The Thief: The Problem with Comparing

Jean size. That dreaded number on the scale. Checking account balances. Facebook friends. Instagram and Twitter followers. Awards and degrees. Points scored by your child at his last game. Job performance evaluations.

So many numbers and none of them are good or bad when rattled off in isolation. The only time we have a problem with any of the above is when we are tempted to compare these numbers to the stats of others.

thief of joy

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So true. Not only is comparison a thief, it’s also a terrible judge. Speaking for myself, I tend to compare myself either to those who are way more put together than I am, or I compare myself to those who can’t seem to get their act together at all. The Ree Drummonds, June Cleavers and James Dobsons of the world leave me wallowing in self-loathing, wondering why I can’t seem to get my hot mess of a life in shape. So instead I look to those who are further down on the proverbial ‘getting-their-garbage-handled’ totem pole and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that.”

But does looking down at someone else’s mess make me any better of a mother? A wife? A friend? A sister or daughter? No. It just makes me more prideful…and a much bigger pain.

compare highlight reel

That’s the problem with comparing ourselves to anyone else. It forces us to ride a pendulum that swings between pride and the lie that says, “You’re not good enough.”

The disciple Peter battled the same issue in John 21:19-22.

“He [Jesus] said to him, ‘Follow Me [walk the same path of life that I have walked]!’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His chest at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray You?’ So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man [what is in his future]?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to stay alive until I come[again], what is that to you? You follow Me!’ ” (AMP)

God designed each of us with a unique purpose in mind…a purpose we do our best to throw away when we compare and long for the bodies, the families, the plans, the dreams, the goals, the bank accounts or the lives of others. Comparison breeds discontentment and discontentment leads to every other sin we struggle against.

flower comparison

God made only one you. There is only one person with your exact fingerprint. Only one with your exact strand of DNA. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Keep your  joy full today. Be who you were created to be. No comparisons allowed.

The Rodeo Clown: Learning to Be Seen

“Tara, why can’t you look me in the eye?”

My friend’s question sliced to the quick. We had been chatting for over forty minutes and the topic had drifted from the mundane to more personal waters. Personal makes me uncomfortable. When I know someone is peeling back layers and taking a peek underneath the mask I work so hard to keep fixed in place, the intensity of their stare is too much. I don’t want them to see the trembling mess I am.

coffee

So I take a sudden interest in my shoes. Or the couch cushion. Or the coffee cup clutched in my fingers. Anything other than their probing stare. I can feel it. Like a monster breathing against my bedroom window.

Whoever said real is the new black doesn’t know how terrifying real can be. Or perhaps they do. Maybe they are just farther along in the journey than I am and have learned how to face their fear with a courage I long to possess.

I’ve made tremendous strides in the past few years. I’m learning to say no, to express my thoughts and opinions without worrying what others might think of me. I’m not exactly dancing in freedom but God has been teaching me to walk in it, though some days it feels more like I’m tiptoeing around in His grace. That’s okay. Imperfect progress and all that.

Yet why do I still have trouble looking people in the eye?

If eyes are windows to the soul, I try my best to keep my soul shuttered and locked away from view.

tara 18 2016 (2)

At my friend’s pointed observation, I made some silly comment. Something intended to make her laugh. A joke. It’s what I do. She smiled, but she wasn’t through.

“Do you know what you remind me of? One of those rodeo clowns.”

I blinked. “What do you mean?”

rodeo clown

She smiled kindly, but she didn’t shy away from the truth. “You know what the original rodeo clowns were intended to do, right? They were meant to distract the crowd from the blood and gore that had just occurred between the bull and rider. They diverted attention away from the serious issues by entertaining. Cover the grotesque with a smile and a funny routine.” She squeezed my hand. “And sometimes a bit of grease paint.”

