Compassion makes it possible to tell God how you’re really doing (even though He already knows). It’s not mandatory, and His listening is not contingent on our honesty, but raw authenticity goes a long way.
I thought I was doing better...
That’s what crossed my mind the evening after one of my worst panic attacks. It had been two months and my mental health was stable. I could drive without blacking out. My feelings of nervousness had mainly subsided. And while I was still deeply depressed, I was happy to be making progress.
In the blink of an eye, my hope of getting to the other side of depression and anxiety came crashing down. I was back to square one, rocking on my heels, as my hands pushed against the cool bathroom floor beneath my feet. And I was utterly ashamed. Embarrassed. Too defeated to stand.
I should be better by now...
After three years of counseling, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t fixed yet. And at that moment, I didn’t understand that mental health recovery isn’t a linear process. But I guess some part of me thought that once I learned to live with my symptoms either God would permanently remove them, or they would magically cease.
Today, I’m learning, often over and over again, that while Jesus can choose to heal, mental health struggles often require us to embrace living with a limp. And what does living with a limp mean?
Living with a Limp
Much like physical scars that often remain with us, when I say "living with a limp," I’m talking about something you just can’t shake. For me, it’s depression and anxiety, but for you, it might be Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that rattles your mind daily, or perhaps a debilitating fear of failure that keeps you from taking risks. Even social anxiety can prevent you from making and keeping friends. Limps come in all shapes and sizes.
Living with a limp means embracing the wounds we presently carry and the ones we may encounter later in life. And if you’ve been walking with a limp for any time, you may quickly realize that limps aren’t like broken ligaments that can heal for good. A limp can remain long after the healing has occurred.
Even if you limp for the rest of your life, have hope. This world is not our home, and suffering is temporary. We are but a vapor just passing through (James 4:14). And this is why it’s especially important to give compassion, release blame, and remain hopeful along the journey.
Give Compassion to Yourself in the Present
Before I made the jump to see a clinical counselor for my mental health issues, I was in denial. I truly believed that if I just worked harder, had more faith, served Jesus more, and prayed longer, my issues would get better. I ridiculed myself daily for my flaws and had such high standards, I always felt I was failing.
Looking back, I wish someone had told me this: Don’t be hard on yourself when you have a moment of weakness, panic attacks, or anxiety. Offer yourself compassion in this time of need. How do we do this? By treating ourselves like a friend.
About a month into my weekly counseling sessions, my therapist asked me to explain why I was so hard on myself. He then asked me to make a list of core beliefs I held as truth (even if they weren’t). He helped me identify lies like:
“I have to be in control.”
“I have to be productive.”
“I need to prove my worth.”
“I’m a bad Christian because I have anxiety.”
“I’m not good enough.”
Then my counselor read my dialogue back to me.
“Amber, you’re not good enough. You’re a bad Christian because you have anxiety. And you do have to be in control and productive to prove your worth.” My jaw dropped.
“Would you ever talk to a friend going through anxiety and depression like that?” my counselor’s voice questioned.
Of course not, I thought to myself.
“So why would you ever talk to yourself that way?” he asked, reading my mind before I’d even uttered a word.
Compassion makes it possible to tell God how you’re really doing (even though He already knows). It’s not mandatory, and His listening is not contingent on our honesty, but raw authenticity goes a long way. If we can recognize and acknowledge our need for Him (2 Corinthians 12:9-11), we can grow to understand that weaknesses are opportunities to rely on Him.
Compassion frees you to wrestle with your limps. It’s a gift God has given you through Jesus. You can offer compassion to yourself not because it sounds easy or nice, but because Christ showed compassion by dying on the cross for your sins.
Just as a physical limp may require more time for walking, give yourself compassion and more time to heal mentally. This looks like offering patience when you struggle or not being afraid to reach out for help.
Release the Blame
In John 9, Jesus encounters a man born blind. When the disciples inquired if it was the man’s sin or his parents' sin that caused the tragedy, Jesus replied, “Neither…but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Although Jesus later healed this man's physical need, let us remember that it wasn’t the blind man’s fault he was blind.
In the same way, don’t always blame yourself for your limp. While there may be situations in which mental health issues could be a result of sinful choices and behaviors, this isn’t always the case. When I broke my foot in college, people weren’t telling me that if I just “prayed or believed more,” it could’ve prevented the injury. We live in a world where one can be wounded physically or mentally, and the result of that (our wound) isn’t always our fault.
Releasing blame brings freedom, peace, and reaffirmation. To this day, I’ve never dropped weight like the weight I assigned to myself for something that wasn’t even my fault. Recognizing my clinical anxiety and depression wasn't my fault or something I could fix was freeing because I could finally embrace these weaknesses as strengths. When you take this step, you may still limp, but you’re no longer weighed down with unnecessary guilt, shame, or labels.
Have Hope for the Future
Setting your sights on heaven can empower you to embrace your limp now because of your confident expectations for the future (Colossians 3:1). Don’t allow your limp to limit you. God will use it for your good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
We all look forward to the day when sickness, disease, and things like anxiety and depression cease to exist. Even if I’m never healed here on earth, I can look forward to a heavenly home that awaits me and that brings me hope. Hope to give thanks and hope to trust that He who holds my tears is preparing a place for me to live totally free from my limp.
Be Resilient Amid the Pain
When struggling with mental health issues, it’s easy to get bogged down by defeat. And as I type these words, my mind flashes back to when I thought I should be doing better.
Between tears and fresh blank pages, I see a girl who needed to know she was seen and loved despite her sufferings. I see a girl who needed to offer compassion to herself, release unnecessary blame, and have hope for the future.
Friend, I want you to know that by embracing your limp and learning to walk anyways, you can become much more resilient. And giving compassion to ourselves, releasing blame and self-hatred, and having hope for eternity are just three ways we can press toward healing.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/seb_ra
Amber Ginter is a teacher, author, blogger, and mental health activist who resides in the beautiful mountains and cornfields of Ohio. She loves Jesus, granola, singing, reading, dancing, running, her husband Ben, and participating in all things active. She’s currently enrolled in the Author Conservatory Program and plans to pitch her book: Mental Health and the Modern Day Church for Young Adults, soon. Visit her website at amberginter.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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