Tossed To and Fro
I moved to New York City with the expectation that it wouldn’t be too different than little ol’ Ohio. “How different could it be? It’s only six hours away!” I was also caught up in the idea that my time in vocational ministry and my discipleship opportunities were finally about to start – something I had waited for and dreamed of was actually going to happen! When I first got to the city, I was constantly overjoyed at being there; “the Lord is using me in the Big Apple!” Thankfully, months 1-4 were smooth sailing. I liked my surroundings, I got along with my team, I was excited by the discipleship opportunities, and I was learning a lot. Among other things, my team went through the Sojourner’s Workbook, a guide to cross-cultural transitioning. Did I find it fascinating and challenging? Absolutely. Was it a great exercise in building trust for our team? Definitely. Was it easy? Yeah, a piece of cake. However, over time, my inability to process the unknowns, plus some naivety, invited my dearest friends Anxiety and Depression over to my place to party.
My success in discipleship, evangelism, and learning became more of my identity than my relationship with Christ. I was too scared to fail because it would somehow mean I wasn’t a successful worker. I thought the only way to combat these feelings was to leave the program and go back home. “Leave and learn more so you can come back next year.” My new pattern of thinking became, “You need to do more and more and more. What you’re doing isn’t quite good enough.” I looked in the mirror and saw someone who was unmotivated; I had gained 15 pounds and was exhausted. I can safely say I was in the worst mental state of my life, but I also felt a lingering sense of hope and peace present I could only attribute to the Lord. What would it mean if I died to these things that seemed to be ruling my life, and in doing so truly felt alive in Christ’s design for discipleship?
My fear of dying to myself and entering the unknown prevented me from genuinely experiencing God’s work in my life. It was like being trapped in the waves of the ocean, being tossed to and fro, struggling hard yet feeling pulled down. I was trying to use my own strength to fight my anxiety and depression, but I was drowning. I wasn’t able to be fully present, and despair and fatigue had built a fence between me and others. But God exposed this to me and reminded me of the true meaning of discipleship. He sent a man on the street in my direction and I wasn’t able to interact or even smile like I normally would. It broke my heart that I didn’t even recognize my own behavior. God reminded me that my identity is in Him, not in my own merit. God threw me a life-raft, reminding me of my beautiful dependance on Him. The moment I recognized I wasn’t perfect, there was a sense of relief. In challenging myself to continue despite my imperfection, I was able to see my need to rely on God fully and, through this, God really blessed my relationships. I was finally able to see God’s sovereignty more clearly.
In no way do I want to minimize the real weight and struggle of anxiety and depression. In fact, I don’t know whether or not this struggle will be a thorn in my side for the rest of my journey. However, I say all of this to highlight the greatness of our God, who commands the wind and the waves. He is with us in our anxiety and depression, He sees us and lavishes His love upon us. When we rely on God for our strength and our identity, when we make the choice to surrender ourselves fully to the Lord, we put ourselves in a position to recognize His amazing work in our lives and embrace His path of true discipleship