don’t watch TV and don’t feel like I waste my time. So why don’t I always have time for God? What can I cut out of my day to spend more time with Him?”
I asked my husband this question last weekend during a heart to heart about putting God back at the center of our lives. Buc admitted he needed to cut down on media use, but I couldn’t put my finger on any “time-wasters” in my day; everything I did seemed useful, even needful.
“I know what your problem is.” Buc answered. “You’re a perfectionist. You might do all good things, but it takes you three times as long as most people. So you do everything well, but you don’t get much done.”
Ugh. He’s told me this before. And I guess I haven’t truly listened. But I’m finally starting to, because God has stepped in to send the message home. Over the last few weeks (during which I haven’t posted because I didn’t have time to write a “good enough” post) God has been teaching me that his idea of perfection is not the same as mine.
My idea of perfection looks something like this:
I should have morning worship every day
I should be a good and responsive mother to Sam (whatever that means while he is without language and can’t tell me what he wants/needs)
I should exercise vigorously every day
I should get to eat at least one meal with my husband (two would be better)
Those meals should be mostly healthy
I should get 8 hours of sleep every night
I should be writing every day
I should be blogging regularly
I should be involved at church
I should be preparing personalized Christmas gifts on Shutterfly (or similar sites) for my family
I should keep in touch with all my friends on a regular basis
I should keep my house clean–or, at the very least, should be able to get the dishes done at the end of every day
I should have clean hair every day
My daily reality is far from my daily “wish list.” And understandably; it’s an impossible list. Over and over in the past weeks God has been talking to me about my impossible standards, trying to redirect them to his standard. He says his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). That sounds better than the crushing yoke I’ve created for myself.
So what is God’s definition of perfection? I’m working on piecing together an imperfect definition, based on some verses he has directed me to lately:
“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.” (Ps. 18:32, NIV)
“…count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.But let patience have itsperfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NKJV)
“…from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the (wo)man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim. 3:15-17, KJV)
From these verses, I know there is nothing I can do to be “perfect”; it is only through God and his Word that I can aspire to “perfection.” And what is godly perfection? From James I am starting to understand that I can’t measure my “perfection” by my outward appearance; it has to do with my heart and my state of mind. Also, James tells me the road to becoming “perfect” is messy, paved with trials; and Timothy tells me that it may take some “reproof” and “correction” before I get there.
As I ponder and pray over these lessons from God and his Word, I am becoming more okay with days that don’t live up to my expectations. Good rest and good hygiene and healthy meals and quality time with my husband and robust writing production and everything else on my list would be really nice, but we live in an imperfect world–so these things won’t happen every day. So I have to become okay with that; I have to learn to embrace “imperfection” according to how I define imperfection (my shallow, outward definition), and embrace the “process of perfection” God has designed.
My house might be a mess, my hair might be a bit greasy, and it may be a month or more between blog posts…but that’s okay…as long as my connection with God is still intact.
In my imperfect world, maybe all I can do is a five-minute Bible study, or fifty distracted prayers throughout the day while chasing down a runway baby. Maybe I get blessed with an hour of “free” time in which to crack open my Bible commentaries. Maybe I only get to read a few scriptures on my index cards before motherhood calls.
The important thing is to not let the possibility of an “imperfect” Bible study or prayer session keep me from having that Bible study or prayer session. God has told me this recently. He told me, “Lindsey, ALL scripture is profitable for you…so even if you only get five minutes, take them.” And through a new favorite author, Lysa Terkeurst, he has also told me, “Your job is obedience; my job is results” (from Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions).
Okay, God. I will embrace imperfection, as long as you keep helping me (and I know you will). As long you keep “perfecting” me according to your will, I will keep loosening my grip on my own imperfect ideas of perfection.
Messy house, greasy hair, and hasty blog post, here I come! This is my day, and that’s okay.
One great thing about a baby is that he forces you to reexamine your priorities. As the mother of a two-month-old, I’m reconsidering mine, and I’m ashamed. I’m talking about the fact that Bible study feels foreign to me these days.
Maybe that’s not surprising. Everything from my former life—exercise, writing my memoir—feels foreign. The exercise video that was once easy has become difficult. The memoir that seemed nearly sewn up now has gaping holes. The daily devotion that came as a joy now poses frustration. In short, my abs were not the only things left flabby by childbirth.
