Sometimes, I know exactly what I’m going to write about next. This one, I’ve sat on for weeks. Because it’s a hard one. I’d much rather write about racial inequality (which is important, but not super personal). But this one is about my weakness. Which I don’t want to talk to you about. Because it’s humiliating. Yet, this is what God’s been teaching me about and asking me to write about.
For those of you who don’t know, I have an anxiety disorder. Not in that I worry a lot. I don’t actually worry that much. I’m talking the kind of disorder where a wave of terror can wash over me in such a way that my muscles are paralyzed. Where anger wells suddenly within me like PMS on steroids. Where I go to bed at 6 pm because I’m exhausted from feeling like there is a tiger in the room and I have to use all my energy to reassure myself it is non-existent. Where I totally identify with Britney Spears and super want to shave the right side of my head. Or where I can be surrounded by my favorite people in the universe and just want to hide because the terror is so strong.
There is good news here. I’m taking medication. I have the most amazing husband who understands this illness. He teaches me strategies and encourages me to do things that will lead me best into health (see Life on a budget. He’s been making sure I do self-care activities even when it is inconvenient for him). He helps me understand it as endocrine glands responding all day long to non-existent threats. That this disorder is not my fault, but a result of a fallen, broken world.
The bad news is that there is no simple solution. Medications are super tricky. I wouldn’t say that we are on the mix that is best for me. If good self-care (like exercise, eating right, maintaining relationship with God) solved it, this all would have been over last February. Prayed enough? Yep. God actually told me to chill on the anxious prayer thing (Be still!). I’ve been doing things right, and this is still here.
In this time, I’m meditating and pondering on the thorn in the flesh Paul spoke about. I identify with his pleading with God to take it away. And I’m trying to understand more God’s answer and Paul’s response:
But He said to me, “My Grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Cor. 12:9)
What does sufficient grace mean? When I was growing up, I kind of got the idea that grace = salvation. That God was saying, I saved you, so stop your grousing. That’s a little harsh, and not super consistent with the character of God. I no longer believe that is a good definition of grace. I conceive of grace as the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to do what God has called us to do. Not gonna lie, even this last weekend, I’ve cried out to God, “You call THIS sufficient!” Shoot. Yes, He does. What then should my response be?
First, I realize that my idea of sufficient, the exact right amount, might be more like enough to make me comfortable. Just like most people think they would be happy with just 10% more income, I think that sometimes I think if I just had 10% more grace, more Godly power and energy, I’d be good. So I have to look at my discontentedness with God. Ewww. Self-examination stinks. Am I over-extending myself, just expecting God’s grace to get with the program and catch up with what I want to do? Gosh, that’s not the attitude I want to have toward God. He is the boss, not me. Am I relying on my own power to get the kids on the bus or am I relying on grace? I certainly don’t have an easy answer to this one (I’m pretty sure facilitating my kids’ education is on the list of what God’s calling me to).
This must make me continuously rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide me. Am I called to something, or do I just want to be the hero here? I need to continually examine my goals and if a course of action will lead me there. That’s a pretty humbling place to be.
Secondly, I need to take a second to boast about my weakness. That feels weird. We don’t think of boasting being a humbling experience. And talking about my anxiety is exactly that- fully and utterly humiliating. My cousin’s wise wife recently shared a priest’s thoughts on depression and anxiety where he talked about confession and humility being useful in combating these mental illnesses. It is through confession that we disempower the chains of shame. I’m pretty sure that this is absolutely terrifying. How do I take this risk of confession? Golly bob, what if I confess my weakness and then encounter judgmental comments like “you should just…”? Or if they start doubting that my husband is an amazing mental health provider! Do I have the energy resources to bear up under that?
No. Absolutely not. I’ll certainly be in desperate need of God’s sufficient grace if I risk judgement by confessing that I have an anxiety disorder, a mental illness that makes me weak and vulnerable. However, it is in my weaknesses that God’s power is shown to be perfect.
So here’s the thing: if I have had any positive impact on your or anyone else’s life since February 2017, this is a direct example of God’s grace. This has been God’s power. Because I have been way too weak to do anything good. I’ve been way too sick to function. Any victory I’ve had in the last eight months has been a complete miracle. And God can only be given the glory for it if I confess my weakness to you in it. Otherwise, it’s just another example of Jo being amazing. The truth that must be confessed is that Jo has not been amazing in recent months. She has truly been an exhausted lump constantly working to convince herself that there is no tiger in the room. Any time I have been a loving mother, a good friend, a cheerful wife, a wise voice, an encouraging word, or (let’s face it) a functional human has been a direct result of God’s power working strength in me.
Everything is not a victory. As an example, my anxiety about writing this was so high I lost track of time and got the call from Titus’s preschool that I needed to pick him up. Sometimes I can’t do supper, and my children eat cereal. I missed church all summer because of my anxiety. My anger has been strange and high. Even in those situations, God’s grace is sufficient. To help me deal with the humiliation of the results of my weakness. To forgive me for my sins and help me forgive myself. To give me grace for myself that I’m sick and not going to be perfect. That’s some powerful stuff. Which God deserves glory for. Because He’s helping me in ways I didn’t know to pray for.
And you’d never know that unless I took the risk of confessing my weakness.