I sat down in the snow and cried. I’d spent so much energy and effort trying to learn, and all I had to show for it was a bruised tailbone, sore legs, and rentals I had no desire to put back on. As I watched people cruise down steeper slopes with such graceful ease, I took a deep breath and mentally rallied.
You can do this, Patreeya, I told myself. You are made of tougher stuff than this. You don’t quit. You’re not a quitter. Just suck it up because you can do this.
Then I felt something else whisper: You can’t do this right now. And you don’t have to. You don’t have to keep trying harder. Who told you you couldn’t have limits?
And I knew that second voice was right. As much as I wanted to, as much as I thought I could mentally muster up the energy, I had reached my physical limit. I had reached the end of myself, and if I went back out there on sheer might alone, I was probably going to seriously hurt myself.
I hate admitting my weaknesses. I hate being faced with my limits.
I began seeing a counselor for anxiety in January. Although I’m a normally introspective person, towards the end of last year I found myself stuck in my head and trapped by my fears and my thoughts of worst-case scenarios. I’d feel myself spiraling–a weight in the pit of my stomach, a fluttering in my chest, and an inability to tell which way was up. Something is off, my soul was telling me. And now my body had finally caught up.
I wanted a quick fix. An Oh-just-exercise-and-take-some-vitamins-and-you’ll-feel-better kind of cure. But like all true healing, you have to dig deep to get the debris out. Sometimes you have to reopen old wounds or break things that have healed incorrectly. And there’s more brokenness before there’s restoration. There’s pain before there’s relief. It isn’t a bandaid sort of thing. And my anxiety was telling me, you’ve spent too much time on quick fixes and slapping on bandaids, and now you need to commit to some serious surgery.
So I’ve had to accept that this is the season that I am currently in. A season of limited capacity. A season where my makeup doesn’t often make it until the end of the day. A season where I have to relive things I never wanted to think about again, for the purpose of asking, Jesus, where were you in that moment? A season where I feel exceptionally weak, where I am confronted with my brokenness moment-by-moment, where I do things because “they are good for me” rather than “because I want to.” A season where I feel like my soul is laid bare before God and He is rearranging and removing the things that don’t belong.
A friend sent me this video about the necessity of seasons, particularly winter. It has brought me so much perspective and hope. As the woman in it shares, it is because the trees are barren that you can see so clearly. You can see the sun shining through the empty branches. You can see miles into the forest. There is less to distract you in winter, and you can see further than you could before.
I can see now. The irony is when I am experiencing anxiety, my vision is so distorted and one thing or one belief becomes greater than everything else. But between those moments, I can see further than I ever could before. I can see myself more clearly; I can see God more clearly. One of my favorite quotes from The Hunger Games comes when Katniss finds herself confused by losses and lies, and she reminds herself: “Start simple–start with what you know is true.”
So let me start with the simple things–the things I lose sight of in the hustle and bustle of never doing enough, never having enough, never being enough. The things I am forced to lean into with the full weight of my heart, mind, and soul in a season of waiting and stillness. The things I hold onto tight as a compass, when I am stuck in a snowstorm of thoughts and can see only an inch ahead. These are the things I couldn’t see before, things I knew in theory but am now learning by touch and taste and sound and smell:
- I am not my anxiety.
This has been a hard one to hold onto. There are days where anxiety has felt pretty incapacitating. I don’t always feel like I’m in control of my thoughts. I’ve also shared pretty openly with anyone who has asked about what this experience has been like. And so there is this fear that this–this struggle, this weakness–is all they see of me now. This may be stating the obvious, but I care a great deal about how people see me. More than I should. And now, gone is the Patreeya who was able to handle everything without batting an eye. Gone is the girl who prided herself on taking the lemons people handed her and making lemonade, lemon bars, and lemon meringue to pass out. Gone is the Patreeya who could care for other people without needing to be cared for herself.
At least, that is who I told myself I was and who I needed to be. But that has never been who I truly am. My value has never added up to how much I was able to do, how well I was able to hold it all together, or how many problems I was able to solve. But it’s a lot easier to hold onto false identities when they look so shiny. This other “identity”–the anxious girl, the one with the problems, the one who is needy–is not nearly as fun. Anxiety has forced me to wrestle with where my identity truly lies–and how neither my capacity nor my limitations define who I am. Neither make for loving masters. My identity must lie elsewhere.