How faithful are the wounds of a friend. Though difficult to hear, my friend was completely correct. Though God is restoring my broken places each and every day, there is still a part of me that longs to hide. A fragment of my spirit that lives in shame. Shame never wants to flaunt itself, does it? It covers. It distracts. It deflects. As Jennifer Dukes Lee worded it in her book Love Idol, “Because we can’t make peace with ourselves, we try to hide ourselves.”

Hiding can take all kind of forms. It doesn’t have to be the mousy little girl ducking behind her mane of hair and folded arms. Shame and insecurity can be wrapped in the Homecoming Queen or the public speaker or yes, even a rodeo clown. Some of us only want to be seen if we will be perceived as perfect…and we either avert our gaze or apply the grease paint because we know we’re not.

kintsugi 3Despite my struggle with people pleasing, one thing I have learned is this: perfect is boring, at least by the human definition. For me, flawless has become synonymous with plastic. Dull. Lifeless. What a miserable way to live. No, I think I’ll strive for the Biblical definition of perfect instead…complete. Complete in Jesus. Whole. Not lacking anything because His grace has filled the broken places where my own weakness is laid bare.

When we grasp hold of how much He loves us, deeply and scandalously loves us, it changes things. Shame flees in the light of His love. He becomes our safe place. The One we can tell our deepest fears, thoughts and dreams to and know they are held in the only hands strong enough to carry the weight of the world. No condemnation. Only grace.

One of my favorite names of God is El Roi, meaning “The God Who sees me”. A lowly slave girl discovered this firsthand.

el roi

” The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery…

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

                                                                        (Genesis 16:7-13)

If I am to be seen, I want it to be through His love-filled eyes. Eyes that see the blood of His Son marked upon my heart. Eyes that saw my faults yet loved me so much He would have rather died than leave me in the dark.

We all want to be seen in those terms. We all want to know that we matter. In the presence of Jesus, there is no need for grease paint. No need to hide. No need to drop our gazes in shame. He sees. He knows, yet He loves us all the same.

That includes rodeo clowns.

Learning Joy in Failure

 

learning joy in failure

The Arkansas State Police is a happening place to be, especially in the motor vehicle office and even more so from one to four when they are administering driving tests.

I recently took a family member to fill out some paperwork, which provided me plenty of time to sit in the waiting room and watch people coming and going. Anxious teens milled around, some of whom were too cool to show their jitters. Nervous mothers smacking gum contrasted against parents who rolled their eyes, muttering to the person on the other end of their cell phone that young Anthony “better not fail again. I’m tired of dragging him down here over and over if he ain’t gonna study.” Middle aged men getting their CDL and motorcycle licenses, female bus drivers, terse police officers and everyone in between. It felt like a cross between the DMV and America’s Got Talentdrivers test ecard

The hour long wait provided me quite an education in one particular area: the art of failing. During that entire time, only one kid passed his permit test. Just one. He, of course, was all smiles. The others…well, that’s an entirely different story.

Some slunk out of the room with a scowl, shoving their paperwork at their parents with a grunt.

“Didn’t you pass?”

“Do I look like I passed?”

Others bit back tears or merely shrugged with a careless attitude. “No big deal. I’ll try again later. I didn’t really care about it anyway.” One particular boy stomped up to his dad and glared. “Stupid test. That’s the fifth time I’ve taken it. I think they deliberately make it harder and harder each time. They want me to fail!”

Some parents offered hugs or condolences. Some told their child, “You’re right. It’s just not fair.” My favorite parent was one very wise mother who, after her daughter had fussed because she’d flunked, stared her down and spoke with a stern calmness I envied. “You know why you flunked? Two reasons. Your attitude stinks and you haven’t been studying like you should have. Both reasons tell me you’re not mature enough to drive yet. So guess what? We’re not coming back to try again next week. We’ll try again in six months.”

Go, Mom!

My favorite of all was a sixty year old man who’d taken his CDL exam. He ambled into the waiting room and stared at his wife. She put down her magazine and stood.

“Well, let’s have it. Please don’t tell me we drove all the way down here for nothing. Again.”

