“All day, every day, I have to fight off negative thoughts.” This was one of the most powerful things I didn’t know I needed to hear. It was profound, yet so simple. One of my favorite speakers said this and as she shared I was reminded – she is human. No matter how much I respect her, she is not perfect. In spite of her struggles, God is using her.
I was impacted by it for a couple different reasons. First, I can easily buy into the lie that in order to walk out my calling, I have to have everything figured out.
Second, I don’t like to admit struggle when I’m still in the trenches. We all often wait until we are on the other side of the struggle. Waiting allows us to communicate our struggle in the past tense.
We do that because it’s scary. It is a lot more vulnerable to speak about something you are currently struggling with than something you have reframed, repackaged and have control over. I’m realizing I do this more than I would like to admit.
In order to combat that, and encourage you to do the same, I’m going to tell you about my week.
I have a lot of anxiety around traveling. My trauma taunts me before I leave telling me something terrible is going to happen. And why wouldn’t it? Horrible things have happened several times before. Anxiety stirs up my stomach so much that before I even leave my IBS is in full force (I know TMI). My IBS causes me to feel nauseous, which is an anxiety trigger for me. On top of that I have a daughter who is anxious and doesn’t do great with traveling either. And as much as I attempt a peaceful exterior, she knows. So I have to try hard to not be anxious for her…which causes more anxiety. I get angry that I can’t just be anxious, but that I have to try to control my anxiety for her. Then I just get mad. It’s a vicious cycle.
A week ago I headed out of town on a four day, three night school trip with Piper’s grade. I rode separately, but close behind were 3 buses full of 5th graders. I had never been there. I didn’t trust the kitchen staff to accommodate my dietary needs. I was already behind on sleep. It helped that Bryan was along for the trip, but by my anxiety cycle was already in full force. Piper started the day in good spirits, but I knew all it would take was a sideways glance to push her over the edge.
It was cold. I didn’t get enough sleep. I was pleasantly surprised by the food. I had a lot of fun getting to know the kids. I had to take a lot of deep breaths. My thoughts would start to spin and several times I had to bring myself back to the present, to ground myself to reality. Piper did better than I thought. Overall, it was actually easier than I thought.
We returned home and then, after a 24 hour turn around, Cole and Bryan left for a weekend retreat. I felt really vulnerable when they left. The trip was better than I expected, but I was exhausted.
I also struggle when Bryan leaves town. As with traveling, my trauma taunts me before he leaves. Lies bombard me telling me that something terrible is going to happen to us or to him while he is away. When they left, I felt myself getting anxious and angry. I was angry at Bryan for going to the retreat right after we got back. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I also knew it meant another 2 days for me to struggle to maintain normalcy. I was angry that anger was my reaction.
Piper and I had a great weekend. We rented movies, got special treats and even got pedicures. But I was weary. I prayed all weekend that I wouldn’t be angry at Bryan when he got home. But when Bryan and Cole got home, I failed. I was angry.
I woke up discouraged on Monday. I was angry at myself. I was frustrated with my reaction toward Bryan. I was tired of the cycle I so often find myself in. I wanted to be done with the fight. I felt like a fake. I felt like if people knew my current struggles, any respect I have earned would be wiped away.
But then you know what I did? At that moment, I dropped to my knees and let go. I couldn’t do Monday in my own strength. I forced myself to worship, even though I didn’t feel like it. I read the bible even though I didn’t want to. I poured my heart out to God, all the good and the bad.
And as the day went on, my discouragement began to fade. I was able to acknowledge that in the midst of a week that wasn’t perfect and one full of imperfect reactions – I had some wins to celebrate. The week was a success. It was a success because I was less anxious than last time. I was less angry at Bryan than I was the time before. I had more fun with Piper. And I didn’t let my fear win. It wasn’t easy, but I did it all anyway. And because of that I won.
I share my story with you for a couple of reasons. First, as I mentioned, I felt compelled to share this because I think we need to stop waiting to share our wins until everything is wrapped up in a nice, perfect bow. I think we need to rejoice with people in the afternoon after they struggle to get out of bed in the morning. We need to celebrate when we react differently, even if it’s just one time, than we ever had before. We need to humbly declare when we are doing something hard that currently feels incredibly uncomfortable. We need to invite people into our struggle today, in the midst of it all.
When I have done this, two powerful things happen. One, my vulnerability often draws out vulnerability from others. As I share my current struggles, people almost always respond in kind. Grace abounds and we no longer feel alone in the world. There is nothing more beautiful than being fully known, yet fully loved.
Second, there is something about brokenness and humility that welcomes the Holy Spirit. I can’t totally explain why, but I know that God draws close to the broken hearted. When I am truly honest in my brokenness with another human being, I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Honesty and brokenness create space for the Holy Spirit to move in my midst.
So I encourage you to try it. Don’t take my word for it. Make a call. Send a text. Be honest, truly honest. Celebrate your win today, tell someone about it. Be honest with your struggle, today. It will be hard, but do it anyway. See what happens, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
I also share about my week in hopes that it will serve as a graceful reminder. Take a deep breath in the presence of these truths – you do not have to be perfect for God to use you. You just need to be humble and willing. You’re human, not perfect. God’s still at work in you.