When do you feel like you’re failing? What do you believe about yourself in those times? Fear of my perceived failures brought me down during some dark days in 2013. But it was a seed that God has used to teach me who I really am and has led to a more joyfully abundant life.
My first 34 years – summed up in 6 sentences
Before 2013, I grew up the youngest of three children in a single-parent home in the beautiful setting of Sedalia, Colorado. God reached out to draw me to Himself when I was a freshman in college. Upon graduation, I married the man who had asked me to date him two weeks after I had, unbeknownst to him, become a Christian. After three years of marriage, we had three daughters in the next five years. I was (and still am) a stay-at-home and work-at-home mom. Even though it was hard at times – annoyed that my house was always cluttered, frustrated by not knowing how to handle some of my kids’ behavior, trying to balance work and home responsibilities – I thought I was doing okay.
Sick and tired… and depressed?!
Then fall of 2013 hit. I was tired and grumpy most of the time. I got mad at my kids more than I should. I had a sinus infection that wouldn’t go away. I had a cough that lasted so long it hurt my back. After two rounds of antibiotics, I went to see a naturopath a friend had mentioned to me. It didn’t take long for my naturopath, Brenda, to realize that I was not taking care of myself and that many of my problems were as much emotional as physical.
“Do you feel overwhelmed and anxious a lot?” she asked. I started to cry. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t handle everything I had to do. I was depressed, but I didn’t want to admit that either. After all, I was a naturally happy person, I couldn’t be depressed! But I had scheduled my life without margin for rest, so when I got sick, everything felt hard and overwhelming. She asked what the most overwhelming thing in my life was and I said, probably my messy house.
Brenda confirmed that I had an infection, and suggested some changes which included some natural remedies; eliminating gluten, dairy and sugar from my diet; getting more rest; and working on an area of my home that would be clean and orderly – a sanctuary for me.
I knew she was right that things needed to change. It was as if she had given me the permission to rest that I wasn’t willing to give myself and that no one else was offering.
Taking time off from “doing stuff” – but only for a little while
I decided not to be mad at myself if I couldn’t work or do as much as I normally did (because I was often mad at myself for not “doing” enough). I spent the next two months mostly resting, going to the chiropractor to get my back straightened out from my coughing, and doing the absolute minimum I could. I had to get healthy if I was going to be useful to my family or others again.
I began exercising regularly, which I really enjoyed, I ate more healthfully, and I thought about how to keep my house in order.
Once I began feeling physically better, I began to do more again. But I would wear out and have to rest again. It was frustrating. Even when I was doing better physically I still had times when I was mentally tired and, though I didn’t think of it in these terms, I was depressed.
In those times when I felt physically better, but emotionally grumpy, I thought maybe my problem was that I was being too self-absorbed. That what I needed to do was do something for someone else. So I tried that and I was more worn out than before. I felt somewhat selfish for taking all this time to take care of myself. I was supposed to serve others, but I just couldn’t. I could get dinner on the table and that was about it.
Who me? Ask for help?
God showed me so much through that time. That it was okay to rest, that I needed more time for myself than I wanted to admit, that I had to ask for time for myself, that I was always trying to help others, but now I was the one who needed help.
So I began to pray for five godly mentors. I already had a few. But I needed more to help me with specific areas of my life and I needed to spend more time with the ones I already had. One of my mentors knew that my house was one of the most overwhelming things in my life and after listening to God’s prompting, offered to help me reorganize some areas of my house. Maybe before I would have refused. Now I accepted gratefully.
God also sent another, unexpected mentor in fall of 2014: a high-school classmate of my husband’s who had, like my husband, moved from Michigan to Colorado. We had Janna and her husband Dave over for dinner and Janna and I hit it off. She asked me to go to coffee and she asked me about my story. When I was done, she asked, “So when do you still feel those feelings of depression?” I wasn’t quite sure how to answer because I didn’t want to think that it was possible that I was still depressed.
Why do I feel like such a failure?
Janna and I began to meet regularly and we worked through a lot of lies I was believing about myself. Over lunch one day she told me that people usually have two or three limiting beliefs and she was gently trying to figure out what mine were. More to my surprise than hers, after much discussion, I blurted out, “Well, people who don’t do anything are worthless!” There it was in all its ugliness.