He chuckled. “Sorry, sweetheart. I failed.”

She groaned. “Dale, that’s makes the fourth time.”

He walked up and kissed her on the cheek. “The good news is I only failed by one question this time. Only one! I’m getting better each time. I’m failing my way to success. Next time I should have it. I’m learning all the ways not to pass my CDL test!” His wife giggled. “Say, you in the mood for cheeseburgers or Mexican?” And off they went.

That sweet man is the perfect example of how to find joy in failure.

failure vs successLife is a series of mistakes with a few successes thrown in. Some of us have become so paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, we’ve stopped learning. Stopped discovering. Stopping crawling outside our boxes and exploring the beauty around us. We hold on the illusion of control, somehow thinking all will be right. No pain, no discomfort…that is, until we fail and our world tips on its axis.

How you handle failure reveals more of your character than how you handle success.

ryan-riggins-216051Adversity reveals our true nature. Pressure, heat, resistance…all of it is like a hand squeezing around a toothpaste tube. It isn’t until the fist squeezes that we see what is truly inside. When pressure is applied, the inner man is revealed. It’s easy to blame others, the system, or any other host of issues for our mistakes, but we still won’t learn a thing, will we? We may even find some folks who will agree with our finger pointing, but then what? It doesn’t bring us one step closer to our goals or dreams.

The only way to learn from failure is to embrace it.

Some of the most beautiful things can be birthed from the messiest. God has shown it to me over and over in my own life, but it takes a heart willing to say, “I have no pride. I have no agenda. I want to learn, both what to do and what not to do. Teach me. I’m Yours.Failing doesn’t feel like failure at all in that state of mind. It’s just…learning.

What a great place to be.

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      

White Space

paint

“You should use up all the space on the paper.”

I remember the admonition from my fourth grade art teacher so clearly as she stood in front of the chalk board, holding the large, white piece of paper in her hand, a sharpie in the other.

“You kids are bad about leaving too much white space on the page. I want you to draw the black lines all the way to the edge. I don’t want to see any white space any more. None. Every square inch of this paper needs to be filled in with color.”

drawing

As I sat at my scarred desk, legs swinging against its metal feet, I remember running the markers across the large rectangle of white, the sound emitting a soft hiss. No white, no white, no white…

Just the effort and time it took to fill up that entire canvas of eleven by thirteen was exhausting in my nine-year-old mind.

The teacher had made it clear. If I didn’t use up every square inch of that white space, there was something wrong with me. I had to fill it. Use it. Cram it with color, lines, paint, smudges.

And I’ve been doing it ever since.

Fill the calendar. Cram my days with more. More activity. More opportunity. Good things. Valuable things. Noble things. Run and do and check off that ever-expanding list of accomplishments and schedule juggling. After all, we only have one life to live, so we need to take that bottle of time and jam-pack it to the brim, right? No white space.

Don’t get me wrong. They are good activities, but somewhere along the way, I’ve realized I yearn for white space. I need quiet. I need solitude. More than that, I need Him. Not the church activities or projects or programs. Just Him.

Too many of us are living our lives and filling our schedules like we do our plates on Thanksgiving. We are gorging ourselves to the point of throwing up. No space. We are choking, shoving and cramming every single bite we can manage and then wonder why we’re miserable.

overflowing-food

We’ve forgotten the exquisite beauty and peace of white space.

Consider this from an artist’s perspective.

“Negative space is, quite simply, the space that surrounds an object in a image. Just as important as that object itself, negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive space and brings balance to a composition. peter-and-the-wolf

More and more these days, the creative world is seeing an emergence of artists creating positive spaces and shapes that, in turn, cleverly carve out shapes in negative space intentionally.” (http://www.creativebloq.com/art/art-negative-space-8133765)

Just look at this stunning artwork by Phoebe Morris.

Did you notice what the author of the blog said? The shapes are carved out intentionally. Rest. Breathe. Time with God will not be an accidental trip into His arms. You must choose. Let go of some of the old things to embrace Him.

