I couldn’t stop sobbing. I sat in a fetal position on my bed, gasping for breath. It had been a long time since I’d cried like this.
And what compounded my emotions was that I couldn’t place my finger on why.
Sure, a few minor irritations had snowballed on me over the past few days but nothing devastating. A psychology major in college, I was usually pretty good at pegging my emotions. This time I was at a loss.
I recalled talking with a few friends at my writer’s group about a fellow writer’s new book. Karen Jordan had sent me an advanced copy of her book Words that Change Everything: Speaking Truth to Your Soul, and I was about halfway through. I told the women I was very much enjoying the book but I was having a hard time letting the truths of dealing with anxiety seep into my soul.
One writer friend said it might be because I wasn’t dealing with anxiety at that moment. Satisfied, I concluded she was right.
Except just three days later I was curled into this sobbing mess. Perhaps I was dealing with anxiety and just hadn’t realized it. I picked up Karen’s book again, this time reading vigorously, searching for answers in this peculiar emotional state I found myself in.
My bookmark led me to the chapters on “Silence” and “Listening.” After soaking in the words of those chapters, I let myself lie in my bed, closing my eyes with no distractions. I’m listening. I prayed.
The words “holiness” and “peace” came to mind. It was as if the Lord was telling me that He must work on my holiness for me to experience peace — peace that had become absent in the midst of my anxiety.
The situations that had precipitated my meltdown came to mind. They were innocuous interactions with people — both close friends and strangers alike. Insecurity, my old familiar friend, had come to my door again, after a year-long absence. Again I found myself sucked into the dark hole if worrying why others may not like me, and the deeper, darker emotion of not liking myself.
As I lie in my bed, willing my mind to shut off and listen, I began to drift into a semi-conscious rest — that dream state where you know you’re still sort of awake.
An image came to mind: vines and branches. I quoted John 15:1-5 to myself in my mind:
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.
God was pruning me, I realized. He was taking off the branches of my life that were dead and not producing fruit. It was necessary. This part of myself had to go.
The pruning is never easy. But I felt hope. Pruning these areas was necessary for holiness, for peace.
Out of Place
Then another image came to mind. I was in my garden, which is surrounded by a fence. I had left the gate open to my garden, which I often do when I’m working in it. I looked up and my dog had come in my garden.
She isn’t supposed to be in here, I thought.
Somehow, in this dream-state, my dog had gotten out of her fenced-in run and had come into my garden, and now she was a threat to my vegetables.
My dog isn’t bad. She just needs to be kept where she belongs. But now she’s in my garden because I had left open the gate.
Guard your gates, a blog post I had read years earlier flitted through my mind.*
I had let something that wasn’t bad in itself, as long as it was contained, in my garden, in a place it could wreak havoc because it was not supposed to be there.
Immediately I knew what my dog represented. It’s okay, good even, to care about other people’s feelings, in the same way it’s good for my dog to be in her fenced-in run. But when I start to care about what other people think of me, I’m letting something otherwise good, become something destructive.
I realized when left unchecked, my caring for others’ feelings is actually selfish when I’m more concerned about how they feel about me than how they feel.
Peace Ushered In
My kids started talking loudly in the other room and I awoke from whatever semi-sleep state I was in, but I awoke in peace. In freedom. I knew, on a deep level, I was allowing the Lord to cut back this dead branch in my heart, and I was taking the steps to get the metaphorical dog out of the garden and back where she belonged.
The next morning, I awoke and flipped to John 15, the passage that had come to mind. Further down in the chapter, Jesus tells His disciples to “Love one another…as I have loved you” (John 15:12). How did Jesus love them? He gave himself up for them.
Of course, we know He was foretelling His death. But I took this command and reframed it into the context of my heart-issue. In this case, if I am to love others as Jesus had loved, I needed to be willing to give myself up for those around me.
I thought about my recent interactions with friends and strangers. Conviction flooded my heart of how I wasn’t giving myself up in any of those interactions. I was protecting myself, trying to control situations for my own quest for peace in my heart. It was a false peace, I realize.
The only true peace I would come by is one that comes from a relationship with Jesus, trusting Him with my ongoing sanctification. (That’s just a fancy word for becoming more like Christ in our ongoing turning from sin.)
In John 14:27 Jesus says the peace He gives isn’t the peace the world gives. I understood. It was necessary for me to break down in my anxiety long enough for me to look up and see God breaking something in me that had to go. Only when I yield to this hard but necessary pruning could peace come.
Sharing this experience with you is difficult because who claims to have heard God speaking to them in dreams (or whatever that was) these days? I’ve certainly never experienced that before and I’m always cautious (and skeptical) when people claim that God spoke to them.
But sometimes I think my reticence to claim God’s speaking can actually hinder us from listening. So here’s what I’d like you to walk away with. Listen. And then be open to how ever the Lord wants to speak. If He chose to speak through a donkey (Numbers 22), let’s not put parameters on how we’ll hear.
There’s just one caveat: What we feel we hear from God must line up with Scripture. Whether or not God actually spoke to me in the images that came to mind really doesn’t matter. What matters is that what I took from those images line up with God’s Word. After you still yourself enough to listen to God, always measure what you think you heard to Scripture. Ask a trusted friend. But listen.
If there’s one thing that’s clear in Scripture it’s that God speaks. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done or how unworthy you feel or if you find yourself in a balled up mess. He speaks to anyone willing to listen. Just get still, have a copy of Scripture nearby, and listen.