Feedings, Facebook, and the Today show replaced my morning devotions. Bottle washing and diaper changing ousted my daily workouts. Rocking, singing, and mad dashes to shower during naptime replaced the writing. And with all that breastfeeding, as you might remember, memoirs became my reading material of choice. Yes, I’ve had time to read, but I haven’t had the focus, a little voice inside has said.
That’s not good. In my former (pre-mother) life as a Christian, I learned where certain little voices come from. If it’s not the Holy Spirit, it’s, well, the other guy.
This is a tough truth to face. On the one hand, I want to plead, “But it’s not my fault! I wasn’t getting any sleep, and how can you expect a zombie to focus on her Bible?” Even now I feel this argument holds water…concerning at least the first few weeks. Just like one cannot be expected to function without food or water, I believe one cannot be expected to function (at least optimally) on inadequate sleep.
Concerning new parenthood, and I suppose other life upheavals (such as moves and new jobs), there has to be an adjustment period, and it’s bound to be rocky. If you don’t have someone spoon-feeding you your Bible lessons—or bottle feeding your baby, putting him to sleep at night, changing his diapers, holding him when he cries for the zillionth time (you get the picture)—it’s unlikely that even the most devout new parent will have a robust devotional life.
Then, that infant settles down a bit, so that you can expect a decent naptime each day. Then he sleeps to the extent that you are no longer a walking zombie. Then you have the time and the faculties available to reconsider your priorities. Then you are once again accountable for your actions.
So, I’ve decided I need to regroup. I need to get back to the Bible.
Being a good Christian doesn’t exclude some of the things I’ve been doing lately (perhaps with the exception of the Today show—I can’t help but notice how the worst of pop culture is always applauded, never condemned) but it means those things never take priority over Bible study or prayer.
Because I’ve had trouble hearing God’s voice lately, I decided to fast this week from secular books and TV. Until I am again comfortable with God and the Bible (although a Christian really should never get comfortable) I’m not turning on secular TV or picking up a memoir. So far this week I’ve bathed myself in the Bible, other inspirational reading, and religious programs such as those aired on Amazing Facts TV (If you want a spiritual boost, I recommend Amazing Facts; the speaker/director Doug Batchelor is a favorite of mine). Similar to my “Damascus Road year,” I’ve been convicted that I need to keep God front and center in my life. When I don’t, life is upside down, even more so than new motherhood makes it.
Listen, new motherhood throws your whole identity up in the air. It’s hard to redefine yourself, especially in relation to your work, if you were formerly career oriented. But I’ve decided that there is one aspect of my identity that need never be shaken, and that is my identity as a daughter of God. In Christ, I am called to be Christlike wherever I am in life. Maybe I don’t have the luxury of many uninterrupted minutes of Bible study. Maybe most of my prayers can’t be made with the backdrop of silence. But I can be faithful with what I have, be it five minutes of quiet time in which to read, or a whole noisy, busy day in which to converse with God.
After giving my life to God, I was always on the lookout for tools to share my faith. I didn’t feel I was particularly good at this part of the Christian life, and I thought it was because I hadn’t yet found the right method. Enter Paul Coneff and The Hidden Half of the Gospel.
Paul conducted a week of prayer at my church in the spring of 2012, and after just the first night, I knew his message was special: I sensed it might even be the missing link in my life and ministry, this “hidden half” of Jesus’ story. So, what was it? And how, if I’d been in church almost my entire life, had I missed it?
The Hidden Half of the Gospel
Paul began his presentation with a question: “What did Jesus do more of while on this earth: Teaching or healing?”
Healing was the obvious answer. Then Paul asked, “Why have we [churches and Christians] reversed Jesus’ model of ministry? Why do we do more teaching than healing, when he did more healing than teaching?”
He continued, “Now let’s say that I am sitting in my office and I am studying for a sermon. Some church member comes in and says, ‘I have been struggling with guilt and shame from an abortion.’ Is it easier to turn to that messiness and brokenness of her life, or is it easier to do a Bible study on the character of God? Give her some scriptures on forgiveness and say, ‘You know God has forgiven you,’ pray with her a thirty-second prayer, and walk away. Which is easier?”
His point? Many churches, and Christians, don’t know how to handle messy problems like this one (other common examples being pornography addiction, abuse, eating disorders, infidelity, and cutting ), so we don’t–meaning we don’t offer the help so many people need. He went on to prove his point with a concept he calls the “cycle of sin-and-forgiveness.” Many Christians come into the church and get forgiveness for their sins, only to fall back into their patterns of sin. Then they ask for forgiveness, but continue to sin, again and again and again. (In my own experience of praying with women, I’ve also seen a pattern of wallowing in guilt over past sins that the person is no longer committing.) Paul continued. “Why is it that so many Christians who have accepted the ‘good news’ of Christ still are not free?”
I was riveted. Exactly! I said to myself, remembering how my parents had been wooed into the church with lots of good information and had gotten baptized, only to leave our family scattered and scarred by an affair and divorce (see parts 1, 2, and 3).
For the first time, I saw my problems standing stark naked in church, and I was desperate to know: How can the church address these issues?
1. The root of our sin and suffering is Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44). This concept of roots is huge in Paul’s ministry. As Paul explained, all our negative behaviors and patterns are merely fruits of deep-seeded roots, or lies, planted by Satan. We cannot fix the fruits unless we first attack the roots. Thus, healing begins by identifying the Satanic lies driving our behavior. Once we know the roots, or the lies, we can take those to Jesus and let him deal with them, which leads to pillar 2.
2. The root of our healing and freedom is Jesus, our Suffering Messiah (Luke 9:22; Rev. 5:5; Col. 2:15; Isa. 53). The suffering of Jesus is the crux of The Hidden Half of the Gospel, and the key to our healing.
As Paul explained, many churches have overlooked this crucial aspect of Jesus’ gospel, instead choosing to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The death and resurrection take care of forgiveness of sins, but often merely believing in and accepting these concepts doesn’t resolve suffering, or the cycle of sin-and-forgiveness. Putting “suffering” back into the definition of the gospel, as Jesus explained it to his disciples (see Luke 9:22), offers hope to those of us stuck in suffering—depression, abuse, addiction, etc.—because it means Jesus didn’t just nail our sins to the cross, but he also nailed our suffering there, as well. The Bible tells us Jesus “suffered and was tempted in every way” that we are tempted, to offer us help when we suffer and are tempted (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16).
Why Jesus Had to Suffer
“Have you ever thought about why Jesus’ story had to be so gory?” Paul asked the audience.
I really hadn’t.
“Well, think about it.” Paul continued. “Jesus was abandoned; betrayed; physically violated; shamed and humiliated; and verbally, mentally, emotionally, and physically abused. Now, do you think He understands the pain that abuse victims feel? Does He understand when a parent abandons a child? Was He ever tempted to numb His pain?
“He suffered all these things and more so He could identify with us. So that he could understand every way we are sinned against, and every form of self-protection we develop in order to numb our pain.
“What’s more, he suffered these temptations and triumphed over them, which means that when we take time to connect our stories with Jesus, to pray and meditate on what it means that he suffered for us, and became sin for us, we can experience his victory.”
By this time, I was hooked. I wanted this in my life. I wanted a ministry that was relevant to the suffering I’d experienced, and that which I saw all around me.
So I signed on for Paul’s seven-phase, thirteen-week discipleship program. That’s right. A thirteen-week program. This wasn’t any “quick fix.” It was going to be an intense period of praying on a consistent basis, first for myself (to get more healing in my own life before I was expected to pass it on–a requirement of Straight 2 the Heart Ministries) and then for others. I was going to learn at the feet of Jesus (and the seat of Paul Coneff) for an extended period of time, sort of like the first disciples, before I set out to make more disciples.
Discipleship, Small-Group Style
Paul spent the next four months with five of us, discipling us—praying with us, and training us to pray with others. And not quick, clean, thirty-second prayers. These were deep, messy prayer sessions that first asked Jesus to identify our negative roots, and then helped us connect our stories to Jesus’ story. It didn’t end there. We delved deeper, praying, “Lord, what else do you want me to know about these roots in my life? What blessings or barriers are there in these areas?” The prayers were recursive, connecting our stories to Jesus, then having us stop and listen to the Holy Spirit so he could take us one layer deeper into our negative roots. Always, by the end of the prayer sessions, which dredged up long-buried hurts and often tears, Jesus revealed blessings, too. He always brought to mind His promises to combat the negative roots our praying was churning up.
Our training ended, with the goal being that we would start more small groups in our church, beginning with a few men and women, hopefully to grow as disciples multiplied.