Graphic designers will tell you white space is vital for several reasons. First, it helps your brain process and group relevant information. Second, it establishes mood and gives emphasis to what’s the most important focal point of a design, and third, white space invokes our imagination. The same is true for our spiritual man.

The simple truth is, the heart who is seeking God is a heart at rest. He promises it in His Word over and over again.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” ~Matthew 11:28

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” ~Isaiah 26:3

So if we are juggling and striving and feeling our batteries plunge lower with every passing day, our priorities are off somewhere. Consider the conversation God had with Moses in Exodus 33.

13 “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” presence

This past year I’ve had to ask God to teach me how to rest. Is it sad that I’m thirty eight years old and still don’t know how to relax? But I don’t. He’s been tenderly showing me and loving me into a deeper walk with Him. A life lived on fumes is not the abundant life He promised. We can be so busy doing things for God, but still not be walking with Him. And that is a life of chaos.

 

Breathe. Find the white space. That’s where you’ll find His still, small voice.

The word for 2017 is…

I’m not a big believer in life verses. It’s too easy to manipulate a verse from the Bible and make it what you want it to be while ignoring context and purpose.  But I do enjoy choosing a word for the year.

sinai-3Each year I pray over a word God may have for me. Last year’s word was Sinai. I know what you’re thinking. Sinai? Really? How about Mephibosheth? Or Maher-shalal-hash-baz? Trust me, I thought the same thing, but after seeing the way God breathed His plan and sang over the pivotal moments of this past year, looking back I finally understand why He impressed the word Sinai into my spirit. It was fitting and profound. I saw His glory come down in a very tangible way.

One of my favorite reads of the past year was Allen Arnold’s The Story of With. In it, Allen said something that hit me hard. “Live completely unbalanced for the things that matter most.”

Live completely unbalanced…

live-unbalancedThat phrase echoed through my heart for weeks and wouldn’t let me go.

After years spent spinning my wheels, and a battle with depression, God tenderly showed me how deep is the pit of people pleasing. It’s taken years to crawl out of the abyss…years as He’s held my hand, walking me from darkness into Light. Time when I’ve learned what it means to be a God-pleaser instead of a people pleaser. Time spent learning how much I’m loved by Him…how different approval is from love and a host of other things. Years when I wrote a book about recognizing the destructive patterns to find healing. Years of agony, living out of balance until I finally found freedom. https://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Victory-Landmines-Victorious-Christian/dp/1484100131/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1483218376&sr=8-2&keywords=tara+johnson+hollow+victory

I suppose it’s natural to yearn for balance after living in such an upside down way for so long.

Yet Allen’s quote continued to haunt me. “Live completely unbalanced for the things that matter most.

It finally hit me.

In my strive to step away from people pleasing and approval addiction, I had redefined my boundaries which was needful, but had allowed myself to become cocooned in a sterile bubble. I tried to ‘balance it all’ but still failed. I said no to the boundary abusers but failed to nurture what mattered most…deep connection with God. I bought into the myth of multi-tasking but only succeeded in doing many things poorly and wondered why I still couldn’t get it right.

lucy-and-ethel

This past year has marked a profound shift in my walk with God. It’s a time of putting down the ‘to-do’ list and more time trying ‘to-be’.

Before my battle with depression, I was living out of balance for the things that mattered least. But what if Allen is right? What if I learn to live out-of-balance for Jesus? What if I stop trying to get everything perfectly situated? To keep a perfectly tidy house? Juggle the perfect schedule? Perfect meals? What if I become comfortable with being messy me and spend my time at Jesus feet?” What if I just focus on living like Mary of Bethany, who didn’t care about all the other ‘stuff’ because she knew, in the long run, it didn’t really matter? “She has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

My word for 2017 is presence. I want my sole focus for this year, and my life, to seek the presence of my Savior. To know Him. To crave Him. To love Him. Nothing more.

