I was the girl who had it all together. The girl who said ‘yes’ to everyone, who people could depend on. I was the girl with the pastor husband, the homeschooled kids, and the lovely life. At the age of 29, I was pretty sure I had it all figured out and could weather any storm life sent my way.
At least that was the ‘me’ I allowed everyone to see. I cultivated and portrayed the image so carefully and consistently, that I fooled even myself. Yet inside of me, a storm had been brewing, and before I knew it, I was fighting a losing battle with depression. Still, not one to be easily deterred, I worked and prayed and read until I convinced myself I had a handle on it. I even started writing and teaching other people how to survive depression. And I was okay with that because my struggle had become a tool I used to help others.
It became acceptable; I was still able to keep it together.
Life kept coming at me in waves—a chronic illness; my husband’s affair; leaving the ministry; moving away from where I grew up; a new church, and new community; a new school for the kids, and a job for me. Still, I kept it all together. What choice did I have? This was who I was. I was the girl who could do it all.
Until I couldn’t. Until the doctor handed me the diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder.
How could I convince myself that I could keep it all together now?
The truth was, I couldn’t. Here I was, sitting at the doctor’s office for that very reason. The signs were all there—strange physical symptoms, difficulty controlling my thoughts and emotions, and an inability to sleep. Admitting my mind was broken, instead of a physical reason I could easily manage—that was my undoing.
I was angry. How could God ask me to walk this path so soon after my world had fallen apart? I had just settled into this new life, and had even begun a reconciliation with my husband. The road I walked for the previous two years had been so difficult, but I had done it. And now He wanted more?! More difficulty? More pain? More work?
I didn’t want anything to do with it. So we had it out, God and I. Some days I told Him He was being unfair. Some days I was silent. Some days I ranted with the emotional depths of a Psalmist.
If I’m honest, the hardest part was admitting this was who I was. God had allowed this. My mind was broken. I didn’t have it all together after all.
This diagnosis was the wave that finally knocked me off my throne. Ultimately though, it transformed my understanding of who I was, revealing the truth—God never asked me to have it all together. All along He’d asked for only one thing.
I thought having it all together was actually helping the kingdom. As if God needed me, together and whole, single-handedly holding the fate of my little corner of the world. Except my self-sufficiency was actually getting in His way the whole time.
Laying there crushed and broken, swamped by wave after wave after wave, I finally understood that instead of being dashed to pieces on the stones, I had been thrown prostrate on the Rock of Ages. There, in my complete and utter brokenness was the full surrender He had wanted from me all along.
The breaking of me was the making of me. I didn’t have to work so hard to keep it all together—that was God’s job. What freedom. What peace. What rest. What joy.
The last six months have been hard work. It’s exhausting, sad, and difficult, yet strangely liberating to take a deep and honest look at myself. It’s hard to reveal my dark, secret, and sinful thoughts. Some days, I still forget that the battle is still waging. I’d rather write about victory and overcoming. I’d rather believe I have Bipolar conquered after just a few short months. If only I could go back to ‘normal’ life, getting up easily when I’ve been knocked down.
Yet with every counselor appointment I attend, every question asked of me, every tear shed, I’m reminded. I’m reminded that I’m broken. For this stubborn girl, it’s the best news. Every single time it is a new act of surrender. It’s an acknowledging of my weakness and God’s strength.
Not only have I learned to let God hold me up, but I’ve also learned to let others help me keep it together too. Meeting with a counselor has changed my life. When I cannot trust my bipolar mind, he directs me to search for God’s truth. Leaning on God’s Word instead of my own wisdom and understanding is becoming a habit.
Opening myself up to others is also new ground for me. It’s hard to let others see the real me after all those years of keeping it all together. But, little by little, I’m learning to lean on others. I have friends who ask me how I’m sleeping, who check up on me, who ask how they can help, who let me talk through difficulties, and who even put up with my morbid jokes about mental health.
The storms of life, those relentless waves, will keep coming. If I stand in my own strength, I will be overcome. But in surrender, the waves place me back on the Rock—right where I need to be.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” I’m not sure I have yet learned to kiss the wave of Bipolar, but I’m getting there.
Letting God keep it all together instead of trying to do it all myself has changed my life. Surrender may look a lot like being dashed on the stones, but to me, it feels like freedom.
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Jennifer—this was such a beautiful and timely article for me and I know it will minister to many women. I don’t share your exact same battle, but we all have our own particular waves and you’ve given me a much needed reminder this morning that our waves are always an opportunity to surrender and they should always throw us right back against the Rock of Ages. So much wisdom in how you’re walking through this experience. Thank you for sharing this with our readers.
Thank you Sandi. I actually needed the reminder again this morning! God is good that way.
I thought you were writing about me here. Right up through Chronic illness. Thankful the Lord didn’t take me through divorce, but we did lose our pastorate and a whole life we knew.
God has begun a new thing, and we are seeing it!
I think often about how much I did things in my own strength. I pray that God was still able to use me.
I’m sorry that you’ve had to walk a hard road also. But it is so exciting when you see God at work, eh? And if God didn’t use us even when we were trying to hard, I’d be of no use! Thankful God uses all of us.
Thank you for sharing not only your struggles here, but the hope of Christ in their midst.
I love your words “The storms of life, those relentless waves, will keep coming. If I stand in my own strength, I will be overcome. But in surrender, the waves place me back on the Rock—right where I need to be.” Such truth.
Where would we be without the hope of Christ? And that hope is only magnified by our trials. Thank you for the encouraging words Terry!