I wrote this a couple of weeks ago…just in case you are like, “Oh hot dang…I need to send her a text or a coffee or chocolate!” I mean, you can still do that, but my yesterday-yesterday was good! My couple-weeks-ago-yesterday, not so much…
Yesterday was not a good one, ya’ll. It was a tough go. I was angry. I was yelling at ERRRRRRRone. My anxiety was through the roof.
Today, as I was on my morning run, I realized something: I was using the three things that were stressing me the most to self-medicate.
What does it mean to self-medicate, you ask? Self-medication is when you attempt to feel better by addressing the symptoms and not the actual issues. In other words, when you feel worthless, sad, anxious, stressed, angry, or hurt, you try to eradicate those feelings instead of uncovering why you are reacting these ways.
Self medicating is lazy, temporal. You will feel better for a minute, sure. But self-medication creates an incredibly unhealthy cycle. I will use myself as an example, but you have to promise not to judge. Here are my three main stressors from the other day:
- Social Media/TV
You said you wouldn’t judge. I realize mine look benign. Maybe yours are pills, alcohol, pornography, sex, whatever. Our vices are our vices. If it’s keeping us from truly getting healthy, if it’s distracting us from the main issues, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s deadly. But back to me.
I have been so obsessed with money. I’ve been obsessed because I haven’t been disciplined and living on a budget. Spending money has always given me a high…I’ve learned this over the years and specifically when I was diagnosed with Borderline (reckless spending is a symptom). So when I’m feeling down, I buy an outfit or something for the house or for the kids and I feel better…for the moment. But then I get upset because I’ve overspent on a budget category and now I’m stressed. So what do I do? You probably guessed it…Hello Amazon!
I really work hard to stay fit and healthy. Chocolate, as you know, does not keep you fit and healthy. On a hard day, I attempt to cheer myself up with something sweet. I’m an all or nothing gal. I can’t just have two or three M&Ms. I have to eat dozens, which doesn’t make me feel well physically and then that affects me mentally and emotionally. So I’m down again and so are the chocolate morsels…down my throat that is (insert hand on head emoji).
When I’m feeling hurt, ignored, or rejected, then I turn to social media, cause like, duh, this seems like a really wise idea. People there will like me. Or I’ll make them like me by producing content that they will enjoy. I fall down the rabbit hole of comparison and jealousy and I end up only feeling worse and empty. So back to shopping on Amazon with a bag of chocolates.
You see, we are all looking for love, acceptance, worth and security. But we are looking to everyone and everything other than Jesus. And this creates unhealed hurts, unresolved issues, and unmet needs that we are trying to heal, resolve and meet…on our own.
Some of you know exactly what your unhealed hurts, unresolved issues and unmet needs are…but some of you have no idea because you’ve been white knuckling your life and self-medicating for so long, you don’t even see it anymore!
You may have to go back…waaaaay back…to figure out what unhealed hurt, unresolved issue and/or unmet need is making you get angry with your spouse over stupid things, or why you push your kids too hard, or why you work too much, or why you have to have everything just so, or why you are always afraid, or you have no friends, or none of your marriages have worked. You have been looking to other people for love, acceptance, worth and security – and people were never created to give you these things. Only Jesus can.
So you are self-medicating in order to cope…
Through counselling, I’ve been able to recognize my triggers and my coping strategies and I’ve been able to work to rewire my mind to think healthily and to then respond to these fight or flight situations appropriately. Did you know that anxiety and depression are basically adrenaline rushes? You sense danger and you fight or have an anxiety attack, or you take flight and hunker down in depression.
This is why my Three C’s for Healing (corny, I know), are:
Jesus is the only One Who can truly heal you and put your life back together. He wants to enter into the pain with you (the unhealed hurts, unresolved issues, and unmet needs) and He wants to offer you the love, acceptance, worth and security you need to live a WHOLE, HEALTHY life.
When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and authentic, we open the door for others to speak into our lives and help us to see our blind spots that have the potential to derail our lives. Scripture says in Proverbs 18:1 that people who isolate themselves are not wise. Let people in…it makes life so much easier and worthwhile.
And finally, some of you just need to get into counseling so that you can get past whatever is holding your life hostage. We were created to live FULL, ABUNDANT lives. If this isn’t characterizing your life right now, then what are you waiting for? Why wouldn’t you want to do whatever it takes to be FREE and FULL?
Be on the lookout with your kids…when we don’t do the hard work of healing and getting healthy, they inherent these wonderful vices and find their own! Healing starts with us, the parents…and then it trickles down!
So let’s do this! Let’s stop self-medicating and let’s allow Christ, community and counseling do their thing in our lives!
