Getting through the "broken" times

Technically, this part was at the end of the "Where I'm coming from..." post from yesterday, but it was too long.  So I moved it here.

Practical Advice for Getting Through the Broken Times (in no particular order)

1.  Be gracious toward yourself!
            You make sense.  You are not a hopeless mess.  You are human.  And humans hurt.  Humans break sometimes.  And we all need compassion and grace and understanding and love and forgiveness – for ourselves and for others.  So do not feel abnormal, like there is something wrong with you.  We are all broken in some way.  (It’s just that some people don’t know it yet.)  None of us really knows what we are doing in life.  (Although some won’t admit it.)  We are all just trying to make it through as best we can.  So you are in good company – in the company of many other hurting, broken, clueless, weak, needy people.  The very kind of people that God holds closest. 


2.  Simplify!  And go slow!  And learn to “be still.”
            Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
            When the stress hits hard and you are losing your ability to stand, simplify everything.  Your schedule, your responsibilities, your possessions, maybe even your relationships.  Say “no” to things, and don’t feel guilty about it.  And do not worry about what anyone else thinks or what their expectations are of you, just do the very simplest things that you need to do each day.  Wake up, make food, hug your family, pray, read your Bible, and give yourself permission to slow down and rest. 
            Above all, quiet your spirit before the Lord.  Learn to simply “be still” before Him, knowing that He is God and that you don’t have to be.  He can handle what you can’t.  He can fix what is broken.  He can carry you through when you don’t have the strength anymore.    
            Sometimes in life, we need to stop with our “To Do” lists.  We need to stop trying to impress the Lord with how much we accomplish and with how grand we can make our prayers sound and with how long we pray and with how many church activities we are involved in, etc.  And we need to simply be silent and needy and weak and broken at the feet of the Lord. 
            My New Year’s resolution this year was a very simple one:  “Be still” in the Lord.  Stop trying to make my life what I think it should be.  Stop trying to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.  Start learning to relax and to trust that God will manage all the things I can’t.  Let Him be God, while I simply fall at His feet, exhausted and in need of a rest from all my worries. 
            My goal – the goal that I believe the Lord wants for me - is just to begin to want to live again.  To enjoy living.  To enjoy His presence.  To live the life I have and let that be good enough for me, trials and all.  And for me, that includes …
            - Being kind to myself. 
            - Replacing negative, soul-killing thoughts with godly, soul-healing thoughts. 
            - Replacing Satan’s lies with God’s truth. 
            - Finding the good in the bad, the beautiful in the messy. 
                  - Remembering that this life isn’t all there is, that the best is yet to come, that everything we do is working towards eternity, that someday God will make everything right again - and so I can put my hope in Him when I can’t put it in this life.  (Colossians 3:2:  “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”) 
            - Slowing my mind and body down and giving myself the time and space to breathe, even just by sitting on the yard swing with a good book and a cup of coffee on the quiet, warm mornings, watching the birds and feeling the sun on my face, while the kids sleep in. 
            - Doing the daily things I normally do but doing them with conviction and purpose: washing dishes, making meals, schooling the kids, cleaning up piles of paper, being neighborly and friendly towards others – knowing that I am only responsible for those jobs today, the ones that come across my path.  And God can handle the rest, all the jobs I can’t do.
            - Trying to rediscover the joy and healing effects of gardening - when what I’d really rather do is give it all up because gardening involves the idea that I should be allowed to have something to enjoy, to find pleasure in, to hope for.  And I’d really rather deny myself all pleasures and joys and hope because then I won’t get my expectations up and I won’t get crushed over and over again when it all inevitably falls apart. 
            The garden used to be my favorite place to meet with the Lord, to enjoy His presence.  But now I feel rather lifeless in it, like there is no point in enjoying it because it’s bound to get ruined anyway.  Whereas I used to be passionate about it, now I am half-hearted and barely there.  And so I am going to garden again this year, not because I want to but because I need to.  I need to get back up on that horse again, to prove to myself that despair and discouragement and hopelessness haven’t gotten the best of me, that there is still a little ember of joy and hope waiting to be fanned into a flame, that I can still “find God” there.        

            Honestly, right now, my goal is really just “learn to live again,” with the hope that “enjoying life” will follow. 
            When you get to a bad point - when you feel like retreating from life and like you can barely stand – slow way down and do nothing more than those super-simple daily things.  And consider it a victory.  A huge victory.  A step in the right direction.    
            (And stay away from the news and from soul-killing people.  You don’t need that right now.  And stay away from social media if it causes stress.)