Somewhere along the way I had started believing (though I wouldn’t have verbalized it) that if I wasn’t doing something (anything, so long as I looked busy!), people wouldn’t like me and God would be displeased with me. How to could I have a fruitful life if I didn’t do anything?
But not only did I believe that about myself, I subconsciously believed it of other people, which is why resentment and bitterness began to creep in when I would see my husband taking time to relax while I did the dishes. “He’s worked all day, he should have a break,” I would say to myself. But in my heart, I was mad. I worked all day too, so why could I not also take a break? Instead of talking with him about it (he’s so willing to help when I ask!), I stuffed it all inside and let it fester in my mind.
Perhaps because I determined my worth by what I did, I was also plagued by the limiting beliefs that I was never good enough, smart enough, or energetic enough to do all that I thought I should do. You could point to all the ways I was a wonderful wife, mother, and friend, and I could point to all the ways in which I failed at each of those things.
Janna spent weeks trying to get me to talk about who I was apart from what I do. She asked if there were good things about me that were good whether or not I was doing anything. I don’t think I really comprehended the question. I wrestled with the depravity of man and passages like Romans 7:18, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” How could there be anything good about me?
“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit” – are you talking about me?
Then came the fruit tree. For some reason (actually, God’s grace), I was reading Matthew 7 and came to verses 17 and 18:
“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.”
I was stunned. There was Jesus calling me a good fruit tree (because this was obviously Jesus teaching about those who had trusted Him as the One who came to forgive their sins, which I am). If I was a good tree, I could only bear good fruit.
I thought most of my fruit was kind of squishy. Yes, I played with my kids, but then we argued when it was time to clean up; I cooked a homemade dinner but burned the bread and got mad when the kids didn’t like the chicken, etc. But as a believer, Jesus says it is actually impossible for me to bear bad fruit. I had to admit that I was good, in Christ, apart from what I do.
For the past few years I had banged my head (figuratively of course!) against the wall trying to be good at everything, trying to do the exact right thing at the exact right time so people would like me and God would be pleased and bless me.
But that’s not a life of faith. That’s a life of formula, bound for disappointment, discouragement, and depression.
The chains of worthlessness and failure begin to loosen
Janna and I began to examine what was true of me. To start with, each person on earth is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And we studied Psalm 139:14, “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” I realized that even if I’m just sitting in my chair doing nothing, I am bearing fruit, glorifying God because He made me in a wonderful and creative way, just as He made each person living, to show His handiwork.
Not only am I His workmanship, as a believer, I can claim the promises of who I am in Christ. I am adopted into His family. I can plop myself on His couch and talk to Him about my day. I am chosen and wanted by God, the maker of heaven and earth – that’s pretty special. I am forgiven and whatever I have done or will do wrong – whatever fruit seems squishy to me – is covered with Jesus’ robes of righteousness.
When I began to look at myself as God looks at me, the chains of belief that I was failing, that I was worthless, that I was not enough began to loosen. And I began to relax. If God didn’t want to beat me up for what I did, why should I? I’m not defined by what I do because He only sees Christ’s righteousness in me. I can’t earn God’s love because He already loves me more than I can imagine.
What do I do now? Live abundantly!
Once I grasped that God saw me as a good fruit tree with roots grounded in Christ, I could begin again to look at what fruit could come from the tree – what I do. With Janna’s help and feedback from several people close to me, I discovered things that are particularly unique about me, things that I really am good at. It’s so much more fun to do what God made you good at and leave the things you’re not so good at to others. (“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” – I Corinthians 12:17)
Does it matter what I do? Yes. What I do hasn’t really changed all that much through this journey. The way I view what I do has shifted 180 degrees. Ironically, when I stop living life being defined by what I do and begin living life thinking about what I’m naturally good at and who I am in Christ, I begin to be abundantly fruitful, producing more love and joy. More love because I can relax into God’s care and show others the same grace God shows me. More joy because I’m focusing on doing those things that I’m good at and bring me joy, which in turn often bring others joy.
I have not arrived. I must continue to tell myself these truths. I have to eat well and give myself time to rest. I don’t always respond well or “do” the right thing. But now I am not chained to the belief that my worth is based on what I do. My worth is based on who I am in Christ. I am free to live a life that is full of abounding fruit.
And that is why I started this blog. I want to continue to examine ideas that are rooted in the freedom that is found with a right understanding of a believer’s identity in Christ. My hope is that what I write on this blog will help you and me both to explore how to live lives of abounding fruit!
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10