Ephesians 6 lists the shield of faith as one of the pieces of armor to use in defense against the attacks of Satan. Why? I love what Beth Moore says, “When we are convinced that God is believable and we respond to Him in faith, practically nothing can get through to us. But when our faith diminishes, our shield begins to drop, and we are immediately vulnerable to the enemy. Satan will stop at nothing to get us to lower our shield of faith so he can wound and burn us. He stacks up tangible evidence in opposition to God’s assurances. He delights in doubts and lies. He studies our weaknesses and then aims where we’re vulnerable. His priority job description is to keep us from believing God.” And believe you me, he knows our weaknesses. My counselor calls them triggers…you know, those things that seem to come out of nowhere and cause us to become emotionally unraveled. But wouldn’t it be awesome if, as soon as we sensed a trigger go off inside of us, we grabbed our shield of faith and started preaching the Gospel to ourselves? What if we immediately began rooting and establishing ourselves in the love of God so that our emotions couldn’t take us every which way?
Psalm 25:15 says: “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only He will release my feet from the snare.” Triggers are lies of the enemy to believe that we have unmet needs, unresolved issues, and unhealed hurts that are only going to be met by getting our own way. And so, we respond to these triggers by self-medicating. We get angry, abusive, lustful, hungry, depressed, anxious, manipulative, wounded, and selfish, you name it. We turn to ourselves or others as our saviors. And we get trapped in the snare of the deadly cycle. We have to choose to take our eyes off of those things that we think we are owed, want, or even believe we need. We need to center our attention on our loving God. You see, this verse comes after “No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame…” and “Good and upright is the LORD, therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful.” If we don’t really believe that those verses are true, we will never, and I mean never, refocus our wandering eyes onto God. We will never preach the Gospel to ourselves. We will never root and establish ourselves in His love. We will never experience freedom from fear.
Andy Stanley says, “Every good thing that comes your way comes from your Heavenly Father – which is all the more reason to take your unmet needs, your heartfelt needs, and even your embarrassing wants and wishes to him. Will you go to God with these or just keep trying to wring them out of those closest to you?”Going to God and not harboring or wringing takes strength and discipline. The strength part is taken care of according to Ephesians 6:10, which follows the verses on the shield of faith: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (italics mine). I don’t need to be strong in and of myself in order to face my fears. Think of the worst case scenario for the situation you are trying to control in order to avoid abandonment. Pretty bad, isn’t it? Okay, now realize that right now that seems impossible for you to face – because (and I hate to be Captain Obvious) you don’t have to face it right now. Perhaps this is why One oh so much wiser than the rest of us said to not worry about tomorrow…today is enough. We have more than enough strength and grace (2 Corinthians 12:9) to deal with today. However, we are never going to make it if we don’t decide to discipline our minds on the love of God. Train your mind to trust that God is Sovereign. Even though you may think you are in control, you are not. Those things you dread could happen regardless of whether or not you submit to God’s sovereignty and love…so why not just rest in His omniscience and omnipotence? Trust is simple…when you begin to worry or to grow angry or jealous or greedy, remind yourself that God, Who knows everything and Who will ultimately work His will for your good and His glory, loves you and will do what He (as God of the universe) deems necessary. Let me remind you again, this will happen regardless of whether you “allow” Him to or not. Rest in His love for you.
Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Ephesians 2:4-5: “But because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”
1 John 4:9-10: “This is love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
I mean, what can I even say after reading those verses? Did you stop and really meditate on what these verses are really, I mean really, saying? God proves His own love…HIS LOVE…His very own love…for US. How did He prove it? When I was in the middle of the worst sin I will ever commit, the one sin I will be afraid He will never forgive, the one sin I will forever be ashamed of…He died for me. Because He wants to be with me.
Not only that, but because of His GREAT love for me, He made me ALIVE. That’s right. He took away my old life filled to the brim with sins (past, present and future sins) and gave me Christ’s life. That means that when God looks at me, He doesn’t see Nicole. He sees Jesus. He doesn’t see the years I battled with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. He doesn’t see the years I almost destroyed my marriage and family. He sees Jesus’ perfection. He doesn’t see the sins I am going to commit in the future and be so ashamed of. Nope. He sees Christ. I mean, what?! And…I love this. He initiated all of this love first and foremost. It’s His love that defines our relationship. It’s not a mutual love. Nuh-uh. It’s only Him. And that’s great news. Cause I am going to fail and my love is going to go MIA. But He’s still going to be there. Cause it’s His love. Not mine.
It’s a funny thing…as I begin to bask in His love for me, my fear of abandonment begins to disappear.