My Gateway to New Life at Home, at Work, and in Ministry
My life intersected with Paul Coneff’s message and ministry, Straight 2 the Heart, when I was at a crossroads in my life. I was coming up against the age of thirty, and was finding that pursuing my “chosen” path, graduate school to become a professor, was leaving me feeling empty. Here’s a summary of how God has since rerouted my plans through this life-changing prayer ministry.
Facing Remaining Negative Roots
First, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me to be honest about areas in my life that weren’t all healed yet (some of which are still in progress) such as:
Anger at the premature loss of my childhood family and, well, my childhood.
Resentment at my husband’s happy family (and any happy family).
Disillusionment with my church and religion because it “did not help me” in my time of crisis. Straight 2 the Heart helped me to see that my church didn’t help me because it didn’t know how—also, because I didn’t let them know I needed help in the first place. (It also provided the answer for how churches can help, when they have the right tools.)
My pattern of trying to control my life in my own strength so it would never get out of control again (or my attempts to never repeat my past depression, suicide attempts, broken family, etc., through over-planning, becoming over-busy, and more).
My avoidance of having kids out of the above need to maintain control.
Gaining Deeper Healing
Second, Straight 2 the Heart has led to more healing for those negative roots in these ways:
The decision to let go of the “safe,” but wrong career path of academia.
The decision to finally pursue the identity God has for me, which has translated into sharing my story through writing and even teaching. This blog, my memoir-in-progress, and Paul’s and my forthcoming book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, are all examples of me sharing my story for God’s glory.
The decision to have a baby.
The decision to be honest with other women, to reach out and accept relationships I had avoided but desperately needed (See my post “Friends in High Places”)
I am gaining more appreciation for my church as I look past its flaws (every church has flaws) and see the human beings there. Since deciding to be vulnerable with my own story, I’ve connected with many of these dear people in meaningful ways. I am getting the authentic “fellowship of believers” experience I missed as a child, when my family was intent on covering up its problems.
Taking the Next Step in Ministry
Third, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me learn how to have a really relevant ministry, or how to help others who are stuck in negative places and patterns like those I’ve suffered. (It is through making Jesus’ gospel relevant to the everyday struggles of life—boldly connecting our messiness to Jesus Christ’s suffering and his full gospel to “heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.”)
My partner in prayer ministry, Amanda, and I, prayed two new young women (now dear friends) through the thirteen-week prayer process, which helped lead them to lots of healing—and baptisms in our church!
Amanda and I also trained women at a neighboring church to facilitate the same thirteen-week prayer and discipleship process in their congregation.
With the help of Amanda and Mary, our other cohort from our initial 13-week training, I facilitated a third prayer group, consisting of around ten ladies, in my home for several months last fall. This group resulted in amazing healing for many of these women (for marital, parental, and other common problems) as well as facilitating much needed connection between these lovely, but often isolated church ladies.
Now I am working on rendering the miracles we saw in these women willing to be honest with one another and with God into the closing scenes for my memoir. I want my story to testify to how one changed life can ripple out to other lives, and still more lives from there. This is what discipleship is all about.
Now, what I’ve left out of my rebirth story (and there’s lots I’ve left out), I am working on telling in my memoir. Why did I call this my “ugly, messy” rebirth story? If you consider a real birth (and I’ve been considering it a lot lately), it’s a messy process. It’s no small thing when a new physical life is created—and the same is true for a new spiritual life. The creation of a life, and the re-creation of a life, are not simple or easy processes. At times they are painful, ugly, and messy—but to get to the birth, or the rebirth, they are necessary. That’s why I have unapologetically included the ugliness and messiness in my story—along with its beauty. Without either, my story would be incomplete.
One surefire way to tell you’ve been “reborn” is the desire to share your faith with others. On the other hand, if the idea of “sharing your faith” turns you off or even terrifies you, that’s a good sign you haven’t been reborn. For most of my life, born “Christian” though I was, that was my experience: I didn’t know what to share, and I didn’t know how.
After my “Damascus Road Year” (see part 5), for the first time in my adult life, I had abiding joy and peace, which led to faith. Finally, I had something to share. Now, I just had to figure out how to share it.
In the four years since my conversion, I’ve decided we born-again Christians can share our faith in two ways: implicitly, and explicitly.
Sharing Faith Implicitly
First, we can share our faith implicitly by living out our new identities in Christ. If we’ve truly been reborn, then our daily lives—our habits, our behaviors, our interactions with others—will naturally witness to Jesus Christ, because we will be emulating him. If we are following Jesus, we will not be living like the rest of the world, and people will take notice.