3.  Know your triggers and the times when you are most vulnerable.
            What things or thoughts will inevitably send you into depression or anxiety?  Which events, objects, people, times of day, memories, etc. trigger those negative feelings in you?  Figuring this out allows you to take control of your thoughts and feelings instead of having them take control of you.  It helps protect you from being blindsided by them.  You’ll know what starts them and when you are at your most vulnerable, and so you can be prepared for it and take precautions against it, if possible. 
            For me, even since the panic attack, I cannot read too many news stories.  I might check the weather or world headlines, but I stay far away from the tragic stories.  I won’t even let my eyes wander over the headlines if I sense that it’s a bad story.  In fact, I switched our internet homepage from a news page full of headlines (most of which are depressing) to something totally mundane.  And I will start saying “DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT … DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT” to drown out a bad news story that has popped up on the TV news while I rush over to turn it off.  I don’t need to have any less faith in the world and in people than I already do.  I don’t need my joy and hope crushed any more than it already is.  I don’t need to bear the world’s problems on my shoulders right now.  I just need to stay away from it all for awhile.        
            And I am aware that morning-times and lying in bed at night are the hardest times for me, when I am most vulnerable to the nasty, hopeless, anxious voices in my head (not real voices, just my own thoughts – just clarifying). 
            Last summer (my "panic attack summer," in the "Where I'm coming from..." post) broke me so bad that I felt really fragile for a really long time.  Like I could break into a thousand pieces with one more tiny trial.  Like my mind could implode and I would have to be committed to some mental hospital.  I still do feel fragile, but I’m getting stronger. 
            But for me, I know that I need to be very careful during these times when I am at my weakest and most open to spiritual attacks.  On the bad days, I can often feel the anxiety hitting me before I even get out of bed.  I don’t know where it comes from or what triggers it.  Maybe it’s just knowing that I have to wake up and face another day? 
            And I have learned that the best thing I can do, especially on those days, is to go really slowly in the morning, to just linger over my cup of coffee, reading the Bible or a godly book out on my backyard swing, watching the birds fly to and from the birdfeeders. 
            Thankfully, as a stay-at-home mom, I have the luxury of easing into my mornings.  Because at this point, it’s not a luxury.  It’s a necessity.  And I don’t feel guilty about it.  There are enough hours in the rest of the day to get the other necessary things done.  (And yet, maybe sometimes it's better to actually get up and start your day right away, after prayer and Bible reading.  Sometimes getting involved right away with the tasks of the day keeps you from having the time to dwell on your fears.  But you need to make sure to balance it.  You can't keep busy from day to night for too long, or you'll crash.  It's a balance.  Sometimes it's better to be busy, and sometimes it's better to be still.)  
            And at night when I am lying in bed is the time when my mind races the most with the things that I feel I am failing at, with all the worries I have about life and health and my family, with all the negative things I have ever thought about myself and others and the world, and with how much I just want Jesus to come back again and end it all.  And so I have “banned” myself from thinking about deep things at night.  If I have a real problem or concern, it will still be there in the morning.  So I don’t need to work myself up at night over it - when can’t I solve it or do anything about it or even think clearly anyway.  And so I put it off until the next day because I know that I will be thinking better and clearer then, after I have had my coffee and done my Bible reading.  (If you need to, pray at night that the Lord helps your mind sort it out and that He guides you into wisdom, even as you sleep.  Your body might be asleep, but your mind isn’t.) 
            I have often found that problems and concerns have a way of getting resolved satisfactorily even when I haven’t spent the night anxiously dwelling on it, wringing my hands and working myself into a frenzy over it.  Another part of “being still” in the Lord – trusting that if we commit our concerns to Him, He can and will handle them.  Oh! the stress I cause myself, thinking that it’s all up to me!    


4.  Take care of yourself!
            Do what you need to do to care for yourself, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.  And if that means counseling or medication or taking a vacation or spending time alone or cutting off contact with people that make things worse, then do it.  And don’t feel that you have to please anyone else or to explain yourself and justify yourself to the nay-sayers and the doubters and the “holier-than-thou-ers.” 
            [Although, if you are married, try to make sure to “stay on the same team” as your spouse and to include them and work through it with them, if it is safe and proper to do so.  And be willing to listen to the godly advice and insight of those who love you, who are closest to you, and who have your best interest at heart.  They might be able to see something that you don’t see but need to.  And they might be able to offer you invaluable help.]
            After last summer, I found that talking to people was too stressful, so I basically stopped doing it for a while.  For a time, I simply avoided people, except for the one person I could talk to openly and honestly.  And instead, I retreated to my bedroom nightly – a couple hours every night - to watch my favorite show, Gilmore Girls.  I know it will make me sound pathetic, but I needed that time.  I needed my show.  I needed to give myself permission to hide for awhile, to take care of myself, to do nothing more than chill out and let my mind relax, getting lost in the safe, predictable “Gilmore Girl” world that I knew so well.


5.  Get outside of your house and outside of your head.  Do something relaxing and soul-refreshing.  Look for ways to help others. 
            There is a time for hiding … and then comes a time for getting back out there.  For engaging in the world.  Don’t sit all alone at home in the dark all the time.  Open your curtains and let the light in.  Take a walk.  Go to the store.  Smile at others and say “Hi.”  Do not close yourself off from the world; it will only make you feel less human and more helpless and hopeless.  You need to remember that there is still life going on outside your door and that there is much good out there and much good that you can do in the world.  In fact, some of the best “good” you can do is to use your pain to help others.  So do not close yourself off from the world.  Find ways to engage, to help, to reach out, to let others help you.
            Do things that relax you and that refresh you.  Find a good hobby.  Give yourself a project, a goal, something constructive to do.  Keep busy in some way (except in those times when you really just need to be still), even just making sure you do what you are supposed to do each day.  It does no good to sit around and mope and let things fall apart around you.  Clean something, take a class in something, cook something, exercise, garden.  Do something to better yourself and your surroundings and your life.  It won’t make everything all better, but you will feel a little better to see that you accomplished something instead of just sitting there and moping.
            I found that taking walks, painting, watching and feeding the birds in the backyard, baking pies, gardening, and taking pictures of the garden (and posting it on another blog) are very relaxing to me.  And writing about my journey and my struggles on my blogs is very healing to me.  I don’t have many people to talk to, and so I write it all out.  This gets me out of my own head, where I tend to dwell on all the bad things.  I write out all the bad thoughts and feelings, and then I write about all the wonderful, spiritual lessons I have learned from it.  I “preach to myself,” reminding myself of God’s faithfulness and goodness and love and how He turns ugly things into beautiful things and messes into masterpieces.  I do this all on my blogs so that I can see where the journey has taken me and the good that has come out of it, instead of just dwelling on the bad.  And that gives me hope.    


6.  Hold things loosely – life, possessions, and people.
            Life:  I’ve learned that it’s really stressful to try to hold onto everything tightly, to maintain careful control over everything, feeling like I need to manage everything and to do it all just right.  I guess that I think if I can just keep everything under control then I won’t get hurt, that I can ward off disaster and heartache and trials.  And yet, the stress of trying to control everything – to keep all the plates spinning in the air - is exhausting.  And it hurts me.  And the problems keep coming anyway. 
            We choke on life when we bite off more than we can chew, more than our mouths were ever meant to hold. 
            And carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders crushes the life out of us.  Our shoulders just aren’t big enough for that.
            But God’s shoulders are.
            I have learned that the safest, most secure place is not to be the one in charge of everything, but to be the one who is lying helpless and clueless at the feet of God, trusting that He will hold everything together and work everything out.  He leads, we follow.  He holds the future; we only have to worry about our responsibility to live today, in obedience and for His glory. 
            Our job is not to “do it all” or to “control life and hold the future.”  Our job is just to do the daily jobs that He gives us, faithfully, for His glory, trusting that He will work it all out and guide us to where we need to be and use it for our good and for His glory.  We put on ourselves way more burdens than what He’s asked us to carry.  And we hold onto these responsibilities tightly, as though He needs us to hold onto them, to manage them . . . or else it will all fall apart and it will be all our fault. 
            But sometimes, the wisest thing we can do is to realize that they were never our responsibilities to begin with, to drop the burdens at His feet and to fall down next to Him, exhausted and needy for God’s care and presence.  He is so much bigger and wiser and stronger and more capable than we are.  And that’s a good thing.  And He is with us through it all, working for our best and for His glory.  He doesn’t need us to know what to do; He just needs us to need Him.  And knowing this will help us loosen our grip on everything.  It helps us put down the responsibilities and the burdens that were never ours to carry in the first place.   
            Possessions:  “Hold things loosely” also applies to possessions.  We tend to hold our possessions really tightly when we find our self-worth in them, when we need them to complete us, to define us, to make us important. 
            But we need to remember that everything that we have is a gift from God.  It all essentially belongs to Him, but it’s on loan to us to use for His purposes and His glory.  The gifts are meant to be enjoyed and shared, not to hoard or to control us.  We need to own them, not let them own us.  And we need to make sure that we are worshipping the Giver of the gifts, not the gifts themselves. 
            Hold your possessions loosely.  They do not define you.  They do not complete you or make you important.  They are things that will burn up in the end or that can be taken from you in an instant, in one random natural disaster.  Find your worth in the Lord.  Build up your treasures in eternity.  Work for the things that really matter and that will last.
            People:  When I say “hold people loosely,” I know that it’s not an easy thing to do and that it can be greatly misunderstood.  I am not saying don’t cherish people or don’t fight for the relationships that matter.  I am saying that you cannot control other people.  You cannot make them do what you want them to do or make them stay if they are going to go.  You should not be manipulating them to fulfill you.  You should not let your view of yourself be defined by other people or let your joy hinge on them.  You should not put unfair expectations on others, needing them to be a certain way or do certain things to make you feel secure and valuable and worthy.  And you should not put the unfair expectation on yourself that if you can just do everything just right, then they will never leave you or let you down. 
            Other people are human, too.  We will all make mistakes and disagree with others and let others down at times.  And if we let our self-view be defined by other people and if we let them determine our worth, we will always feel unsure and at risk. 
            Our self-worth and view of ourselves needs to come from the Lord, to be defined by Him.  Our security needs to be found in Him.  He is the sure, stable foundation that we can plant our feet firmly on.  Not on other people. 
            Yes, cherish them, love them, enjoy the relationships.  But do not hold onto them so tightly or put so much of your “worth” in them that you are crushed when they let you down and are unable to extend to them forgiveness and grace and compassion.  We are hurt most by those whom we let define us and our worth the most, whom we hold too tightly because we “need” them to make us feel good about ourselves.  
            On a different note, do not put the expectation on yourself that it is your responsibility to fix everyone else or to make them make the decisions that are best for them.  Sometimes, in our love for others, we want so badly to protect them from themselves, to force them to do what we know is best for them, to keep them from making mistakes and from feeling pain and from facing the consequences of their actions.  But we cannot control others.  We cannot help those who don’t want to be helped (other than by praying for them and loving them and being there for them).  We cannot live their lives for them. 
            But we can trust that God holds them in His hands, that He loves them even more than we do.  And so sometimes, when it comes to loved ones who are making bad decisions and when we’ve done all we can to help them, we need to release them into God’s hands.  Into His powerful, capable, wise, loving hands. 
            Ultimately and above all, that person is a child of God’s.  He is their Father and Creator.  He loves them more than we ever could, more purely than we ever could.  He loved them enough to send Jesus to die for them.  And we can trust that even if things don’t go as we want them to go, He will do all He can to guide and protect them, to bring them back to where He wants them to be, and to help them on their journey.  And He can use whatever bad and pain there is for good.  Hold those you love loosely enough that you allow God to take His rightful place in their lives and that you do not assume responsibility for them that isn’t yours to assume. 
            Hold life, your possessions, and other people loosely, trusting that God is ultimately in control of everything, that He determines when to give and when to take away (and that He has His reasons), that you are valuable because He loves you, that He loves others more than you ever could, and that the gifts He has given to you are to be enjoyed and shared and used for His purposes and glory.
            Does this make sense?  I hope so.  I know it’s a bit rambly. 


