Navigating Anxiety and Faith
I am a perfectionist, which means I am keenly aware of my faults and weaknesses. So far, this has mostly led to worldly sorrow and self-hatred, but I really want to move on to the next stage: Godly sorrow.
Usually when I look at my faults I have one of two tendencies: amusement or worldly sorrow. However, I hardly ever feel what I think is true Godly sorrow. Instead, I have worldly sorrow – one of my common motivations for wanting to improve on my faults is that I want the approval of humans. Another motivation is pride – I want to feel good about myself so I can experience that wonderful feeling of self-accomplishment that I cannot seem to live without.
When I really take the time to analyze my motives, I discover that self-accomplishment is one of my main goals in life. I may claim that my ultimate goal is serving God, but it’s the day-to-day goals that reveal what our ultimate goals truly are.
This is what day-to-day life looks like for me: If I have fallen short in any area, I feel as if I must make up for it with some sort of achievement. I hardly ever enjoy the process because my mind is too focused on the desired end result: To experience the pure joy of achievement. Sometimes I think that achievement is the only thing that can truly bring me peace because only then can I sit back and relax. But that is a lie. No matter where I’m at in life, no matter how broken I am, I still have the opportunity to experience peace.
So when I become distraught from feeling stupid or irresponsible, I must resist the urge to immediately regain my self-worth by accomplishing things that are easy for me, things I am talented at. I automatically turn to these things because they are quick fixes and therefore promising for making me feel awesome again. I turn to writing so often because I know the high I get after writing a very eloquent and insightful piece of work, and I know that whatever I am struggling with, I will feel good about myself once the piece is impeccably revised and edited.
However, God does not call us to stick to only what we are good at; He wants us to move out of our comfort zones and experience discord and unrest. He knows what we are truly capable of, and while I may not be responsible with everything now, I have the capacity to be. Since we were made in the image of God, we have the capacity for many things we never thought we were capable of. Yes, God gives us unique talents and skills, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we were meant to stay within those boundaries. Talents are wonderful and we have them for a purpose, but if they become safety nets and things we take refuge in, then we will never learn what we are truly capable of.
When I fail at something, my tendency is to stop trying and turn to more familiar things. Once I turn to those familiar things and experience success from them, it gives me an excuse to ignore the difficult things.
I may not know how to manage my time and my finances but man oh man can I write!
When we do decide to move out of our comfort zones, however, we must do it for the right reasons – not to please others, not to please ourselves, but to honor God who put us here for a reason, one of which is to be a steward of all the good things He has given us (even the things we do not feel particularly skilled at managing). If something is important to God, He will give us the strength to do it if we ask in faith.
If I’m not sure if God is calling me to make changes in a certain area, I should pray about it first. I shouldn’t immediately jump on the self-improvement train because I will likely end up doing it for the wrong reasons. If I pray about it first, God will show me the right motives, and I will be rescued from the endless cycle of failure -> self-hatred -> quick and easy success -> pride.
Believe me, it’s an endless cycle . . .
I don’t make enough time for God -> I start criticizing myself with a negative internal dialogue ->I write something fabulous -> I feel awesome.
Ugh, that is no way to live!
If I were to replace “writing” with “prayer,” does that make the cycle any better? No, because the joy we get from praying shouldn’t be the joy of accomplishment, as in, I’m really good at praying. It’s the joy of admiration as we look upon the one who is able to make us strong when we are weak and successful when we have failed. And it’s comforting to know that in order for God to see us as successful, we don’t have to do anything but believe.
We don’t have to write; we don’t even have to pray; we just have to have faith that He sees us as more than our actions, whether they are good or bad.
I think one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is that sometimes the best use of our time with God is simply to sit and meditate on His love. Sometimes, this is more honoring to God than busily going through a long prayer list or following a structured reading plan. Someone else I know put it this way: we are really good at doing things but we are not good at just being.
It is very difficult for me to rest in Christ’s love. It seems like I am always trying to earn it. It’s sort of a never-ending cycle: as soon as I feel in awe of God, I give myself a big pat on the back for thinking the right thoughts or doing a good job surrendering. However, the whole point of being in awe of God is to be in awe of his power and not our own. When I finally am able to feel awe, it’s not because I did a good job manipulating my thoughts to have faith; it’s because God poured out His mercy since He saw I had a willing heart.
When it comes down to it, no good decision or noble act, helps us earn God’s love and mercy – it is already accessible no matter what. While the act of accepting Jesus is essentially a good decision and it does result in many good things, this cause-effect relationship has nothing to do with merit. Accepting Christ it is not what you would consider an achievement – it’s more of surrender.
Who would have thought that surrender could make us successful? Christianity is full of irony. In fact, it’s ironic that I had to write in order to realize that writing isn’t necessary for me to feel successful. And what a relief that is to realize. Now I am free to acknowledge my brokenness and not feel like I need to make up for it by writing the perfect blog post. My brokenness does not define me; it does not prevent me from feeling peace; it does not make me despise myself. Instead, my brokenness make me thankful that I am loved and valued in spite of it.
Perhaps the fullest way we can experience love is when it is unconditional. If we were any less flawed, we would not be able to appreciate God’s love half as much. Perhaps all the struggles we go through is worth the unique form of love we eventually experience when we taste God’s mercy firsthand. God knows how amazing unconditional love is to experience so he knows it’s worth the heartache to get there.
Godly sorrow comes from feeling broken but loved, as we consider Jesus’ suffering on the cross and wonder at how we can continue to live a life any less than one lived in utter thankfulness, in pursuit of Christ’s perfection. Perfection is not something we strive for because we want achievement; it’s something we strive for because we know it’s within reach and to not reach for it would be to deny God’s wonderful gift. We were given the resources to be perfect (in God’s eyes) so we are without excuse. That is why we should be sorry when we repeatedly find ourselves following the same broken path and sorry when we keep trying to straighten the path with “redeeming” personal achievements.
It’s fun to feel in control of our own success, but what happens when the things we once relied on for finding success become more difficult to achieve? A good night’s sleep is important to me because it gives me the energy to achieve the things I need to, but there are times when my busy schedule or insomnia make it difficult to get enough sleep, and this “easy” success factor becomes an elusive goal that consumes my heart as I realize how helpless I am to achieve that one simple thing that means so much.
In reality, sleep, writing, or anything for that matter, is no cure-all. We will never be satisfied and we will always want more because the things of this word only provide temporary fulfillment.
When I consistently turn to writing to redeem myself and I don’t bother turning to God because writing satisfied my needs, I am essentially saying to God that I don’t need His gift. For that reason, I am sorry. I think that is what Godly sorrow is.