- I am not the Messiah.
Similar to my first point, I have had to accept my limitations. I am not God, and I was never meant to be. I recently listened to a sermon about the gift of limitations, and the pastor shared about how John the Baptist knew his true identity. In John 1, when people were asking him who he was, he first confessed freely who he was not: “I am not the Messiah.” They kept trying to pin him down, asking if he was Elijah or the Prophet. “I am not,” he told them.
Finally, after they pressed him, he said, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'”
When I live as if I have no limitations, I try to be God in my own life and in the lives of others. But I am not responsible for saving the world. Someone already did that. I am not responsible for saving myself. Someone already did that. And while I am called to steward my life wisely and to live it loving others, I cannot control how people think/feel/act. And that is okay. I am not the Messiah, I am simply a voice called to say what the Lord has told me to say.
I don’t have to be anyone other than who God has created me to be. I don’t have to be perfect. Which means even when I can’t hold it all together, I can trust that Someone Else already has that job description.
- I can trust God.
For most of my life, I’ve been fairly self-aware. Not only do I usually know what I’m feeling, I can also tell you why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, rationalize it, and spit it out in a coherent and relatable anecdote. But now–I don’t always know why I am fine some days and other days wake up with a slew of anxious thoughts. I don’t always know what has triggered the things I’m feeling. Sometimes I lack the words to explain it.
If you have spent all of your life trying to be “reliable,” being the one who gets things done, being the person you have always been able to rely on the most–then this is terrifying. This is why, even when I wasn’t immediately feeling anxiety, I was scared that the feeling would come back. I didn’t like feeling helpless. I didn’t like not being able to rely on myself.
But here is the beautiful thing about reaching the end of yourself: you realize that God has been there all along. Not only can I trust God–but God has always been more trustworthy and more capable than I have ever been. That seems so simple to admit, but how often to do I try to take back control of something, as if God will screw it up unless I do it myself?
The Lord has spent the last couple of months shattering my illusions of self-sufficiency. It’s like I’ve been living life in a room with a two-way mirror, unable to see God on the other side waiting for me to know He had it under control and had much bigger plans than for me to stay in that tiny room. But I put the mirror there. I was the one who wanted to do it by myself. I preferred the safety and predictability of the four walls I’d put up to the unknown and uncertainty of trusting a God and a plan I couldn’t control.
Our need for control traps us. But He loves us too much to leave us there. And when you finally get to a point where you cry out, “God, I cannot do this,” He responds, “I know. I’ve been here all along. I’ll take care of you if you let me.” My eyes have been opened, I can see God in the room with me, I can see the door is open, and I don’t want to go back to living the way I did before. Under the illusion of safety and control, but in reality imprisoned by fear, burdened by things I was never meant to carry, and isolated by my own choosing.
- Spring will come again.
Two months ago, I never thought I would thank God for my anxiety. It felt like a curse, like something I had to go through alone. But there is a beauty in the harshness of winter. There are gifts in every season.
My prayer life has always been a struggle. But I have been praying more than I ever have, praying in faith and hope, simply because it is all I can think to do. Sometimes, it is all I can trust to help me see clearly. I have also been memorizing more scripture, carrying around a stack of flashcards like a vampire hunter carries garlic, because I am clinging to the promise that God will renew my mind and guard my heart. I am clinging to the knowledge that trusting in Him is far more powerful than leaning on my own understanding. I am clinging to the hope that He is creating in me a pure heart, one that is not stockpiling hurt and distorted thinking, but one that is clean and whole and knows Him better than anything.
I’ve received love and kindness and tissues and a listening ear from people in my life who love me in my weakness. I’ve realized some of the beliefs I have about God are untrue and even detrimental to experiencing who He really is, and am forced to do the hard work of confronting them head-on. And I’ve experienced moments of a deep awareness of God’s love and presence in my life that are punctuating and rewriting my story into something deeper, something sweeter.
And because of these things, I would not trade the last few months for anything.
Don’t get me wrong. I am still sitting, staring up through the empty branches of winter and waiting for signs of life. And it sucks, it is exhausting, it is not fun. I wanted to punch that dumb groundhog for predicting more winter. Everything in me is longing for spring. And I know it will come.
But God is still present in winter. So I will sit here with Him and ask that He would help me see Him clearly. That I wouldn’t waste this season. That I wouldn’t forget when spring comes.
Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9