7.  Read your Bible.
            Learn more about the big picture, instead of just focusing on the place you are at in life right now.  Learn about who God is and who we are, about how He deals with us and responds to us and loves us and forgives us.  Memorize Scripture and write it around your house so that you can recall it during a moment of need, when you sense an attack from the enemy or when your mind starts going to dark places.  Learn biblical truths – about God’s love and faithfulness and grace and all-sufficiency and forgiveness - so that you can preach these truths back to yourself, so that you can counter the attacks of the enemy and of your own broken mind.    
            When we are in pain, we tend to get tunnel-vision, to view God only through the lens of our pain and our confusion about why He’s not getting us out of the pain.  But He is so much bigger than that.  And we cannot base our view of Him on what is going on in our particular circumstances right now.  Life and faith and God are so much bigger than that.  Immerse yourself in the Word, with the intention of getting to know God better, not just trying to get what you want from Him or figuring out what else you can do to please Him enough so that He will finally give you want you want.


8.  Pray honestly.  Get real with yourself and with the Lord.  And let your pain draw you closer to the Lord, purify your trust in Him, and mature your faith.
            This is possible.  Doubts and pain don’t have to destroy our faith in God.  They can actually make it stronger and more real.  But only if we are willing to be honest about it all with Him (and with ourselves).  Bring everything to Him – all the ugly, displeasing thoughts, all the doubts and fears.  Cry out to Him.  Be honest with Him about everything inside of you. 
            What is it that we say when we are going through a hard time and people ask us if we are okay?  We say something like, “I’m trying to be okay.”  But I think sometimes trying so hard to be okay makes us not okay.  It makes us worse.  But to let ourselves admit that we are not okay and to stop trying so hard to be okay might just be the best way to be okay. 
            You don’t have to fix it all.  You don’t have to know what to do.  You don’t have to do it all on your own.  You are not alone in your trials and your pain.  He is always waiting for us to cry out to Him, to include Him in our trials, in our need, in our pain, to let Him into the broken parts of our heart so that He can heal them.  But you have to be honest.  To open up the doors that you have closed off in your heart.   
            Stop feeling like you have to polish yourself up first before He will accept you or help you or give you His attention and love and forgiveness and grace.  That’s not how He works.  That’s not how grace and forgiveness and love work, gifts that are free and already available to us and that can never be earned but can only be accepted. 
            He doesn’t want our “good Christian” performance or to see our “good Christian” mask.  That’s not what He wants.  He didn’t come to die on the cross so that we could impress Him with our proper speech and proper attitude and proper behavior, while hiding the ugly, real, broken, hurting stuff.  He died so that we could live fully and have a relationship with Him. 
            And a genuine relationship requires genuineness.  Living fully requires living honestly. 
            Bring it all to Him, honestly, openly, humbly.  He can handle it.  He knows it all already; He’s just waiting for us to finally admit it all.  To take off the mask and get real.  To learn how much we really need Him and how much He really loves us, even as the broken, hurting mess that we are.  To finally let Him love us and care for us and comfort us and be our strength when we are weak.
            As you open up more and more of those closed-off parts of your heart, you will experience more and more of His healing, of His goodness and faithfulness.  And your trust in Him will grow, even if life never becomes what you want it to be and you don’t get the answers you expected. 
            Pray honestly.  Cry out to Him.  Be real with Him about your pain and your doubts and your fears and your weakness.  Do not try to mask it or to polish yourself up.  That will only prolong the pain.  And it will make it worse because the harder you try to keep the pain down, the more it will build up inside of you and the more exhausted you’ll get trying to keep it down. 
            Just be real and raw and honest.  That’s a major part of humility.
            This is something that was very hard for me to learn because I was the kind of person who tried to do everything right, who tried to please God with my good behavior and good attitude and good prayers.  I didn’t feel worthy of love, of attention.  I had to earn it.  To be worthy of it. 
            I thought that I was being what a Christian should be, that I was pleasing to Him.  But I didn’t realize that I was really just holding back a part of myself, the most real parts, the hurting parts.  I had wrapped up the tiny broken pieces of my heart and hid them in a corner of my soul and tried to convince God that I was capable and whole and responsible and happy.  Just like “good Christians” are supposed to be. 
            But I wasn’t.  I was hurting really badly. 
            And the problem was that I didn’t know it was acceptable – that is was good and healing – to be honest with Him.  To let Him see the ugly parts of myself, the broken pieces.  To take off the “good Christian” mask that I wore all the time (that I kept nice and shiny and polished) and to let Him see the real me, the me that couldn’t do it all, that didn’t know what to do anymore, that was weak and falling apart and desperately needy. 
            But it was precisely in the weakness and the falling apart and the desperate neediness that I learned that He never asked me to be polished and shiny and happy and capable and pleasing.  He wanted me to be me, to be real, to need Him. 
            Yes, He wants us to be obedient, to seek righteousness, but not by hiding the real, hurting, messy parts of ourselves, as though we are protecting Him from the truth or can “earn” His grace and love.  He wants us to grow in our faith and in our character, through Truth.  The truth will set us free and make us whole and heal us.  Never hide the truth from Him.  He knows it all already, He’s just waiting for us to get tired enough of wearing that “good Christian mask” that we admit the truth to ourselves and to Him, that we finally open the door of our hearts – the parts that we have closed off to protect ourselves from being hurt again – and let Him into our lives and our broken hearts, to heal us and comfort us and love us.
            When it comes to dealing with anxiety or depression or fear or whatever, I have found it helpful to pray honestly like this: “Lord, I am really feeling anxious and weak right now.  I don’t know what to do and I’m scared.  And so right now, I ask that You would take this anxiety and fear from me and give me Your peace and joy instead.” 
            Make a trade with Him, out loud.  His peace for your fear.  Blunt honesty is sometimes the most healing, helpful way to pray.
            James 4:8: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
            Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 
            Psalm 86:1-6:  “Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. . . . Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.  Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you.  Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.”
            Psalm 51:17:  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
            [And also, as part of prayer, ask Him if there is anything you need to do to make things right or better.  Ask Him what your responsibility is.  Ask Him for wisdom, to guide you down the right path, and to open and close the doors as He sees fit.  And then trust Him to answer these prayers and be willing to wait for His way and His timing.  And know that He often moves a lot slower than we want Him to.  But His pace is always the right timing.  His job is to work it all together for good; your job is to “be still and know that He is God.”]
            And honestly, there might be times when you can’t pray.  And that’s okay, too.
            I have recently gotten to a point like this - where I can’t seem to pray and I wouldn’t even know what to pray for because I don’t know what I need anymore or what should happen.  I don’t know how to make things better.  And, frankly, I am a bit afraid to pray for anything specific because it seems like the things I pray about don’t happen or they get attacked.  I am a bit stumped - paralyzed by all the stuff that’s gone on.  In a way, I am too confused and too tired to pray.    
            And like Job falling down on the ground for seven days of silence after all the tragedies hit him, all I want to do now (spiritually) is sit before the Lord in silence, in brokenness.  I don’t want anything else and I don’t want to do anything else, other than just be broken before Him for a time.  I want to be still in my spirit.  Quiet.  To let my silence and my brokenness be my prayer.
            Except for prayers for others and those “immediate concern or need” prayers, I want to pray nothing other than “Thank You for all the blessings You have already given us.  Help me be content with life as it is.  Give me only what You want me to have because I don’t know what I need anymore.  Help me do my best in my daily job and to not worry about anything else.  And regardless of the trials, I believe in You, I trust You, and I love You.”
            I have tried and tried to make things better . . . and I have failed.  And I am tired of trying.  I am tired of thinking that I know what I need.  I am tired of wanting.  I am tired of waiting for things to be better.  I am tired of being tired.  I’m just . . . tired! 
            And so for now, I am going to simply sit in “Job silence” for a while - until it’s time to get up, dust myself off, roll up my sleeves, and get back to it.  There will be a time for that eventually.  But now is the time for spiritual silence and stillness, for doing nothing more than counting blessings and praising God and learning to say, “It is well with my soul!”   
            You know, I used to get all upset with myself when I got into these funks, like there’s something majorly wrong with me and like I have to get out of it as soon as possible.  And in some ways, my efforts to claw my way out of the “depression” only make it worse, making me feel like more of a failure.   
            But maybe it doesn’t need to be so distressing.  Maybe it’s just a part of life, of being human.
            So I’m going to do it differently this time.  I am not going to be distressed that I am in a funk, that I can barely even find the words to pray.  I’m not going to worry about being some super-human, spiritual giant who can “fix it all,” who is a shining example of what a “good Christian” is supposed to be, facing the trials with a chipper attitude and a smile on my face.  I’m just going to be okay with being human.  I’m just going to let this funk happen and let it pass, waiting at the feet of God until it does. 
            And even though it might look like I am being a “bad Christian who isn’t pleasing enough to the Lord or doing enough for Him,” I think it’s okay.  I think there are times when wallowing in the dust is all we can do.  But as long as we are wallowing in the dust at the feet of God, it’s okay.  And I’m okay.  Because I trust in a good, loving, sovereign God.
            During last summer when I broke, when I couldn’t pray at all, I found immense comfort in two things:  letting a friend and my husband pray for me because I didn’t have enough strength or hope to pray for myself, and letting the words of some good Christian music be my prayers.
            Last summer, I had to force myself to get out of bed and to go out into the garden.  And every time I did, I had tears in my eyes and earbuds in my ears, always listening to my favorite band, The City Harmonic.  I needed them.  I needed their hope-filled words to be my prayers because I couldn’t pray anymore.  I would let the painfully-beautiful truths in their songs fill my heart and mind, offering them to God as my prayers because I didn’t have any words of my own.   
            And I think that’s okay.  When we are at our lowest and we don’t want to try anymore and we are sick of trying to be that “super Christian” and we are incapable of engaging in life anymore, it’s okay to let others pray for you.  It’s okay to have no words of your own, to be silent before the Lord.
            Sometimes silence – heart-breaking, confused, distraught silence, when we are lying helpless at the feet of God, when all we can pray is “God!  Oh, God!” – is the purest form of prayer.
            It’s in the silence that we learn to “be” with God, to feel His presence more, to listen more, to stop trying so hard in our own strength.  Let the silence teach you to “be,” instead of “do.”  Let it teach you to listen, instead of talk.   
            “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”  (Habakkuk 2:20)
            “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”  (Ecc. 5:2)


