My words for the year are Courage and Contentment. I shared them here. Before I boiled it down to these two, I knew that I needed something different for this year. I needed to be bravely vulnerable. I felt God calling me to that, and it terrified me. Vulnerability is hard in general, and it’s the one thing I’ve avoided like mad for years.
I was especially terrified that God might ask me to share some of the deepest, most well-guarded parts of my story. Guess what He has been impressing on me to share, like a pressing that grows stronger daily? A part of my story that could leave me open to unkind as well as kind words.
I did not use vulnerable as my word for the year in part because of its definition: “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.” And the synonyms didn’t sound much better: “helpless, defenseless, powerless, impotent, weak, susceptible.”
But if God is asking me to be vulnerable and open to attack or harm, to be weak, powerless, and defenseless – it is in my own ability that I am vulnerable. In Him I have strength, safety, shelter, power, and a Strong Defender. And so I chose the word Courage, knowing that whatever God asked me to share or to do this year, if I relied on Him it would be a safe thing.
This is what I have to share: that I am broken. I am not whole, or perfect, or even very strong. My two greatest struggles right now are overcoming depression and something called codependency. I knew for some time that I struggled on and off with depression. Everyone does at some point, you know? But what I didn’t realize is that I have a low-level depression running all the time, almost in the background, flaring up on regular basis. I also had no idea about the codependency. I knew that something wasn’t right, but not until I sought out counseling last summer did I learn these things.
What exactly is codependency? Originally, it was a term used to describe the spouse of an alcoholic. These spouses all had similar behavioral patterns. They compensate for the “bad behavior” of the spouse and are ultra-controlling, in an attempt to correct or fix the alcoholics problems. Today, the term is applied to a much broader range of circumstances. It is most common in situations where addictions are present. However, it can be found in other dysfunctional environments or get passed down to future generations as codependent behaviors are seen as normal.
ChristianCodependence.com defines it as “…a set of learned coping skills used to function in an environment that is imbalanced and dysfunctional. It is a counterfeit method of expressing love and engaging in healthy, spiritually-based relationships…..In truth, codependence can develop or exist wherever relationships (past or current) are love-deficient. It also occurs when we look for something from the outside to fill the “inner void” on the inside. Since that inner void can only be filled by God, a codependent unknowingly attempts to put a person, situation, or thing in God’s place. Before we get overwhelmed by that definition, recognize that by default all human beings do this. Therefore, it would be technically correct to say that all people are at one point ‘codependent.’”
It’s a scary and shameful thing to admit, finally, that you are very broken when all you’ve wanted is to be whole and perfect. That is, if you think that brokenness is a bad thing. I used to think so. But now I can say with the apostle Paul, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Why? Because Christ’s strength “…is made perfect in weakness.” He accepts me in my weakness, and even allowed the circumstances throughout my childhood that led to the struggles I am having today. As I learn to accept the sovereignty of God’s hand over my life, I can even thank Him for these struggles, for they are drawing me closer to Him and opening up the beauty of the Scriptures in a way I may not have been able to see otherwise. I know that there is an ultimate good coming from this as He redeems my brokenness.
I had thought for several years that counseling would be a good thing for me to pursue. But I’d been terrified to do it because of the fear of what others might think of me. Outwardly I looked like I pretty much had life together. Sure, I was a little withdrawn, quiet, maybe a bit odd. But I served in multiple ministries, taught occasionally, and wanted to devote my life to ministry. What would people say if they found out I needed counseling, that I was not perfect and whole?
In the months leading up to my wedding and the year following (in which our precious daughter was born), it became glaringly apparent that if I wanted to have a healthy marriage and motherhood, I needed to pursue counseling. I won’t go into details as I want to protect the honor of the others involved. The most I can share for now is that I was very depressed, unsure of how have a healthy relationships, and very fearful that I would be a failure as a wife and mother. At this point I decided that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought – I needed help to sort this out.
Since then I’ve learned that there is not a single one of us in the church who could not benefit from some good Christian counseling at some point. I read somewhere that we really ought to prioritize mental health as much as we do our physical health here in America. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s not about finding an excuse or label for yourself. It’s about learning better thought patterns, habits, and internalizing the truth of Scripture so that it pours into every facet of your life. Counseling is something that I plan to pursue throughout the rest of my life – not an every week sort of thing, but every time that I know I need it.
In the past year, I’ve been learning so many good things about how to overcome depression and codependency. It is too much to share all in one post, but I’d like to share two of them before ending.
First, I’ve learned that the best way to battle the feelings of worthlessness is by applying truth to them. For example, I might mess up dinner, and then think, “I can’t do anything right. I’m a complete failure.” But is my worth determined by my ability to make dinner? Not according to the truth of God’s Word. We are precious to Him even before we know Him. (See Isaiah 43:4, and then, this list of verses.)And do you know what I heard recently, on a Revive Our Hearts episode? That putting ourselves down is actually a form of false humility; beating ourselves up is based in our pride. That seems so counter intuitive, especially when you feel lower than low. But is our worth based on our ability to perform, or is it based on Christ and the cross?
Second, I’ve learned that it is okay to be broken, to be in need of help, to be weak. I read through 2 Corinthians 4 recently, which talks about how we are simply jars of clay. We are weak, easily broken and why? So that God’s power may be obvious in us. We suffer hardship, often not understanding or wanting to pound on heaven’s door and scream, “Why? Why is this what you have given me?” So that Jesus’ life may be manifest in us as He redeems the bad and makes it good. All of this is so that God receives glory. And the wonder of it all? It is that when He receives glory, we receive fulfillment and happiness. (Can I recommend Ann Voskamp’s newest book, The Broken Way? If you are struggling with accepting your brokenness, it could be a great help.)
This has been very difficult to put out into the open. I did it because this is God’s story of hope and redemption working out in me, and He has asked me to share it. I hope that it is an encouragement to someone who may be struggling. I hope that it brings you courage. We are all works in progress. We all have areas that we fail in. We all need to grow in grace. Just because your struggle is with your mind does not make you less lovable, less redeemable, worth less than those around you. You are precious and loved ever so greatly. It is a love that you do not have to earn; it is already yours. Remember this.