For example, after my conversion, my public high school students started to ask me questions about my faith, even advice about faith-related matters: “Why don’t you drink?” “Why do you go to church on Saturday?” “What do you think about marriage?” “How can I make my boyfriend see that prayer is an important part of the Christian life?” These questions came without me explicitly stating my beliefs—but I didn’t need to, because my behavior showed me to be different from most of the other teachers.
Sharing Faith Explicitly
Second, we can share our faith explicitly in a variety of ways, depending on our personalities. Note: This form of sharing does not come in a “one-size-fits-all” box. Unfortunately, some churches, preachers, and Bible teachers, try to make us feel like witnessing should look the same for everyone, thereby making some of us (i.e., those of us who don’t fit the traditional mold) feel like failures before we’ve even begun.
Two years prior to my conversion, I was the victim of one such discipleship training that was intended to prepare me to give Bible studies at the end of eight weeks. But after eight weeks, I was no more ready to give Bible studies than I’d been at the beginning, for two reasons. One: I hadn’t yet met the Lord personally (though I was active in my church and looked “good” on the outside), and two: the type of ministry wasn’t right for me.
The first fatal flaw of the training was that it didn’t show me how to have a personal experience with Christ before asking me to spread that experience to others. To its credit, the training frontloaded the concept of preparing our hearts for ministry. The speaker said we should deal with our own baggage before we try to minister to others—but she didn’t really explain or model how, exactly, I was supposed to rid myself of that “old man”—AKA my baggage. When I began the training, I was still depressed and self-centered, and it’s pretty hard to testify to Jesus’ redemptive power in that state of mind. Unfortunately, after the first night, it was assumed we were ready to learn how to “share our faith” with others. And that brings me to the second fatal flaw.
This training only presented one way of how to share my faith, as if that were the only way. I don’t want to unduly pick on my religion, but since it’s the one I know, it gets to be the example. In the Seventh-day Adventist tradition, the ol’ standby for sharing faith is knocking on doors and offering Bible studies. For Adventists, and probably a lot of other Christian religions, Bible studies equate to a series of topical handouts that progress through our beliefs by way of Q and A—with plentiful Bible verses listed to help answer the Q’s.
Let me be clear: I don’t think these studies are bad. I think they definitely have their place, especially for those who are completely new to the Bible. But when it comes to sharing my faith, these studies do not appeal to me. That’s because I did not personally or experientially come to know Jesus through these types of studies, and I find it hard to believe that others could, either (though I’m sure it’s happened).
When it comes to explicitly sharing our faith, we should choose a method we can be passionate about; it’s important that we honor our personalities, choosing and using a method that speaks to us. If you’ve found the Lord and are excited to share him, yet you’re still not sure how to do that explicitly, learn from my experience. Perhaps you just haven’t stumbled upon the right method yet.
Bible Study Bummer
When it came time to start my “explicit” phase of ministry, I knew who I wanted to reach out to—my friends and peers from church—but I didn’t know how. After a lifetime in the Adventist church, the only thing I could think was traditional Bible studies…so that’s basically what I did.
Now, I didn’t start with our prefabricated lesson studies, which usually progress through a series of doctrines. I wanted to focus more on the heart, because I believed that, more than head knowledge, my friends and peers needed a heart experience with the Lord—or what I’d recently found. So, I picked a book about having a heart experience, John Dybdahl’s Hunger: Satisfying the Longing of Your Soul, and made study guides for our meetings. My heart was in the right place, but my approach was wrong.
I had designed the studies similar to my high school handouts, complete with fill-in-the-blank answers. That’s a good way to short circuit good discussion and sometimes independent thought. As for prayer? By now I had somewhat of a vibrant personal prayer life (it involved a lot of writing to God in my journal), but I didn’t know how to facilitate really effective public prayer. So I duplicated the format we used at church: I asked for praises and then prayer requests. We went around the circle, said our praises and prayer requests, and then one person prayed, thanking God for the praises, listing the requests, and asking God to guide the study. It was a fine prayer, but it wasn’t going to result in hearts being transformed.
Despite my ineptitude, our Bible study consistently drew a crowd. I could tell my friends enjoyed coming (was it because I fed them?); and I even made some new, dear friends. I wasn’t running a particularly great study, but God brought blessings out of it (and therein is a lesson). However, after a year and half, I wanted something better. I’d read Trish Ryan’s Christian memoir, He Loves Me, He Love Me Not, and her small group was, as I read it, much more effective than mine. She wrote of things like group intercessory prayer that resulted in many heart conversions. It was then that I began to feel like a failure in ministry—and had my “Unexpected Breakdown” (check out what happened in this post that got me freshly pressed).