9.  Pray Scripture back to God
            Another thing to try when you don’t have any words of your own is to pray Scripture back to God.  It’s taking the promises that He has given us in His Word and praying them to Him, basically telling Him which promises we are grabbing onto and trusting Him to fulfill. 
            I have tried just about everything else I can think of to get through my anxiety (except medication and therapy, which isn’t out of the question).  But sometimes, the things I have tried only seem to help on a surface-y level.  And I can tell that my soul needs something more.  And so what I did was look up the verses that speak the most to me and put them into prayers.  And when anxiety and discouragement hit hard, I will pray these back to God.  Even just reading His promises is comforting to my soul.  Here are a couple I wrote.  (I'll add more in other posts.)  I hope they help you, if you need it. 

          Prayer for when Anxiety Strikes
            Psalm 55:22:  “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”
            Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
            John 14:27:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
            Lord, You say that we can present to You all of our concerns and needs.  You say that You will never let us fall, that You will sustain us, and that we will be filled with Your peace, if we are praying with thanksgiving.  Well, I am pouring out my fears and doubts and concerns right now to You.  I am acknowledging how weak I am and that I need You.  I am casting my cares on You because they are too heavy for me.  They are too much for me to handle and I need Your help.  I need to put them in Your hands and let go of them because the weight is crushing me. 
            And I thank You for all of Your faithfulness in the past, how You have always helped me through the hard times and have never left me alone.   I thank You that You can carry the things that I can’t.  Now Lord, please, I need Your peace, the kind of peace that protects my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.  I feel scared and vulnerable and fragile and so broken.  I have no peace of my own.  I need Yours, please.  Thank You for being a God that truly cares about us and that won’t leave us alone in our pain.  Thank You for being faithful.  Thank You for being there, even if no one else is.   