We have this moment. If you’ve lost a child, faced a heart-ripping betrayal, an unexpected diagnosis, or well, hit puberty, you know the harsh truth: life is change. Sometimes we can’t imagine a moment more perfect than the one we are in and then we are dashed upon the rocks, slammed with such force we can scarcely take a breath from the pain of it. Sometimes we aren’t even sure if taking a breath is worth it.

If your heart is still beating in your chest, God’s work with your life is not yet done.

I don’t want this year to be marked with the drive to be efficient, worship my to-do list, balance it all or live in the hamster wheel that powers the dimly lit bulbs of my family’s house. I’ve lived that way long enough and have found it to be a broken cistern than takes more than it gives, drawing blood and life from those willing to be lured into its trap.

I’m starting out the new year buried in his Word, and reading a new book by Shauna Niequist, Present over Perfect. present-over-perfectBut even in this I must be careful. I don’t want to be busy learning how to be in his presence and neglect time when I can put down the books, the phone, the ‘stuff’ away and just be with Him. Learning about someone is never as rewarding as talking to the person one on one, am I right?

I crave Jesus. I crave His presence. I want to live unbalanced for the One Who matters most.

Do you have a word for the year? What is it? What do you find most difficult about nurturing your relationship with God?

How Miss Perfection Stole Christmas

I’m a beautiful mess this time of year. And I’ve learned that’s okay.stressed-mom-at-christmas

For years I lost precious sleep, valuable hair and added circles under my eyes to achieve the perfect Christmas. For my kids. For my husband. For my church. For my own ridiculous ideals. Christmas is the mother ship for us perfectionist types. Correction, recovering perfectionists, because that’s what I am.

I wanted to give my family the Norman Rockwell paintings of Christmas memories. You know, something they could look back on and say, “Ah, those were the good old days.” I nearly made myself a nut job in the process.

Ironically, the best memories our little family have made have been from the things that went horrible wrong…the goof-ups, silly disasters, and laugh-out-loud mistakes. Those are the things my kids will remember. Perfection had no part of those special moments.

Living without grace can and will kill you. It’s a miserably hopeless existence. Not much joy. No freedom. It’s impossible to pull off anyway. Forget about the perfectly decorated tree, the swept floors, the homemade everything, the house that smells like cinnamon or the brightly wrapped packages that look like they were designed by Martha Stewart. During the past few years, I’ve slowly learned to the let that extra ‘stuff’ go. You know what I’ve discovered? Christmas is a much more joyful time of year for the loss of it. God has birthed the simply joy and beauty anew in my heart. And He reminded me once again why He sent His Son. I didn’t need a friend. I didn’t need a Being to impress with how well I’ve got it together. No, I needed a Savior. I’m a broken mess in need of the beautiful Hope only He can give.

I’m tired of bulldozing through Christmas like a Type A beast. All it ever did was make me a grinch. It’s time to let go of the perfectionism and find the beauty that made the King of the universe lay down His crown to come to a broken world of desperate people. No greater act of love has ever been given.

How Miss Perfection Stole Christmas

Every kid down in Coolville liked Christmas a lot, But Miss Perfection, who lived south of Coolville did NOT! Christmas drove her crazy. The whole Christmas season. Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be because she wanted everything to go just right. It could be, perhaps, because she needed anxiety meds at night. But I think that the most likely reason of all, was if she messed up, she’d feel unloved by one and all.

grinchShe’d fight the crowds with a sour, Grinchy frown, and zoom in her minivan all over town. Shopping and baking and parties and planning, wrapping and photos while dreaming of tanning. The mess! The stress! Made her long to punch an elf in the midst of his chest! “If I could just disappear. But Christmas is coming. It’s practically here!” The children were fighting in their sleep-deprived state. She wasn’t faring much better staying up nights so late. “It’s just part of the season,” she told herself time and again. But His still, small Voice began to whisper within.  

