The Root of Heartache
There were nights I’d wake up gasping for air. The way you gasp for air and fight to break the water’s surface after a wave has swallowed you up and flipped you head over heels.
This is how it felt. Swallowed up each night with anxiety. The overwhelming ocean, my tiny college dorm twin bed. The choppy waves; my tangled sheets. And the wind…my very own heart, stealing my breath and sleep away from me.
Other nights it wasn’t the breath-stealing anxiety but the chest-crushing sadness that would jolt me awake. It was a sadness I felt physically–my entire body paralyzed and pulverized into lifelessness.
Maybe you’ve been there. When you’re so low that moving a finger feels like running a marathon.
Depression takes on so many ugly faces. It comes out in anxiety, in anger, in isolation, in stillness and lifelessness, and a hundred other slowly drowning ways.
Regardless of the shape our sadness may take, the thing we all have in common is that it robs us of our ability to function normally.
It’s the normal activities of daily living, like brushing your teeth, that physically hurt when you are clinically depressed.
It’s normal tasks like getting out of bed every morning or eating a good meal that hurt when you are just depressed and low…whether you’ve had the term “CLINICAL” scribbled on your file or not.
We all know sadness.
You don’t have to be clinically depressed to know how it feels to be really really sad.
And maybe this is where you stop reading.
And I would be happy with at least that. I just want you to know that I am sorry for your sadness. The more we openly talk about it together, the less power it has over us. And I am just so very sorry for your tears, for the moments your heart is racing so fast it feels like you’re having a heart attack, your lifeless moments when you wonder if you have a pulse at all, your sleepless nights, the days you’re too anxious to eat, the days you’re so anxious you can’t stop eating… the days you can’t actually hear people as they talk to you, because your brain is fogged over and your heart is broken. I am so very sorry.
Here’s the thing, guys. I believe we are created for joy. Not sadness. Joy regardless of our circumstance. So why are so many of us battling this aching, daily (or if not daily, at least lingering seasonal) sadness?
Today I had a heart-piercing sadness lightbulb stab me in the face and heart and all the places (Gelly, light bulbs don’t stab, knives do…. I know, it was ugly, and impressive).
I’ve been reading through Philippians, – a book in the Bible that the Apostle Paul wrote. My friend Amy is (amazingly) leading me and a group of 10 other women through a 6-week study on this book.
You guys, we are on CHAPTER ONE. And I have already spent a morning in tears and written a blog about it. But it’s fine.
Philippians is often called the book of Joy, and chapter one is titled “Paul’s Thanksgiving and Prayer.” But Amy (again, amazingly) challenged us to read through the first chapter eighty-five thousand actual times (again, everything is fine), and to then highlight some key terms and come up with our own title for this chapter.
Like the good student that I am, I waited until the night before we meet up again to read it all eighty-five thousand times, highlight my themes, and find my own title (yeah…I had an entire week).
We’ve also been instructed to memorize “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” a short blurb from chapter one. So I slapped that puppy on my fridge and as often as I eat (which is about every 45 seconds), I read that verse. And yes, I did just type that all out without cheating. I know, impressive, I can memorize a very short sentence. A true scholar!
It can sound morbid though, right? And what in the world does it actually mean? “To live is Christ to die is gain…” Well, I read the footnotes about this verse, and little did I know I was about to completely lose my cookies over it.
My sadness and anxiety cookies, that is.
Although by God’s grace and healing I am on the other side of the mountain with depression (I say mountain because “other side of the fence” felt too trivializing), I have had some anxieties resurface since becoming a mother (and in general since you know, being alive longer.)
The cookie-losing footnotes:
“When you have what you want most – even if you don’t have other “lesser ” wants – you have joy. Above all, Paul wanted Christ; for Paul, life was measured in terms of intimacy with Christ Jesus. So wherever he was, whatever might have been happening, Paul found joy in Christ. ”
– Bill Bright, NLT Commemorative Edition
For the record, the “wherever he was” part is legit. Paul writes the entire letter from prison. Hello. Actual PRISON. He’s writing about how happy he is, while sitting with chains around his ankles.
I thought about what Bright wrote about why Paul found joy in everything, and I wanted to see where I stood in my joy-o-meter. Since he directly links what Paul wanted most with his joy, I made a list of all the things I want most. Aaaaaand I’m going to embarrass myself and show you that list. I edited none of it, because if I give you the polished version then that would defeat the purpose. And don’t laugh, because it’s my heart on my sleeve, guys… well, my heart on your computer screen. It’s not so pretty, but it’s real:
Things I want most:
Peace of Mind
A sense of belonging; to walk into an event and have a group of friends who know me and are excited to see me
To do things well and make a difference
For others to think highly of me
To feel beautiful/wanted
To be funny and make people laugh (instead, I just have a large repertoire of bad mom jokes. That’s all I have to give you. I’m sorry.)
For people to see me and think “She has great fashion… and great hair!” And for those same people to simultaneously think that it looks like I’m hardly trying. (Insert eye roll. Um what. Let’s talk about this one. Guys. If my hair is anything but up in a bun and I have anything on other than flip-flops, you better believe I tried real mother-lovin’ hard. As in, curled my hair while brushing my teeth and while also bouncing a baby, got mascara on my cheek, tried to cover the mascara with foundation but then that didn’t work so all of a sudden I’m rubbing spit and coconut oil on my face and removing the mascara while also giving myself a rash which I will then need to cover with more foundation, meanwhile in the back of my mind I’ve been thinking long and hard about whether or not to wear those heels that will without a doubt be written on my grave as “cause of death”.)
Have a voice/be a good and confident communicator
I wrote that last one and stopped. I was 9 “want most”s in and froze in disappointment.
My eyes raced back to read what Paul wanted most. And my hand wrote this:
“Above all, Gelly wanted Christ; for Gelly, life was measured in terms of intimacy with Christ Jesus. So wherever she was, whatever might have been happening, Gelly found joy in Christ. ”
And the hot tears fell. And the cookies. I lost them all. I wrote on:
“All of my heartache and anxiety is rooted in the fact that this is not yet true…
…Jesus, let it be so.”
This morning my tears were over the fact that if I died today, what people would say about me was a handful of things, but none of it would be that “above all else, she wanted Christ.”
It wasn’t what people would say that really hit me, it was that I knew this was the reason for my anxieties or any of my sadness. What I care for and want most are things that are changing, fleeting, and unstable. And they just aren’t Jesus.
My list of wants is not a bad list. The desires in my heart are there for a reason, and, for the most part, they are healthy. But when they become the ultimate thing, that’s when they shift from healthy to harmful.
I’ve written this on paper and am hanging it in my room, in my Bible, and on my heart.
“Above all, Gelly wanted Christ; for Gelly, life was measured in terms of intimacy with Christ Jesus. So wherever she was, whatever might have been happening, Gelly found joy in Christ. “
Jesus, let it be so.