That’s why God’s Word says that perfect love casts out all fear. But I cannot do any of this without faith. I have to believe that God loves me and hang on to that belief, especially when I experience pain from my own decisions and/or somebody else’s.
Hebrews 11:6 says it’s impossible to please God without faith. We have to believe that He truly does exist and rewards those who seek after Him. What’s the reward? What we have already studied: A life without fear. If you read on in Hebrews 11, you will see person after person who did extraordinary things in the face of real danger because they believed God loved them and had a plan and a purpose for their lives. They found their identities not in things found on this earth, but in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11:13-16 explains, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” I love that. They could have returned at any point to the people and things that they thought could fulfill them here on this earth. But they knew better. They rooted and established themselves in the love of God and by faith accepted the plans and purposes He had for their lives. Therefore, they were able to live without fear. But living by faith is not easy. It is a moment by moment decision.
Emotions are simply reactions – automatic, spontaneous reactions. When something good or bad happens to you, your first reaction is usually an emotion. Feelings in and of themselves are not wrong. The Bible speaks freely of emotions – raw, vivid emotions. The book of Job contains the biography of a man who lost everything, and expressed deep hurt, abandonment, confusion, depression, loneliness, and anger. The Psalms are filled with intense emotions: anger, fear, bitterness, brokenness, guilt, frustration, loneliness. Jesus himself felt anguish, anger, sadness, loss. So the issue is not that you react; the issue is how you respond.
I believe the one emotion that tends to be the catalyst for all other emotions is fear. And not just fear in and of itself…Fear of abandonment. We are all afraid to be alone. God wired us for relationships so the absence of those terrifies us. Consequently, we are always fighting for control of other people. Why? Because then we think we can control our fear.
This is why every single one of us can admit to being a control freak in our relationships. We are attempting to keep the other person from leaving us – abandoning us. Unfortunately, whenever I try to control my loved ones in order to protect myself, I end up in a conflict. When my attempts at control come to nothing, then I become spiritual. Yeah, I go there (so do you). I start “praying” about it, praying that God would enable me to better control the person. When this doesn’t work, which (here’s the bad news) it is guaranteed to fail, then I vainly attempt to control the situation myself yet again. Except, just as in round one, this fails miserably…so, you guessed it, I pray about it some more…thinking that surely God will give in, because, I, after all, am praying (and with quite a bit of faith, mind you, faith that I am right and justified for what I ask).
James 4:1-3 says it this way, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Do they not come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
That last line in the verse is a doozy: “You do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Fear of abandonment originates from actually experiencing abandonment at some point in our past. We discovered really quickly that people are always looking to others for their love, acceptance, worth and security. Therefore, they only accepted us if we loved and did good to them…The moment we failed and they were hurt, we felt their disapproval and disappointment. They reacted with rejection. Rejection is self-protection against feeling abandoned. This only makes sense, right? I mean, if someone is afraid of being abandoned and I treat them negatively, the message he/she receives is that I do not care about him/her…I am rejecting him/her and consequently, he/she is quick to pull the plug on our relationship as protection against what he/she perceives as the impending abandonment. Now I feel rejected and abandoned. And the deadly cycle continues. We get trapped. And see, God isn’t going to free us from this bondage because we cannot look to people to fulfill us. We cannot allow their love, acceptance, worth and security to be our identity. This is exactly why so many marriages end in divorce and so many parent/child relationships are blown to smithereens. We were never meant to be each other’s saviors.
We were up late last night dealing with a crisis AND a one year old that was extremely constipated and unhappy. On top of that, I haven’t been feeling well and have the looming stress of a busy weekend weighing on me. I’ve also been a bit discouraged by the fact that a few of our holiday traditions have been canceled. And I have a cold.
So. When our alarm went off this morning, I was like NOT TODAY SATAN. Bryant whispered, “Let’s just sleep in and take the kids to school later.” Amen and Amen.
Well, I wish I was that easy going. I had to have a come to Jesus moment where I reminded myself that no one was going to get behind. No deadline was going to go unmet. I wasn’t failing. The house may not be spotless and the laundry may not be caught up and my work may not get done as fast as I want it to, but what’s most important, my and my family’s mental health, was being taken care of. The kids got extra time together. We decided to get donuts for breakfast. It felt so nice to get ready for the day without the pressure of being on time (the only day where we don’t have to worry about time constraints is Saturday…that’s it…so an extra day here and there is so nice).
When I got home, I had to remind myself that I could let certain things slide. Yes, today is the day I usually clean my bathrooms. So what if they don’t get clean? The dishes may need to pile up in the sink and there may be a few extra crumbs for my already fat dog to find. But that is okay. Because by saying no or just not now to some of those things, I’m saying yes to what’s so important: The Right Now.
