What would a story of redemption be without a struggle? Now I can say that I live free of anxiety and depression because of Jesus, but that did not come easy. It felt like a long path that dragged on for years. I had been attempting to figure out life on my own without applying what Jesus taught us about living free.
It’s All Right to Struggle
To reach this peace and learn God’s plans for me, I had to experience much internal strife. Who likes to struggle? Not many that I know of. I was especially weak mentally and spiritually because of how much anxiety and depression chained me down in life.
When my once-promising internship didn’t turn into a permanent job, I felt being unemployed without a job in my career field made me look like a failure. It brought a sense of embarrassment. At the time of my suffering, I felt judged by others. In reality, though, I was the only one who felt this way. I became very hard on myself. It just continued to spiral into a deep, dark depression.
This suffering seemed unbearable for so long. I didn’t know what to do. I loved God so much but didn’t know how to make a change. I was completely caught up in my own mental torture, and any suffering that I encountered made me resist even more.
One thing I wish I could have looked back on and told my younger self is that it’s all right to struggle. How else can one learn and grow? The Bible talks about this suffering and discusses how there can be peace from it. In Matthew 5:10, we read, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Biblical Lesson: It is noble to stand firm with God when you are suffering or being attacked. Don't give in to your enemies or fall for their bait. Sometimes we want to throw in the towel and give into our anxieties and fears. Being a Christian is often a conflict with what the world views or desires. Christians are tortured and killed all around the world. Those who are loyal to the Lord are the ones who will be saved.
While I have not been physically beaten by others, I did cause my own angst from trying to be a perfectionist and being very hard on myself. Many people are their own worst enemy from putting constant pressure and expectations on themselves that aren’t necessary. Thus, we create our own hell.
When one experiences years of internal turmoil, it can be extremely difficult to cope and feel like others can help. Sometimes there is a stigma in society that someone is weak if they see a counselor. This is not true at all! It takes courage to seek help, but it is the right thing to do. I saw numerous doctors, Christian counselors, and psychiatrists seeking answers. Sometimes I would get clarity or solutions that would only solve my dilemmas temporarily. It would be right back to the drawing board. It was such a vicious cycle, and it was easy to feel lonely. I felt alone because I thought no one was experiencing what I was feeling in those moments.
I have an amazing wife, kids, parents, family, and friends. They all have loved me so much and have been nothing but supportive and a huge help. But they can only do so much. Ultimately, I was the one who needed to make changes. During these times, I felt alone even though I was strongly supported by many. Back when I was unemployed, I became engaged. Deep down, I felt like a man needed a good-paying job to take care of his spouse. Never once did my fiancé, family members, or friends say that I was a failure. They had my back and were there to support me. However, I was trapped in my own struggles and couldn’t see, feel, or embrace the love others showed me. This is the definition of being chained down by one’s own internal strife.
It’s so important to remember that Jesus will always be with you no matter what evil you are facing. Many Bible verses reflect on this, but a few really stick out to me. In Joshua 1:9, his Word states, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (new paragraph) Biblical Lesson: This is very powerful because the Lord is our protector. God is our refuge, and nothing else remotely comes close. Some situations in life may present giant hurdles where we don't have all the answers. It may seem very scary when we tackle challenges alone without clarity. Instead, Jesus wants us to take a leap of faith by trusting in him. He is on our team to hold and guide our hands when we feel that no one else knows exactly how we feel.
But you need to actively seek out God and ask for his help, and sometimes you have to be brave and seek help from others. It is better to communicate and ask for help than to suffer silently. God wants you to reach out because he wants all his children to prosper. Many resources exist for those struggling with mental health. I did it, and if this applies in your situation, please reach out to anyone who can be of assistance.
Focusing on the Light
While you need help from others, you also need to help yourself maintain focus. Everything in this world is temporary. We need to maintain perspective and not waste our energy on the things that really don’t matter—expectations of us, the pressure to perform, trying to fit in, being the best or most successful, or making a name for ourselves. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about God’s children and show your light to everyone, especially since God’s most important commandments are to love God and all people. But you also need to focus on yourself and making those necessary changes.
Every story of redemption starts with making those changes. My biggest issue in the past was that I was stuck in my own struggles. Clearly, I needed to change something. While I attended church, prayed often, and tried to serve others—and these are all wonderful things that should be continued to grow God’s kingdom—they didn’t fix the issues plaguing me until I changed my focus on the light above instead of being so self-absorbed in misery.
In my situation, the needed change wasn’t some groundbreaking concept that set me in the right direction. Additionally, the event that triggered the change wasn’t pretty or something I was proud of.
For years I struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) paired with anxiety and depression. These nasty disorders were all brutal to deal with daily. OCD would cause me to take part in some awful habits. It would range from obsessing about money, jobs, grades, health, anxiety, and more. At one point, I was obsessing about reading the Bible every night and would worry that if I didn’t, then my anxiety wouldn’t get better. I took something that was a great thing, reading the Bible, and turned it into a practice that only fueled my anxiety. Finally, my wife had to get on my tail and tell me that I needed to stop worrying about myself and begin focusing on helping others instead of focusing so much on my problems.
While I may have helped others in the past, my focus was still on my own issues instead of the joy that comes from helping people, so it didn’t help. It wasn’t working, not because serving others isn’t a great way to help get out of this depressed mindset, but because I wasn’t focused on the joy.
It was a challenge but also a reminder that I had to get my act together. Yes, we had an argument, but ultimately my wife was right and made me realize I was reading the Bible as if it were a task that needed to be checked off a list. I was so worried about if I could squeeze it in each night before going to bed. While Jesus wants a relationship with every single one of us, it should never be a chore. Yet this is exactly what I was making it.
While not focusing on a relationship with God was certainly a major issue, it wasn’t the sole issue. However, focusing on God sheds light on the other significant problem. That night I told myself that I needed to stop focusing on my own issues, like my wife advised me, and instead purposefully focus on helping others. It didn’t matter what my up-and-down emotions felt like in tough moments. I had to truly emphasize making a difference for others in every moment, whether it was at work, at home, or out in public. Regardless of personal issues going on, I always focused on assisting others. However, I was stuck on my problems in my mind no matter what was going on.
The spotlight needed to stop being on me and instead needed to be on loving God and his children. Sometimes, the truth hurts. A weightlifter will often say, “No pain, no gain.” So true! A similar truth can be found in Romans 8:6–7 (MSG), “Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.” This might be a tough pill to swallow, but it’s essentially what I was doing by focusing on my struggles rather than the blessings that God has given me.
Fortunately, there’s better news later in this chapter. In Romans 8:10–11 (MSG), his Word says, “But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive as well? When God lives and breathes in you, you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!”
Biblical Lesson: No matter how much you have sinned in your life, take heart that you will be saved by Jesus if you believe in him with all your heart. The Holy Spirit rejuvenates us to show an undeniable love to others, and gives us a life worth living. Do not be anxious about your failures, shortcomings, and weaknesses. These things are temporary and will pass away in time just like our bodies.
Later on in that chapter, the Word talks about how we shouldn’t give one more cent to our own do-it-yourself life. Our lives should be led by the Holy Spirit because we are not our own. We were paid for at a price. It’s essentially saying there’s nothing in our lives just for ourselves and that, instead, we should eagerly be led by the Spirit and asking God, our Father, about what occurs next. Oh, man, did I ever miss that memo! It’s easy for me to look back and say that I’ve missed the mark so many times. However, I’m very thankful to God and constantly reminded that those struggles (that made no sense at the time) were meaningful and had a purpose to draw me closer to God and away from the never-ending bouts with anxiety and depression.
I’m convinced that I needed to be reprogrammed to escape the hell I put myself through. Countless lies were the source of the seemingly forever downward spiral. By believing these lies, they became a significant focus of my life. I know Satan planted a seed in my brain, heart, and soul. It grew and grew over the years and manifested itself as anxiety and depression. The more time that passed, the deeper the seed was planted and rooted further within me. The more rooted the lies became, the worse off I became, and the harder it was to break away.
