“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.” Philippians 1:20
This past year has been one of the hardest of my life. In the past twelve months, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder, struggled with infertility, dealt with depression, and was totally overwhelmed by my job. At times, I was so stressed that my jaw would go numb or I’d feel nauseous; my body was showing physical signs of that with which my mind had been wrestling. I was so sad that I cried every single day for weeks and I was so burdened that sometimes I could barely think or speak. Often our seasons are so hard that we can’t even dig ourselves out of them. It was November 2016 when I heard from the Lord that it was time to rest— really rest. It was a small and subtle thought. “Take stress leave.” I wasn’t even really sure what that was or if I could. And I definitely hadn’t thought of it myself. Rest is not something that I have ever done well. Rest is something I avoid, mostly because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what’s underneath, the things I don’t want to think about or feel. Because of my need to avoid rest, it was clear that the thought was not my own.
There were a lot of things in that season that I was unsure of, but I did know that I was not okay and I knew that even when I’m not okay God is good. So I began to pray through what my leave would really look like; could I afford to take four weeks off, and what would people think if I did? Then I realized that I couldn’t afford NOT to take the time off and I couldn’t afford to put other people’s thoughts over what God was calling me to do. After digging deeper, I learned that I could, in fact, take a month-long personal leave. And so I made arrangements to go. That decision was hard for me, even up until the last week before my leave I didn’t want to go. The fear was so thick and heavy that it almost convinced me to stay and avoid what God was stirring up inside of me. But when God speaks, I want to listen. And so I went.
I took four weeks of personal leave. And it was the best decision I’ve made for myself in a long, long time. It was more life-giving than I can put into words. God met me there. He took the time and he joined me in my darkest, ugliest places. He comforted the girl with dad issues, abuse issues, food issues, all the issues. The girl who most days hates her own body and hates the trauma that encourages her eating disorder. But none of that stopped him. What was broken about me didn’t deter him from loving me. He met me anyway. And more than that, he taught me how to be joyful despite my brokenness.
When my personal leave ended and I went back to work, I heard over and over again “you’re glowing” and “you look so refreshed.” That wasn’t just me; that was the the joy of the Lord. This time, my body was showing physical signs of the things with which my mind had stopped wrestling. You see, nothing about my circumstances changed during my personal leave. I still had an eating disorder, I still wasn’t pregnant, I was still depressed, and I was still overwhelmed. And the truth is, those things are even still real and fresh today. But God has taught me how to be joyful despite them. Because the reality is even if I had those things, I wouldn’t be TRULY joyful if I wasn’t grounded in Jesus first.
One of my favorite things about Philippians 1:20 is the part that says, “I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die” because to me, when I read that, it means NO MATTER WHAT – whether I’m thriving or I’m drowning. I trust that when I am allowing God to work in me, my life will honor him – brokenness aside. I never want anyone to ever feel like they’re so messy that they can’t be used by God and that they do not deserve to experience the fullness of his joy.
When we go to God with everything we are, sharp edges and all, he restores and fills us with HIS JOY. This joy is far greater than anything we could produce on our own, and it satisfies the innate longing of our heart, that he himself planted there. So here is what I know now: I am worth being loved, that God is not afraid of what’s ugly about me, and that if I would just pursue him first, his joy is mine to have.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
Reflect On This…
- What are the things in your life that cause you stress and seek to steal your joy?
- What can you do to make space in your daily routines to help you to find rest in Christ?
- Take some time to meditate on Philippians 4:6-7 from The Message. “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Now practice what it says, over and over again, until you begin to experience the peace of Christ. Recommended Reading: The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan