“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
Romans 15:13 ESV
We are currently in a devotional dealing with the reality of anxiety and depression in a believer’s life. I am using my recent experience with both in this series. It has not been fun, but God has asked me to encourage others with my journey through what I have been learning. As I have shared my story, I have discovered there are many like me who love Jesus and struggle with these life altering symptoms. Each caused by various genetic, environmental, past and or present traumas. I am still walking out my journey to healing but with a much better perspective than when it all started. I can confidently say the tables have turned and if God can do that for me, He will do it for you too. The mental mess is real, but it can be managed with God and the help of others. This devotion partners with a sermon series I am preaching at Pawnee Assembly of God in October called, “Out of the Gray”. Today I want this devotion to encourage you.
I was walking home from church and received a text from my sister about how she enjoyed the last devotion called “I Need My Bike”. In this devotion I told the story of my father running for public office when I was a little guy. Our family did a photo shoot in the park that conveyed to those would be voters that my father was a strong family man who enjoyed taking bike rides in the park. I remembered specifically that we used rented bikes for the shoot. My sister in reference to the devotion sent me a screen shot of her phone that displayed my picture when I would call. The picture was from that day at the park. Right there in black and white, there is little AB sporting a big campaign smile on a bike with my dad right behind me. I could not believe she had the picture let alone used it as my caller ID.
As soon as I got home, I decided to share this picture with my mom and my other sister to see what they remembered about that day. My Mom soon posted the picture of the whole family from the campaign ad. Everyone was on a bike, except my little sister who wasn’t big enough to touch the petals. We soon started texting back and forth about that day and what everyone remembered. I learned that not every bike was rented. I was mistaken in my last devotion. Some were, but not all. I was accurate that my father was not an avid bike rider thus the reason for his rented bike. But the picture looked good. Then mom went into how much fun the day was and how blessed she was to experience being our mom when we were young. The next day, I reflected on the conversation. I saw what the Holy Spirit was doing in my season of healing from anxiety and depression. I learned that to be healed of toxic thinking and emotional pain, you do have to look at the past, but that it does not need to be your only focus. There are other things the Holy Spirit helps us to focus on that brings healing to our hearts and minds.
Many times, our symptoms of anxiety, depression, fears and discouragement can come from traumatic experiences and or our painful pasts. This was my case. A current situation with my health triggered painful memories and fears of my past. At first I thought they were only related to my father’s recent death due to a heart attack. But as I sought some professional help to talk some of these things out, I realized what I was dealing with was not new or just related to my dad’s death. These emotions and negative thought patterns had been manipulated and stuffed down inside and I learned I had been carrying the pain of my past for over 30 years. These were strongholds and places where the enemy was occupying my thoughts with pain. I just continued to ignore the rooms where he had moved in. Most likely the grieving of my father’s sudden death a few years ago mixed with the trauma of the current health crisis triggered my mind to say...”It’s time to deal with this stuff and kick the toxic thinking to the curb!” It was past due time for the enemy in my mind to get on it’s rented bike and go away! I started the journey with God and others to go after whatever it was that I have given authority to that has made my thinking patterns so toxic causing me to be anxious, fearful and depressed.
The Holy Spirit’s role is to reveal truth. Jesus said He guides us in all truth. This is the truth of what God says about my pain, but also what happened to cause the pain. The enemy likes to hide the root causes. Through the help of others and the Holy Spirit, I learned most of my pain was caused by what happened in my teenage and early adult years. This was when life blew up for the whole family. At around 15 years of age, mistrust, anger and separation led to the divorce of my parents. This in turn caused us all to go into roles of survival that none of us were ready for. At the time we did not have the support network around us to navigate through the storm, so we decided it was best to separate. Literally that is what happened. My oldest sister moved out and my mom moved out of town. I at the time found myself living with my dad who knew very little about nurturing and managing a home and a new stepmom who never had children of her own and was not much older than my sister who moved out. Add my little sister who was beginning High School and we had a mess before we started the mess. Before my dad passed, we learned to laugh about it, but at the time it was really weird and really painful. The years that followed included more pain, uncertainty, and chaos. As I grew into an adult, I thought I had this under control. I simply pushed it down, kept following Jesus who saved me at age 19 and started my own life. Yes, there would be flare ups and seasons of sleepless nights and anxiety, but nothing that indicated I was in real trouble. But I have learned in this process, you cannot push that stuff down. It will not stay down. It is energy that builds, and it will find its way to the surface eventually. Though it had made a few attempts throughout my adult life, recently is when the submarine of S.S. Anxiety decided to surface.
When my painful past did surface, I had no idea of the depth it had gone. With the help of God and His Word, lots of prayer and my counselor we began to start the healing. The goal was to face the past and find the root causes. It was hard to see beyond the pain both backwards and forwards. When you discover the root of the pain, it is like a giant. It blocks everything around it. It is hard work processing this stuff in your mind. Taking the toxic thinking and replacing it with truth has not been an enjoyable process, but I can say I am enjoying the results. But recently the Holy Spirit has been showing me the need to look beyond the giant and with His help I am.
The Holy Spirit wants to reveal the giant but does not want that to be our only focus. Instead through revealing truth, He also uncovers a lot of things we forget. Like how much fun that day was with my family in the park. How many other kids did a photo shoot that day and have their pictures in commercials and brochures? Or how about the many times my family enjoyed weekends in St. Louis and ball games in Buch Stadium. Our weeknights growing up included good meals at restaurants like the Brown Jug and the Blue Mill. (I have no idea what the fascination of colors was all about in the names, but the food was good!) The ride home in my dad’s car when he pretended it could fly if we pushed the right button. I remember when we would turn the corner on the street that led to our home my dad would stop the car and let one of us kids sit on his lap and steer all the way home. These and many other memories are the things my painful past was trying to keep covered. The trauma of a teenager was dwarfing the good memories of a great childhood. I know this is not the story of everyone reading this. Your childhood could have been painful, and it didn’t stop. But I do ask, can you with the help of the Holy Spirit begin to think about some good things that did happen?
Let’s end this devotion with talking about the future. This is where hope is at its best. That is what I love about our verse. When I read it, it gave me a new perspective of my healing journey. Not only do we see past the giant and find some of the good of our past, but we through the Holy Spirit’s power can have confident expectation of the future. My past does not need to determine where I am going. Joy and peace are mine now, not later. Yes, I will continue to battle and overcome in the mind, but we all will. The enemy will never stop. But God is bigger and as I continue to submit to His thoughts and Word, I will keep moving forward and help others who are where I have been.
Don’t get stuck on the pain of the past. Yes, you have to go there, but that is not the zip code where you live. The Holy Spirit will help you see things you may have forgotten and will also help you anticipate with hope better days ahead.