As the whirlwind of tinsel and glitter increased, her joy faded away. How could this be? “I remembered the ribbons. I remembered the tags. I remembered the packages, boxes and bags.” She puzzled for hours, till her puzzler was sore and continued to think as she entered the church doors. As the pastor read from Luke chapter two, she remembered how God came down as a Babe…and she knew. me-at-christmas

“I’m not perfect, I’ll never be. That’s why God sent a Savior for me. Jesus died to give me freedom from this kind of living. Instead of “perfection”, I need to be giving!” And what happened then? Well, in Coolville they say, Miss Perfection’s joy grew three sizes that day! She put down her ‘to-do’ list and played with her kids, laughed, made memories and closed her weary eyelids. 

The last thing she did that made her heart dance with light? Miss Perfection threw out her copy of Christmas Done Right.

My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Seuss for the inspiration.

tinsel-in-a-tangle

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?

 

Impressions

My kids love impressions. The crazier, the better. And being a singer, I always find it a hilarious exercise to see if I can manipulate my voice enough to oblige their whims.

queen of hearts

Today I spent all day conversing like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. When bad manners were displayed at dinner, the Queen of Hearts yelled, “Off with your head!”, causing an eruption of giggles.

In the past few months, I have spent much time as the Count from Sesame Street, Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants, mariaMaria from The Sound of Music, Elmyra from Tiny Toons, Ethel Merman and Glinda from Wicked. (Along with a cast of unique quirky characters created by our crazy family.) It makes me wonder what impression my kids will pick the next day and if I’ll be able to pull it off. elmyra

For the past two weeks they have begged me to talk like Adele. And when I say that they asked me to converse like Adele, I mean all. day. long. Around the clock for two weeks. The cockney impression was spouted so frequently, I began to forget what my own voice sounded like.

The funny thing is that after I spent a few days talking like Adele, I couldn’t stop. Pretending became the norm. The norm became habit. And habit became hard to break. I forgot my own voice. And pretending to be someone I wasn’t made me feel like I was constantly in performance mode.

Too many of us live out our lives as a charade: the perfect Christian, no faults, no struggles…we live in an illusion meant to fool others and hide our wounds. We don’t like people seeing us in all of our mess and brokenness. So we stay tucked behind our masks…our impressions. We give people what we think they want to hear, and lose who God wants us to be in the process.

Impressions, pretending to be someone your not can be fun for a little while, but please don’t live there. God has a unique plan for your life…and it doesn’t include you trying to be someone else. Perfectionism and people-pleasing are detrimental patterns. They lie to you and, in subtle ways, proclaim that what God created isn’t good enough.approval vs loveGod made you a one-of-a-kind. He loves you, not the masks you wear or the performances you put on to be accepted. He doesn’t need another Adele or a Maria von Trapp or anyone else. He wants YOU. He had a plan for your life before you were ever created.

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” ~Psalm 139:16

Whatever voice He has given you, use it. Whatever story He has given you, write it. Whatever skills or talents He blessed you with, use them for His glory. Whatever your past, your successes, your failures, love Him. Chase after Him. Embrace your identity in Him. Don’t spend your life pretending to be a poor imitation.

adele

No matter how fantastic your Adele impression may be.

Have you ever struggled with pretending to be something you’re not? Are you a people-pleaser? How does it make you feel to constantly be in performance mode? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Check out more of Tara’s ministry at www.TaraJohnsonMinistries.com

When The Makeup Runs

by Tara Johnson

I watched the performers dancing down Main Street of Disney’s Magic Kingdom, spinning in their glittering, satin costumes, smiling with those perfectly lined white teeth and painted lips, and I couldn’t help it. I felt a pang of pity. rapunzel

Oh, they were beautiful and mesmerizing as they sang and danced under the swelling rush of orchestra music and glitter. Every little girl wanted to be like those singing princesses. Every boy wanted to be as courageous as those muscled, grinning heroes. Their exuberant performances drew everyone’s attention as the crush of people applauded and whistled their approval. Oh, but I forgot to mention that this day was hot. Very hot.

