Jesus Wasn’t Calling: How I Learned to Walk Away from Perfectionism and Self-Inflicted Martyrdom

Jesus wasn’t calling.

Okay, maybe not. Obviously, Jesus is still in the calling business. Hang with me here and I’ll do my feeble best to try to explain my muddled thoughts.

batman-slapI have to admit it was quite a shock to realize all those years I spent doing and running, spinning my wheels and frantically trying to be a good, little Christian girl for Jesus weren’t for Him at all. They were for me.

When the truth hit, it slapped me hard.

I’ll never forget that night. Curled in on myself, sobbing on the mat of our bathroom floor into the wee hours of the night. My physical body had reached its limit and my emotions lay in scattered wreckage.

I was so overwhelmed, so undone and so completely exhausted I thought I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t escape. Every fiber of my being cried out for relief.

drowning

I remember curling the long, soft tufts of the burgundy bathmat in my fists and clenching my teeth as salty tears filled my mouth.

God, You lied to me. You said if I served You, You would give me joy. I have no joy. I have no peace. This is not the victorious life You promised.

I was lied to all right, but it wasn’t by God. The enemy had fooled me into believing the best way to feel loved was by doing whatever it took to make people love me and I fell for it…hook, line and sinker.

It took awhile for me to realize all those ‘good’ things I was doing, all the activities pulling me away from my family and draining the peace and joy from my walk with God weren’t “callings from Jesus”. They were the hungry cries of a broken girl who desperately needed the approval of people to feel loved. I blamed “Christian service” for my inability to say no, servant-hood for my perfectionism and worse yet, developed a martyr mentality to mask the ever-growing resentment welling up inside.

please love me

Jesus has called us to many things, but living a life where we exchange His rich, vibrant, unconditional love for the weak, oscillating approval of man is not one of them. Excellence is good but trying to sacrificing the rest He’s promised in order to cram in more is not. Serving in church programs and ministries is wonderful, but only if you’re doing it from a heart that yearns to love others instead of a need to be seen by others.

That’s what I meant when I said Jesus wasn’t calling. I had confused my Christian service with people pleasing. And like it always does whenever the moving target of people pleasing and perfectionism can’t be hit, resentment fills in the void. Self-inflicted martyrs make poor servants.

My journey with Jesus is vibrant now. Full of joy and adventure, freedom and rest and yes, serving too. The difference is I’ve learned why I do what I do and I’ve learned where my worth lies…in the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. Now when He calls, I can hear His voice plainly. john-1027-28 I don’t confuse His gentle whisper with the screaming shouts and harsh demands of the world around me, or even with the old self-condemnation that creeps in from time to time.

I had to learn the hard way though. You don’t have to. Look inside. Check your motives. Make sure that it’s Jesus calling.

You can read more of my story here:      https://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Victory-Landmines-Victorious-Christian/dp/1484100131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487684657&sr=8-1&keywords=hollow+victory+tara+johnson      

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The Little White Pill

Some days I loathe it. Other days I nearly weep with gratitude for it. Strange dichotomy.

Every time I look at that little white pill in my palm, I am overcome with an odd mix of emotions. pillWhen I was diagnosed with depression in 2002, I was desperate for relief from the dark shroud that had blanketed my mind and heart. A shroud I had brought on myself as I lived year after year stuck in the vicious cycle of people-pleasing and perfectionism. I had exhausted every resource to try to keep others happy, to win their approval and what I hoped would be their love. I was wrong. (This is not to say all depression stems from these issues. Depression is multi-faceted and has a wide array of causes and triggers. Check out my book Hollow Victory for a more in-depth look at depression.) hollow victory

When my doctor suggested medication to ease my physical symptoms, I balked. I was a Christian. Wasn’t medication a sign of weakness for a girl who claims to trust God? Perhaps I was still in denial. Maybe taking a pill would make the diagnosis much more real than I cared to admit. Confusion battered my mind and heart. I had heard well-meaning believers condemning others who sought medical help for their depression, throwing out their careless barbs and accusations with frightening speed.

“You should just trust God more.”

“You shouldn’t get down.”

“If you’ll read this scripture, you should feel better.

All those ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ wreaked havoc with my peace of mind. That is, until God revealed this beautiful truth to my heart: grace is greater than all the times I fall short of the ‘shoulds’. I’m a mess but I don’t have to pretend to be something other than who I am. God knew I would fail in and of myself. That’s why He sent a Savior.

god's grace is bigger

Depression is just as physical as it is emotional and spiritual. Would we dare accuse a person with bad eyesight of “not trusting God” if he chose to wear glasses before slipping behind the driver’s wheel? Do we shun and disparage the diabetic for taking insulin? Or the heart patient for using beta blockers? Depression is no different. Serotonin and other chemicals are out of whack and need to be replaced.

Do I believe in gobbling down pills as the end all and be all? No, absolutely not. Taking medication allows me to deal with the physical symptoms as I lean on the Holy Spirit to reveal any emotional or spiritual issues that have become roots of trouble. And for some, there is no discernible cause for their depression. Bodies just don’t work like they are supposed to. We are living in a broken world with frail bodies. Eyesight fails. Thyroid levels fluctuate. Skin looses its elasticity. And yes, even Christians can get depressed. (Look at Elijah, David and Job if you don’t believe me.) depression not a terrible christian

Speaking for myself, I’m glad I listened and took the medication. My husband and children needed me at my best, not mere shadows of myself. It was a God-given tool to help ease physical symptoms and replenish my body of the chemicals it needed so I could focus on the work of discovering why I was depressed. Thanks to God’s gentle love, He tenderly revealed the wounds I carried inside and healed me in profound ways. He’s healing me still.

Fast forward to the present. I am in a much better place these days. My walk with God is vibrant. I know the warning signs of depression and have a proactive plan in place to combat the cycles that once pulled me down. So why can’t I function without that little white pill?

Last week, as I was bemoaning my dependency on it, I cried out to God in frustration. “Why? Why do I still need this? Why can’t I live and laugh without it? Must I forever carry the scars of 2002 with me?”

He spoke to me swiftly, His voice a gentle whisper as He impressed this thought into my heart. What if you no longer needed this medicine? Would you forget? Would you forget what I’ve brought you through? Would you forget what that black place feels like? Would you be able to help others struggling with the same issues if your heart grows numb to the pain you once suffered? Little One, this reminds you to be dependent on me. It keeps you from repeating the mistakes you once made, living to please people instead of seeking My heart. My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness. weak and strong

I’m trying not to look at that little white pill as a chain any longer. It’s a tool, a reminder of the compassionate way He led me through the darkness to find hope and joy in Him again. Kind of like Jonah and his fish. Being swallowed by a fish wasn’t Jonah’s punishment for running away. No, that fish was grace. From the dark, sour confines of its belly, God captured Jonah’s attention and redirected his life into victory. Depression was my fish of grace.

Thank you, God, for Your mercy. For Your love. For being with me, even when I can’t feel You. I know You’re there—guiding, revealing and loving me, despite myself.

Sometimes, I still need reminding.

Have you battled a time of depression? What ‘shoulds’ have you heard about depressed Christians? How has God used something traumatic to catch your attention? What did you learn?