          Prayer for Peace in the Face of Fear
            2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.”
            Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
            2 Timothy 1:7:  “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of sound-mind.”
            Isaiah 26:3:  “You will keep in perfect peace he whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
            Lord, I feel completely hard pressed, crushed, persecuted and struck down.  Life is bearing down on me and it’s too much for me to handle alone.  I need You.  Every moment.  I need You to keep me from going under all the way.  I feel so broken, and I can’t fix it on my own.  Please, help me. 
            You say that You will be my strength, that I don’t have to be afraid because You are with me.  Well, I need to feel Your presence now.  I need to sense that You are with me.  Before I crack completely.  Lord, this spirit of fear that I am living under is not from You.  I know that.  But my own mind has become an enemy.  Please, Lord, help me.  You give us a spirit of power, of love, and of sound mind.  And I need that power and love and sound mind right now. 
            I am making a trade with You, Lord; I am giving You the fear and anxiety and unanswered questions, and I am asking You to give me Your peace and power and love and sound mind.  I cannot seem to make my mind do what I want it to do.  But Your Word says that You will keep in perfect peace the person whose mind is set on You.  I can’t keep myself in peace; I need You to do it for me.  Help me to set my mind on You.  Help me to block out the enemy’s whispers.  Help me to hear only You, to trust in You, and to feel that peace. 
            Lord, I need You!

            [Now find your own verses and put them into prayers and pray out loud.  It helps your soul in a deep, supernatural, mysterious way.  Also check out this post: War Rooms, Praying Scripture, and Spiritual Warfare.]  


10.  Forgive.
            Going through painful trials often gives us tunnel-vision.  All we see is how everyone else is treating us wrong and how life is being unfair.  And we make the pain worse by dwelling on all the ways we’ve been cheated in life.  We catalog our hurts, the ways people let us down, the ways they treated us poorly, the ways God let us down, etc.  And we grow bitter and more discouraged and more closed-off.   
            Bitterness is a poison.  And it will slowly destroy our relationship with others, our faith, our emotional health, and our physical well-being.  Good never comes from carrying around giant chains of unforgiveness and bitterness.  It only weighs us down, making our futures as pathetic as we think our pasts were.  And it deprives us of the joy, contentment, and the kind of relationship with God that we were meant to have.   
            If you catch yourself dwelling on all the ways life has been unfair, pray and ask God to reveal if there is any heart attitude that you need to deal with and ask forgiveness for.  Is there anyone you need to forgive?  Any grudge you need to let go of?  Any wrong that you need to place in the Lord’s hands, for Him to deal with?  Any heartbreak you haven’t dealt with yet?  Anything you are beating yourself up about, where you need to accept God's forgiveness and forgive yourself? 
            Sometimes, the best way to heal and to deal with pain is to forgive, to let go of bitterness, to ask forgiveness, to make the first move, to forgive ourselves, to accept God’s forgiveness and “go and sin no more.”   
            Mark 11:25:  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  
            Matthew 6:14-15:  “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
(The rest of this "forgive" section is in the post, "When Forgiveness is Hard.")


11.  Cry when you need to.  Distract yourself if you have to.
              For months after my panic attack last summer, I would wake up nearly daily with anxiety.  I felt very fragile.  Vulnerable.  I could feel this buzzing of anxiety in my brain.  And I was always afraid that it would suddenly overcome me and I would lose control of my mind and begin panicking and end up in the hospital.  And of course, our natural response to that fear is to do our best to control ourselves, to manage our emotions and to keep ourselves together.
            But one day, instead of trying to hold myself together, I began to cry.  To sob.  I was just so exhausted.  And when I was done, I felt better.  More relaxed.  And I realized that sometimes that anxious feeling is really just a need to cry that has been building inside of me.  And I didn’t even need a clear, obvious reason to cry.  I just needed to cry.  To vent it out.
            And so I made myself a mixed CD of the City Harmonic songs that spoke the most to me, that always made me tear up, that always gave me a little hope.  (I own the CDs – in fact I paid for the music twice, one set of CDs for me and one for my mom – so I wasn’t “stealing” the songs.)  And I labeled it “When Anxiety Strikes.”  And I listened to it whenever I felt the buzzing in my brain.  And inevitably, it would make me cry (in a good way) and I would feel a little better.  (I'll try to share the songs in a following post, if you ever need it.)
            And on other mornings, it helped to distract myself with non-serious-drama shows on TV.  If I woke up with the feeling of anxiety, I would turn on a show that didn’t have any bad stories or heavy drama, which in my case happened to be Green Acres (reruns on TV) or my 7th Heaven DVDs – simple shows that are so cheesy that they are relaxing to an anxious mind.  And I would watch it for about an hour, until the anxiety subsided and I had built up the energy to tackle the tasks of the day.
            I tell ya, tackling anxiety or depression isn't for sissies!


12.  Decide that you are too tired to be anxious.
        The last time that I felt a panic attack coming on and was afraid that I was going to lose it, I found myself saying, “No!  I can’t do it!  I don’t have the energy to be anxious.  I am too tired.  Lord, You panic for me.  You worry about the worries that threaten me.  Because I am too tired to deal with it all.”  And so I decided to not panic, to not pick up that burden that day.  I was exhausted and didn’t have the energy to be anxious. 
            And oddly enough, that simple decision really helped that day.  The anxiety subsided.  And it hasn’t come on that strongly ever since.  (Although, it does still hit me from time to time in lesser degrees.  It’s still a battle.)