After two years of being on fire for the Lord, I burned out. After giving so much to my friends and to the church, I felt bankrupt myself.
Now about to finish a master’s degree and no longer sure I wanted to pursue a doctorate (would spending so much time in grad school be to bypass another calling the Lord had for me?) I needed to find strength again. I also needed (but didn’t know it) more healing for the roots of my former depression.
In the conclusion, learn about the prayer ministry that not only helped me heal, decide to have children, and decide to change career courses, but also taught me how to witness “straight to the heart.” It is the same prayer ministry that laid the groundwork for Writing to my Roots.
For a long time I waited to have the type of “Damascus Road” conversion that the Apostle Paul had. I wanted a cataclysmic experience to bring me to God, once and for all. Maybe I should have been careful what I wished for!
As I wrote in part 4, I was about to start my second year of teaching when my mom—who already had cancer—was hospitalized for bipolar disorder, and my little brother went into foster care. Because my hands were tied with one-hundred adolescents, one-thousand miles away, I fell to my knees and pleaded for God to do something. And he did.
Oh, but he didn’t change my outward situation–or my mom’s, or my brother’s–at least not at first. First, he changed me—from the inside out.
My Damascus Road Year
I believe that God is always growing those who seek him. While we don’t always sense our growth, sometimes we experience “growth spurts.” That year was my first spiritual growth spurt. With God’s leading, and with a little help from Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I was forming all kinds of good habits in my life.
By far the most important habit I formed that year was the habit of daily prayer and Bible study.
Next, I began memorizing Scripture so that, when negative thoughts came, I could re-set my mind on God’s promises. Without even having to think about it, I started pondering Scripture throughout the day and conversing with God. In turn, he responded to me by bringing certain Bible verses to mind that I had memorized.
Again, without my having to work at it, the words that I spoke, in conversation and in prayer, started to change. Rather than counting my losses, I started counting my blessings. My journaling naturally took a more thankful tone, too, as I wrote about how I was experiencing “happy days” like never before.
After allowing God’s words to take root in me for several months, I was generally not depressed anymore. When sad days came, I fought them off by reciting Scripture and reading the Word.
And that is the key to rebirth: we cannot changes ourselves, but God’s “living and active” Word must change us (Heb. 4:12-13). If there is one thing we can do, we can avail ourselves of the Word and prayer.
More Spiritual Fruit
Not only were my devotional habits changing, but so were many other aspects of my life. During this time, I heard a pivotal sermon all about monitoring what we put into our minds and bodies. The speaker, evangelist Leo Schreven, raised tough questions for Christians, such as: Why do we listen to, read, and watch the same kinds of materials that the “world” listens to, reads, and watches?
As Schreven pointed out, so much of mainstream media and entertainment is opposed to Christian principles, such as the many pop, country, or rock songs crooning of infidelity. What about TV shows and movies fraught with violence? He pointed out that there is so much “trash” around us, yet we Christians sift through it as if through a dumpster, always hoping to find something halfway decent—instead of doing the sensible thing and avoiding the trash altogether.
Input, Output: By Beholding, We Become Changed
As a recovering depressive, this point hit me hard. I was beginning to realize that a large part of my depression came down to my thought patterns—and many of my post-adolescent thought patterns were determined by the music I listened to, the books I read, and the things I watched.
There was a reason I often felt cranky after watching secular movies or reading secular books: They were not uplifting. Even cute, seemingly harmless chick flicks left me desiring a more glamorous life, a more “storybook” marriage, a prettier figure, and a more successful career. In other words, they were leading me to desire almost everything but a relationship with the Lord.
Moreover, I realized with horror that when I listened to music with depressing or even suicidal lyrics (the band Evanescence came immediately to mind), I was cooperating with Satan by meditating on self-destructive thoughts.
Now I was beginning to understand why my older brother had tossed out his entire CD collection after his own rebirth experience. I realized these seemingly “harmless” hobbies are really insidious tools of the devil to speak lies to us.