The best analogy or picture that I can think of comparing this situation to is nasty, disgusting, and pointless weeds throughout a flower garden. What is more ridiculous and annoying than weeds that continuously grow in your garden and siphon the life out of the beautiful flowers? You do your best to pull all the weeds from the soil, and then a month later, you see half of the weeds back that you thought you just eliminated.
The problem is there are deeper roots beneath the soil that you were unsuccessful at eradicating. That was the story of my life for so long, literally and figuratively. I was never the best at yard work. There are family members that can attest to that. For example, our yard had a bunch of rocks by our sidewalk and in front of our house that I thought were a huge eyesore. My goal was to take out the rocks and have an area with grass and a mulched garden. Well, it took me two to three years to accomplish. I kept starting the project each year, and then before I finished, it was winter again here in the Midwest. It was during a time when surviving the day with anxiety and depression was rocking my world. Finally, when I was in a better mental state, I was able to complete the project in a three-day period when it had taken me almost three years before that! What a distraction anxiety had been for me to cause me to take years to complete a project that literally only took several days.
Just as Christ has given us freedom by dying for our sins, he did so that we may live for him. I’ve known for a long time that Jesus died for our sins, and I believed it too, but I suppose I didn’t know what to do with that. The application was missing. How could it be applied without properly focusing on God? When I realized that I should stop concentrating on what I thought my life plans entailed instead of God’s plans for me, life became so much more enjoyable.
Growing up, I became stressed about many different things when it pertained to my future. One moment it would be about grades, the next it would be about college, and then it would be about athletics. As a kid, it seemed like I had to be the best instead of trying my best. There’s a notorious quote this reminds me of from a comedy movie starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly called Talladega Nights. The character, a race car driver named Ricky Bobby, told everyone that “if you ain’t first, you’re last.” It was a hilarious movie that had nonstop chuckles. This quote helped make the movie one of the most-talked-about comedies. While this saying is funny in the context of the movie, so many people live their lives this way because of how they were raised, the environment they grew up in, or a variety of other factors.
This whole concept of having to be number one becomes a lie when this takes priority over a relationship with Jesus. If someone fails to live up to such expectations, the thirst for success only continues to grow and grow. For some, like my past self, this thirst becomes an obsession that lingers. Eventually, it becomes ingrained in your brain, goes unchecked, and becomes part of your blueprint. Then it goes unnoticed and plays a major role in your beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. You are completely unaware of what is happening, and you wouldn’t even realize that Satan is persuading your thinking.
Satan does not have to be our puppet master. Why would anyone want to be strung around by the Evil One? However, Satan creates lies that we are alone, not good enough, not loved, unliked, not safe, that the world is out to get us, and that we should look out for ourselves first and foremost. If we buy into these deceptions, then we will fall. This is why it is paramount that we put God first in everything. In Matthew 10:38–39, Jesus says, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Biblical Lesson: We need to recognize Jesus everyday. He must become our number one priority if he isn't already. Christ died for our sins and paid the ultimate price. We need to put ourselves out there by publicly identifying with the Lord even when there is resistance. In addition, we must focus less on earthly rewards and more on Jesus and his plans for us.
In life, I have found myself so often upset because life didn’t go the way I wanted it to go for me. Why didn’t I get that job? How come I’m not getting more playing time? How will I pay the bills? Why didn’t she give me an A on my research paper? These are all things we can care about, but to beat ourselves over it isn’t what Christ intended for us. We must focus on him in our struggles and learn what his plans are for us.
Remember: Your legacy will be determined by how you lived for God and his children, not how you suffered on this earth. Your pain is only temporary, so put your focus on what is forever: God’s love. It will take weeks to months or longer, but it will work and be worth it.
Take Action: Don’t spend another moment caught up in your own misery. Deliberately focus on other people no matter what degree you are suffering internally. Focus your attention only on the Lord and what his will is for you.