What in the world is wrong when you have everything you’ve ever wanted and are still miserable? That’s where I found myself at the ripe old age of 29. Being happily married to my first date and having the privilege of staying home with our two children in our newly renovated first home just didn’t cut the mustard.
I was going downhill fast, thinking I was going crazy, dealing with a strong-willed 4-year-old daughter and a bulldozer 3-year-old boy. My gynecologist who had delivered my two children in two years advised me that the chronic pain I had been enduring was probably the source of my misery, so after a hysterectomy, I’d be fine. I clung to that hope.
Fast forward a few months, and the absence of pain made no difference in how I was feeling. I was a “donkey on edge” and couldn’t figure out why. There was no real trouble in my life. I should have been happy. Lots of women stay home with their children and many deal with strong-willed children. What was wrong with me?
A search for the source of my problems began. My childhood was pretty tainted with the divorce of my parents at the age of 6, sexual abuse at the hands of my alcoholic father, and living with an abusive, unfaithful alcoholic step-father. Maybe growing up in such dysfunction was why I was so despondent. Look no further than the new Oprah Winfrey show to see that all of your problems can be linked to your past.
Reaching back to find what I needed to go forward, I looked inward to fix myself. At that time, the mid-1980’s, self-help books flooded the shelves of bookstores and libraries. I had always been successful when I put my mind to do something, so it never occurred to me this time it might be different.
At this time in my life, I believed in God and knew He could be the solution to my emptiness, but I refused to turn to Him. Like a 2-year-old, I wanted to do it myself. He would come in and change me, and I wasn’t willing to be changed. None of this was my fault, after all.
Spending time in meditation, talking to my “inner child”, wallowing in my sorrows, playing the blame game, talking to my family and friends, trying to “pick myself up by the bootstraps”, nor any other thing I tried to do on my own worked.
Thankfully, I discovered shame to be at the root of how I felt. It didn’t matter how much I had accomplished, I just didn’t measure up to my own expectations. I couldn’t do enough to ditch the shame I carried. That lead to reading John Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, which pointed to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous for recovery.
Desperate for relief, I began to explore the 12 Steps, which began with admitting I was powerless over my shame and my life was unmanageable. I also saw that only with God’s help would I ever find freedom. My depression was caused by the anxiety in my heart from trying to be my own god. “I did it my way” had to be replaced by “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.”
Sin was the root of my sorrow. My own sin, not those who had hurt me. As a young girl, I had walked the aisle of my church, said a prayer to give my heart to Jesus, talked to the preacher, was baptized the next Sunday, then set out to live my life to the best of my ability. This was a little girl who was being sexually abused on weekend visits to her father’s house looking to feel clean, not a surrender of control to Jesus and trusting in His righteousness.
A pastor told his testimony of having a two-step salvation experience, much like mine. He repented of his sins as a child and of his righteousness as an adult. It was sin for me to live my life on my own power, on my own terms, without the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells me that anything done without faith is sin. My best is considered as filthy rags in the sight of a Holy God.
Believing I could be a “good Christian” without God’s power seems so absurd, but that’s what I was doing. I hadn’t given up any control of anything to God, except for where I would spend eternity. There was no abundant life in me, only death that comes from the sin that separated me from my gracious heavenly Father who longed to set me free from the chains that bound me.
When I wrote the prayer of submission to God, the weight of sin and death fell from me immediately. I was overwhelmed by His grace and love. The shame that had consumed me was carried by Jesus on the cross. Admitting I had been spending my whole life working for the righteousness God had freely given me set me free from despair. I forgave those who had harmed me, and asked God to forgive me for spending so many years pushing down the pain without asking Him to heal me.
It is a matter of life and death. God gives us a choice. “Years I spent in vanity and pride” led me to desperation that would have ended in death. Life begins when I come to Jesus daily “just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me.”
Suzanne Eller’s Live Free Thursday