So I threw out my CD collection, too—the bad part of it. For a time I stopped reading novels and switched completely to the Bible and self-help books (this was an odd and confusing thing for an English major to do). I also separated myself from certain friends (sadly, self-professed “Christians”) who habitually exposed me to R-rated movies. I knew these changes were all necessary to cleanse and fortify my sinful, depression-prone mind.
The other conviction I felt was a need to reach out to my friends, many of whom called themselves Christians, but who, like me, did not live like it. Why, if we were “Christians,” did we never come together to talk about Christ? The only times we got together, we watched secular movies and did other non-Christ-centered things. I made it a goal to start a young adult Bible study for these beloved friends.
All of these changes were happening in me while Mom was in the mental hospital, my little brother in foster care, and myself tied up with teaching, 1,000 miles away from them. Later that fall, Mom was mentally stable and discharged from the hospital, and by November, she had my little brother back. The remaining unknown was Mom’s cancer.
Meanwhile, I marveled at how God was sustaining me. I believe God carried me on high that year, helping me soar above situations that could have otherwise devastated me.
The One Who Sustains
The truth is, no matter if we think we are sustaining our lives, God is the one who sustains. We couldn’t even breathe without him. We may think we’re the ones moving our lives forward—but we can do nothing of ourselves. The Apostle Paul wrote, “[God] himself gives all men life and breath and everything else,” and “It is God who works in you to will and to act of his good purpose” (Acts 17:25; Phil. 2:13). Jesus Christ, while he lived on this earth in human flesh, even said, “Of myself I can do nothing.”
On the Other Side of Hardship
Ever heard this saying?
Sometimes you have to be knocked flat on your back to look up.
I believe that God uses trials to get our attention. I’m not saying he causes bad things to happen, but he uses bad things to make us stop and realize how powerless we are. Without facing trials, we tend to get haughty, thinking we don’t need God. It is when we are knocked flat on our backs that we have to face the truth: we can do nothing without God.
After God has broken us, he can use us: “Before I was afflicted, I went astray. But now I obey your word” (Ps. 119:67). While most of us would never ask for hardships, sometimes they are the best things that can happen to us. The Apostle Paul recognized this. Knowing that “God’s strength is made perfect in weakness,” Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). But what if we don’t have this attitude?
A Mature Faith
Please note: It is not natural to “boast about weaknesses,” or to thank God for hardship. It is only a mature person who can recognize the blessing in trials, and only a mature faith that can observe: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor. 7:10).
When hardships come, we will either experience godly sorrow, or worldly sorrow. One type of sorrow sees hardship as an opportunity to lean on God and grow, and the other sees it as a life-ender; that was me in parts 1, 2, and 3.
So what am I to make of those years when I tried to pray but did not feel God’s presence? Looking to James, I think the answer has something to do with developing perseverance. James says, “[T]he testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything….” (James 1:2-4).
Sometimes we are not ready to receive the things of God. “The carnal [or worldly] mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). I would substitute the word “immature” for “carnal.” My immature mind was not ready to submit to God—plus, I was in so much pain, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.
Why do some of us have to go through more pain than others to “get it”? I don’t know. I just know that, on the other side of pain, there can be great joy. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
As the writer of Hebrews said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (12:10-12).
This is how we know we have matured spiritually: when we can thank God for our trials.
After we have experienced a rebirth, how do we share our experience with others? Read part 6 to find out what worked (and what didn’t) for me.
There have been times in my life when a breakdown seemed imminent, and lo and behold, I had one. After those incidents, people in my life—like parents, counselors, and doctors—looked back on the circumstances surrounding the breakdown and agreed, “Yeah, it’s no wonder.” I, too, understood where those meltdowns came from.
But about six months ago when I short-circuited (not to the point of self-harm or anything, just had an incapacitating freak-out for a few days), it didn’t seem imminent. It was unexpected. And people around me would have said the same thing. Today I’m writing to try figure out: What was up with that? And is there a bigger issue (a hidden root) I need to deal with?
Most people when they look at my life wouldn’t say I’ve got a problem: They’d probably say I’m really organized and driven—not breakdown material. I’m a leader in my church and have labored for the past two years to bring others to Christ, because I was so excited when I finally found him. So, in 2011, I started a small group Bible study with the intent of providing a place for my “Christian” friends to talk about Christ. Prior to that, I noticed we didn’t really talk about him together. Go figure.
Then, I got involved with a prayer ministry called Straight 2 the Heart. I took a three-month training, co-wrote a book with the program’s mastermind, and several months later my prayer partner and I started praying with two other friends to help them experience the freedom and joy we had found.
Concurrent with my prayer training, I took on the position of music leader at church and drummed up all kinds of “great” ideas to bring our fragmented church back together. One of them was starting a choir, and another was putting song leaders into teams to create community.
Last fall, 2012, I was on a roll, doing just everything in my little power to “revive” my church, which, I thought, had grown stale. I was proud when my older brother, now a missionary, visited us and observed that our home, with its two Bible study/prayer meetings a week had become an outreach center. I basked in the glow of his approval: if you haven’t guessed, I thrive on such accolades.
Then, December came, and I had ten musical programs to line up, including the music all that month for church, and five vespers programs. Halfway through the month an out-of-state choir was to come perform, and I thought I had it all under control. I arrived at the church a safe thirty-five minutes early, or so I thought, only to be met by a disgruntled choir director who informed me I was supposed to have opened the church for them an hour in advance for set-up. She swore we’d discussed this detail on the phone, but I had absolutely no recall of it. Between setting up meetings, making phone calls, sending group emails to my Bible study and prayer groups, and coordinating choir things, my mind was too full to accommodate the memory.
It was then that I excused myself for the bathroom and broke down. In the farthest stall from the entrance, I sat and I cried and cried and cried. I started hyperventilating and couldn’t catch my breath. I called my hubby to ask what I should do. I was supposed to go out and introduce the choir in a few minutes, and I couldn’t stop crying.
Someone else ended up introducing them for me. Meanwhile, I missed almost all of Handel’s Messiah while I huddled in that bathroom stall trying to compose myself.
After December was done and I’d met my immediate commitments, I stayed home from church most of January, and I cancelled our home Bible study. People didn’t understand why I’d just quit cold turkey, and I couldn’t explain.
Making Sense of Things
Six months later, I know I had taken on too much. Not only did I take on too many jobs, but I took on the burden of other people’s salvation, and the burden of our church’s brokenness. Under the guise of “doing the Lord’s work,” I committed the sin of trying to play God himself, as if I could “save” my friends’ souls and fix my church’s issues.
I know I had the best of intentions, but now I also know I had a big problem. You see, after you’ve had a mountaintop spiritual experience, as I’d had during the prayer ministry, Satan swoops in with new wiles to trap you. After receiving so much healing, I felt on top of the world. And that’s when Satan must’ve suggested that I could make this healing happen for others. And do it in my own strength.
This week I’ve been praying about the same problem. After a bit of a ministry hiatus, I’ve been dipping back into outreach. As the church’s newly elected prayer coordinator, I’ve initiated a new prayer group at church, and as the communications secretary, I’m already dreaming big dreams for connecting our church in some new ways.
If I don’t watch out, I’ll end up barreling headfirst into another breakdown. How do I counter this good, yet bad, tendency?
Avoiding Future Breakdowns
Not long after said breakdown, I heard a sermon on Elijah’s “mountaintop” experience, after which he promptly sank into a despondent state (sounded familiar; see 1 Kings 18 and 19). The speaker said it’s common to fall low after experiencing a high, because we are worn out, and we let our guard down. Then he talked about how God actually commanded Elijah to rest for awhile, take care of himself, and then delegate work to someone else (shortly thereafter, he passed his prophetic mantle to Elisha).
This idea about resting after a strenuous effort was advice I needed to hear. So was the part about delegating. And it also reminded me of some other Bible passages I’d already read on this subject.
As I pondered this topic, God brought to mind the story in Exodus where he actually commanded Moses to dole out his work to seventy elders. I also remembered how the early apostles doled out food preparation duties when their numbers were growing rapidly so they could devote themselves to prayer and ministry of the word (Acts 6:3, 4). I also stumbled on other verses that encouraged me, such as Matthew 9:38 and Ephesians 4:11-13, which tell me God has a specific, special work for me—and it doesn’t include doing everything I theoretically and possibly could do for the Lord, or the church.
So how do I avoid future breakdowns?
Now I know that answer has something to do with delegating, taking some pressure off myself. And I know it also entails homing in on my specific appointed work from God and not getting sidetracked by any and every possible thing I could do for God, because then I’d never get a break (except when I break down!).
I also need to keep praying, to uproot the false beliefs that keep telling me I have to do it all. And I have to keep praying for God to reveal why I feel the need to control things—and I have to let him release me. Like every growing and healing experience, this one will take time.