13.  Lighten up.  Decide that it’s time to stop crying.
        You know how I said earlier that sometimes we need to cry, especially when it comes to anxiety.  Well, sometimes, when all you’ve been doing is crying, it’s time to decide that you’ve cried enough.  Sometimes continuing to cry about the same thing happens because we are letting our minds dwell on that thing over and over again.  And we need to “take our thoughts captive” and begin turning our focus to other things. 
            A therapeutic tip: Schedule the times that you will think about the “bad things” and cry.  Maybe once a day for ten minutes or once a week for an hour.  So when the bad thoughts pop up and you feel like crying again, remind yourself that you have a scheduled “cry time” at 8:00 a.m. every Monday morning for an hour.  And write it down – the schedule and the things that pop in your mind throughout the day that you want to think about during that time.  This can be helpful because it lets your mind rest in between the scheduled times and it gives it some relief knowing that you don’t have to try to stuff it forever, that you will eventually let it come out again if it needs to come out.
            And in between “cry times,” lighten up about whatever you can lighten up about.  Find things to laugh about.  Not everything is that dark every day unless you let it be that way.  Find the bright spots, the things that make you smile. 
            I have a little, solar-powered, dancing frog.  And he dances perfectly to George Ezra’s "Budapest."  Sometimes, I will put on that song just so I can watch the frog dance to it.  It makes me smile every time because he looks so happy, just dancing away there to some fun music.  And I love to watch the birds at my bird-feeders or get down close to my flowers and watch a bee flying among them, looking for pollen.  It’s soothing to my soul. 
            When the problems seem so big and overwhelming, narrow your focus down to one simple thing.  Enjoy one tiny moment!  Marvel at one tiny wonder!  There is still beauty and goodness and delight in the itty-bitty and mundane things that we overlook every day! 



14.  Sing.  A lot.
            I have learned that it is important to sing throughout the day - out loud - to some fun music or for no reason at all.  Just sing.  If you can keep singing, no matter what life hands you, then you are going to be okay.  The times you feel least like singing are probably the times you need to the most!  


15.  Count your own blessings, not someone else’s.  And be thankful for the things that haven’t happened.
            Part of dealing with the trials and the pain is to count our own blessings, not the blessings that others get, which only makes us bitter.  And when we are so focused on our own pain, it’s hard to remember that others have pain, too.  Sometimes way worse than we do. 
            And I think it’s important to also remember to be thankful for the bad things that haven’t happened to you, the trials that you’ve been spared from.  The newspaper headlines that didn’t have your name in them.  There are so many things that could’ve happened to me or my family but that haven’t.  And thinking of all the things we have been spared from makes me thankful for my trials and my pain.  Because I know it could be so much worse.
            If you take the blessings in your life for granted, all you are left with is the pain.  One helpful thing to do is to start a notebook where you keep a running list of the blessings that God has given you (read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts).  Basic things like enough food to eat or strength to lift heavy things or legs to walk.  Simple, overlooked things like a pretty sunset or an interesting rock you found on a walk or a goldfinch at your birdfeeder.  Or more “hidden blessings,” the silver linings on the storm clouds, the few roses among the many thorns - things like the fact that you hug your children every day because you were never hugged as a child or that you had one friend you could confide in when everything went bad or maybe how someone else found a little encouragement through your painful story.
            Maybe set a goal for yourself, such as writing down 10 things a day.  And bring some paper and a pen with you wherever you go so you can write things down when they are fresh in your mind.  The harder discouragement strikes and the more trials there are, the more deliberate we have to be about looking for the good.     
            Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
            Notice that “with thanksgiving” is part of what helps us find that “peace in God,” even in the face of the things that make us anxious.  Do not forget the “thanksgiving” part.  It is critical to the health of your faith and your mind.
            Good can be found in everything.  Focus on that part of life.  Because our thoughts will be molded by what we focus on.  And our feelings will follow our thoughts.  And our self-view, our view of God, our faith, and our outlook on life will be affected by our thoughts and feelings, which in turn will shape our futures.   
            It’s not what actually happens that has the biggest effect on us.
            It’s what we choose to focus on - to remember about it, to learn from it all - that will affect us and our futures, long after the original hurts happened.  (A truth retold by Ann Voskamp in her book, The Broken Way: a daring path into the abundant life.)
            We can’t change the past, but we can change how we let it affect our futures.  And this is best done with the Lord’s help, not on our own.  We are simply not strong enough. 
            But we don’t have to be.  Because He is!
            Count your blessings.  Be thankful for the tragedies that have never happened to you.  Find the silver linings, the roses among the thorns, the beautiful lessons and truths that came from the pain.  Watch carefully where your mind goes because it will affect your thoughts, feelings, views, and future.  Stop the negative ones immediately (pray them over to God) and replace them with godly truths. 
            For many of us, managing our thoughts and feelings and outlook will be a long battle and daily work.  But it is necessary.  So give yourself the time and space you need to do it.  It will be worth it. 
            And personally, I recommend that when you are going through the really hard times, listen daily to some uplifting Christian music.  Fill your heart, mind, and home with it.  I believe that it will help protect you and your faith. 
            Demons are attracted to negativity and discouragement and anxiety and fear, etc.  And if you give yourself over to those negative things, you give them “open doors” and “welcome mats” and will be more vulnerable to attack.  But filling your home and mind with godly music is repulsive to them and it will keep them back more, protecting you more from attack and giving you time to gather your strength.
            You don’t believe me?
            “Whenever the [evil spirit sent by God to torment him] came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play.  Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.”  (1 Samuel 16:23) 
            There is power – good or bad – in the music we listen to, in what we fill our minds with.    
            Philippians 4:8:  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - is anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.”
        Proverbs 4:23:  “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”