To a casual observer, these performers were having a ball…unless you got a glimpse of them up close. I did.

One particular princess danced by, grinning and waving. I was on the edge of the street with a particularly good view as she pranced towards the children at my side. That’s when I saw it: her make up was running in streams down her face. Her mascara was melting, leaving shadowy puddles under her eyes. Even her wig has become askew from the sweat soaking her head. Why, she wasn’t a blonde at all! She was a brunette. Neither was her skin flawlessly smooth, but freckled and splotched from the heat. Her eyes met mine and I saw a flicker of something akin to exhaustion. Weariness. But as soon as the glimmer appeared, it was snuffed out, safely tucked back into hiding beneath the mask of a carefree princess. lottie

I instantly felt a tug of sympathy. Memories of my time in college working for my performance degree assaulted me…the fatigue, the demands. Performance after performance, hour after hour, day after day. No room for mistakes despite weather, illness or circumstances.

As I watched a tiny glimmer of her mask crack, what truly hurt my heart was the knowledge that I’ve been there on a deeper level as well, and it’s far more devastating than dancing in the scorching Florida sun. It’s the charade of trying to be a perfect Christian.

Always smile. Hide the pain. Do what anyone asks of you. Win their approval. If they are happy with you, they’ll never see what a mess you are inside. They’ll never know about that addiction or secret shame. Do more. Be more. You can’t mess up. If you do, you’ll lose their respect, approval and, worst of all, their love.

happy maskSo instead of letting folks see us and know us in all our mess, we cover up our flaws and our need to be loved with a cloak of Christianity. Just serve. Smile. Pretend. Sing and dance. Yet too many of us are miserable inside, desperate to shed our costumes and pretense.

It’s all about making people think we are something other than we truly are. At best, it’s play acting. A charade. At worst, it’s nothing less than living a lie. Hypocrisy. Deception.

Ouch.

How many of us are play-acting our walk with God, trying to pretend like we have it together but are a trembling, resentful bundle of brokenness inside? How many of us think that if people saw who we truly are, they could never love us? How many of us are exhausted from trying to get people’s approval to fill that aching void inside? masquerade

Sometimes our busyness and perfectly executed activities, our lying smiles and the furor of pretending generates a heat so hot, our masterful application of thick make up runs in rivets of sweat, stripping away the rosy cheeks to reveal the pale flesh beneath. The mask melts and runs.

Stated another way, there are only two options with perfectionism—constantly do more, spinning like an exhausted hamster on the proverbial wheel, or crack from the strain of being something you’re not.

I get it. I really do. I’ve always known God loves me unconditionally, but people? That’s a whole other issue. People are fickle, mean, wishy-washy, demanding and unfair. Which begs the question…why are so many of us killing ourselves to be perfect, in order to win the conditional approval of people who are just as messy as we are?

I think many of us confuse approval with love. Approval is a stamp given by someone else that says, “You meet my expectations.” Love says, “You’re a broken mess but I love you anyways.” They are polar opposites. approval vs love

When we finally stop trying to be something we’re not and focus on pleasing the only One who matters (Jesus Christ), He comes and gently wipes away all that makeup we’ve tried so desperately to hide behind. Those crushing, suffocating demands fall away and we finally taste freedom for the first time. No more masks. No more pretending.

The acceptance of One who loves you exactly as you are is like being cut free from dragging around two hundred pounds of iron chains. The burden is light. Trying to be perfect to win man’s approval snaps those chains right back onto your body. Anytime we replace God in our lives for a poor substitute, we suffer. Period.

Don’t be afraid to wipe off your make-up. There’s a pretty awesome person underneath. Jesus must have thought so as well. After all, He came to redeem you and has a distinct plan for your life…a plan that didn’t include you trying to be something or someone you’re not. little girl lipstick

He loves you, imperfections and all.

Do you feel like you often wear a mask? In what areas do you think people pretend that they ‘have it all together’? What do you think is the worst thing about perfectionism?