The past few weeks, I’ve just been stopping throughout my day to really soak in my kids. They are growing at such a rapid pace and I know if I’m not intentional, I’m going to miss it. So I have been disciplining myself to just slow down and take them in. I’ve tried to plan a few fun things for us to do together throughout the week and weekend: Watching Christmas movies, making Christmas cookies, reading Christmas books (see a theme haha), writing letters to great-grandparents, making ornaments, decorating. And yes, some things on my to-do list have to be readjusted so I can make time for these important moments. But what will I regret more…something on my to-do list that didn’t get done or a wasted opportunity with my kids? I think we all know the answer to that question.
I try (try being the key word) to cut off with all work (homework, ministry, housework) by the time the kids are in bed so I have several hours to unwind before I go to sleep. One of the things that helps me the most is to delete Socials in the evenings. Yes, it’s annoying cause i have to reinstall them in the morning. But I will tell you, removing the temptation to be sucked into the vortex of the social world is so refreshing. I honestly can sense a difference when I don’t. But you will need to replace that with something practical you can do to unwind: A book, a movie, music, whatever. For me right now, it’s Hallmark Christmas Movies. Here’s why getting rest at night is so important: I want to be fresh for my kids in the morning and send them off on their days in a good mood and not frustrated with them. It sets me up to be more present and productive.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is what every other blogger is saying during this season: Embrace the moment. Be present. Figure out what you can let slide. Remind yourself that everything doesn’t need to be perfect. Messy bedrooms, piles of laundry, dishes in the sink, dirty floors: They all mean you’ve made time in your day for what’s most important – people. You aren’t a failure for not getting everything done. But you will fail if you miss this season with your family. So decide now – What can go? What has to stay? And how are you going to invest in those people who are most important to you?
Broken. Lost. Forgotten. Do any of these words resonate in the deepest parts of you? Is your heart tearing in two? Have you been walking in darkness for so long, you don’t even remember what light looks and feels like? Does anyone even know the real you?
Christmas has a way of underscoring these emotions. In the midst of the lights and songs and presents and food and company, Our brokenness turns into despair. Our searching turns into desperation. Our worthlessness turns into despondency.
Broken. Lost. Forgotten. See, it’s funny, because in two thousand years, not a whole lot has changed.
The shepherds were broken. Cue 5 They were the outcasts of the society. Because they cared for the sheep that would later be used as sacrifices for the people’s sins, the shepherds were considered the lowest of the low. How did they get here? Could they rewind time and rewrite their stories? Was it too late for them? They were Broken.
The wise men were lost. They were constantly probing the heavens for meaning. Signs. Direction. The funny thing was, they had power. They had wealth. They had it all. And yet, they couldn’t escape this nagging feeling that they were missing something. What was life all about? Why were they here? Is there more? They were Lost.
And Mary, Mary was forgotten. A fourteen year old girl, engaged to Joseph. When she couldn’t hide her pregnancy anymore, no one believed her story. Not even her betrothed. She was going to be discarded. What did she do to deserve this? Was all of this her fault? Why would God allow this? She was Forgotten.
But their stories don’t end there.
You see, while the shepherds were sitting in their brokenness overlooking the small, quiet town of Bethlehem, a host of Angels’ light PIERCED the darkness. They were announcing the King of Heaven’s birth and the shepherds, THE SHEPHERDS, were the first to hear. Their brokenness enabled them to hear the sound of hope so loudly, they couldn’t help but go and worship. A King born in a manger? HE was Someone they could relate with. He met them right where they were and Their brokenness was overtaken by hope.
One dark night, a star shone brighter than the others. What was this celestial being? As the wise men searched for the significance of this star, they discovered a prophecy about a King Who would be born in Bethlehem. Intrigued, they set out to find this King. They weren’t incredibly sure of what or whom they would find, but they knew one thing: They were no longer lost. This star signified the fact that there was more: There was a King of Heaven Who finds us in our searching and leads us to Himself.
And as for our sweet Mary, after traveling on a donkey for days, she and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem. Once again, she feels forgotten. God couldn’t even make sure she had a safe place to deliver HIS Son? But as Jesus’s cry rang through the silent night, an eerie peace and awe overtook Mary. As she raises her weary, tear stained face, she locks eyes with random shepherds and hears the echoes of Angel choirs. Who was this child? All she knew was that She was now a part of an unforgettable story.
Jesus changed their lives. He turned brokenness into wholeness. He takes those who are lost and gives them purpose. He makes the forgotten unforgettable.
Our Immanuel. God with US.