16.  Learn to praise Him in the pain and to trust that He walks through it with you and will bring some good out of it.    
            Likewise, I think that praising God – even in the pain - also protects us.  It makes us less vulnerable to the attacks of the Evil One and protects our hearts, minds, and faith more.
            I am not one of those who thinks you have to thank God for the pain, for the heartbreaks, for the tragedies.  It’s masochistic to thank God for divorce or abuse or disease or death, etc.  None of this stuff was in God’s original creation when He looked at the world and at people and said, “It is good!”  These are all effects of the Fall, of evil.  And I don’t think we have to be thankful for them.  When God Himself didn’t want these things or plan for things to be that way.
            Yes, God lets the bad things happen.  And that’s because He has allowed mankind to affect things, to have certain responsibilities, to cause consequences, and to have a certain control over the world and events of the world.  And it’s also because evil is alive and well, affecting things, too, leaving its mark everywhere. 
            So we cannot “blame” God for the bad things, even though He allows them to happen. 
            The thing is, we want our free-will, don’t we?  We want to make our own decisions and choose what we want to do.  But the moment we cause bad consequences for ourselves or when others have caused them for us or when nature has gone haywire, we blame it on God, acting like He is the one causing everything. 
            But part of having free-will is having the job of choosing between right and wrong, between good and evil.  And humans have been doing this for millennia, from the moment Adam and Eve ate the fruit and introduced death and destruction and decay into the world.  They passed down to the next generation a broken world, broken minds, broken bodies, etc.  And we will all pass it down to those who follow us. 
            Bad things are the consequences of having that free-will that we like having.  These bad things are because of us and because of evil.  And so I do not think we need to thank God for them, as though He deliberately caused them and wanted us to have them.  (Not that He doesn’t deliberately cause “bad” things at particular times throughout history.  But I think it’s generally more that He “allows” them.)
            He allows us to affect things.  He allows the bad things to happen.  And even if He didn’t deliberately cause them, He did allow them because He knows how to work it all into His plans and how to turn it all into good.  And He can help us through the painful trials.  We don’t face them on our own.  He is there with us, guiding us and giving us the strength and wisdom and peace to get through it all (if only we will accept His help).  And eventually, He will make all wrongs right again and do away with evil (and its effects) for good.
            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 
            And if nothing else, that is what we can praise Him for.  We can praise Him for the blessings that come from the pain.  We can praise Him that He holds everything in His hands, that nothing that happens to us happens without His knowledge and consent, that He allows whatever He does because He knows how it can be used for good, that He gives us the strength to face the hard times, that He cries with us when we hurt, that He holds us when we ache, that He carries us when we can’t stand anymore, and that eventually He will make all things right again.


17.  Have a plan to "pray, praise, read, and sing"!            
           When you find your mind crossing over to the dark side, when negative or complainy or panicked thoughts begin to fill your head, try to follow this plan which combines some of the above tips:  
            First pray out loud about the thing that's bothering you, sharing with God what's really bothering you or what you're afraid of, and inviting Him to handle it.  Tell Him you trust Him.  And if you aren't sure you do, then ask Him to help you trust Him.  Ask Him to help you see things the way He does.  Ask Him to send His heavenly angels to protect you from evil while you feel vulnerable and weak.  
            (If you know or wonder if what you're feeling or thinking is a demonic attack, then say this out loud, "In the name of Jesus Christ, I command any demons to leave this place and to leave my family alone.  I belong to Jesus, and you have no right to be here."  However, you should first consider if they do have any rights to be there - if you opened the door to them in any way by your choices, your mindset, disobedience to the Lord, by backsliding in your faith, etc.  You may need to get that in order first - confessing your sins to the Lord and asking forgiveness - before the demons will leave.  If you've given them a right to be there, they will stay as long as possible.)
            Second, thank God for something out loud - anything and everything you can think of.  Write it down if you want.  Fill your mind and heart and mouth with praise.
            Third, read a Bible verse out loud that fits your situation or your fear.  Read it out loud as many times as needed.  Write it down.  Turn it into a prayer.
            Fourth, sing a praise song out loud or listen to one on some sort of device.  Music can speak to us in ways other things can't.  Music can bypass our anxious thoughts and get deep into our souls.
            Fifth, pray for someone else, for anyone or everyone you can think of who needs help.  This turns our focus outward instead of getting us too focused on our own little life, problems, and feelings.  And this is particularly applicable if what you're upset over is that person.  Turn your complaints right into prayers for them, instead of complaining and growing bitter.
            (And sixth, if need be, tell someone you trust what you're going through and ask them to pray for you.  Sometimes, we need others to help us, when we feel to weak to help ourselves.)
            The reason I think this is a good plan is because, as I said earlier, evil thrives on negativity and fear.  And we open the door to evil more when we give in to negativity and fear.  Sometimes, the fear and anxious thoughts are part of spiritual warfare.  And so they need to be dealt with as such, with spiritual weapons.  Pray, praise, read, and sing.  Out loud.  Doing these things is repulsive to demons.  It will make you less susceptible to their influence and attack because it builds you up in the Lord and because it repels demons.  Turning their attacks right into prayers and praise is one way to turn the tide on them, to win the battle!
            If you are going through a particularly hard stretch of time, make this a daily plan.  You can never go wrong with more prayer, praise, reading, and singing! 
             


18.  Remember that suicide is not an option!  If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, tell someone or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255



            Yes, I may be broken.
                   But that’s okay.

            Because I know the One who specializes in fashioning beautiful things out of jagged, broken, messy pieces.  I am going to be okay.  And you are going to be okay. 
            Just give the ugly pieces to the Creator of beautiful things ... and see what He can do with them.


          It’s okay to fall apart in front of the One who can put you back together.



This is my favorite gazing ball.  It's made from broken pieces.

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