Mar 21, 2019 | Corey Porter
Driving out of control
It was my recurring nightmare. I was taking a leisurely drive in my car. Suddenly, to my horror, my gas pedal started going down on its own and sticking to the floor. It was as if it was being pushed down by an invisible force.
I panicked, faced with the unexpected acceleration, and feared losing control. I stretched out my foot in a desperate attempt to press my brake pedal, yet somehow it was out of my reach. I was in greater danger of losing control every second. I couldn’t slow down, let alone stop.
My failed attempts to reach the brake pedal were suddenly eclipsed. I had to shift all my attention to avoid pedestrians, other vehicles, and obstacles in my path. Amazingly, I never crashed into anything. This frightening drama would last for some time and then I’d stop dreaming or wake up.
Not being the most self-aware person, it took awhile for me to clue in. Could my recurring nightmare be a metaphor for my fast-paced, driven-out-of-control life?
The life behind the nightmare
It was at university that my pace of life accelerated quickly. I made significant personal connections with dynamic leaders who devoted themselves to many compelling causes. I soon discovered that university was full of super achievers.
The atmosphere was invigorating for me, a previously dormant and undercover-want-to-be achiever. It was never spoken, but I got the impression that if I was going to prove my worth, I needed to become a successful and influential leader. I interpreted this to mean that I would need to be crazy busy and willing to work myself to exhaustion. I adopted this lifestyle with zeal.
I wanted to make the most of every opportunity presented to me. When trying to decide between so many amazing opportunities set before me, I often got so stoked that I got fidgety. I had a hard time choosing between so many good options, partly out of fear of missing out, partly because I wanted to do it all.
For the first time in my life, I was intentional about making my life count. I felt like I was also making up for lost time. There wasn’t a moment to waste. My life was suddenly characterized by being on the go, crazy busy, fast paced, extended, and overcommitted.
The recoil of my dark side
But along with my new-found enthusiasm for making my mark as a leader came a host of unexpected and unwanted consequences—debilitating chronic fatigue, overwhelming anxiety, and grievous depression. I was worried about all my increasing responsibilities, feared losing control and ultimately failing, thus losing reputation. I was depressed because my successes never seemed to live up to what I had imagined.
How could this be? Even following my times of most successful work, I would often spiral downward into a dark inner place that provoked me to often ideate suicide.
All to often I was utterly frustrated with these unwanted intruders. What possible purpose could these uninvited interruptions serve? I resented them. Weren’t they restricting me from being more efficient? How were they helping me fulfill the goals I was convinced God was putting in my heart? How could they possibly bring God glory?
I found myself crying out to God, “Please take away my fatigue, anxiety, and depression, so that I can do more for you!”
I hated my body
I started to disdain my sluggish body and was convinced there was something seriously wrong with it. I was resentful that my chronic fatigue, anxiety, and depression were holding me back from the great things I wanted to accomplish for God.
One day a health care worker challenged my thinking. “Could it be that your body is actually working properly, that your fatigue, anxiety, and depression are the warning signs that you are trying to do too much?” Whoa! I suddenly realized, my problem was not with my body, but with the great expectations of performance I was putting on it. I was living beyond my capacity.
I found myself crying out to God, “Please take away my fatigue, anxiety, and depression, so that I can do more for you!”
It was then that a new regional leader suggested I step down immediately from all my leadership roles for a while, suggesting it might even be wise indefinitely.
Those words both healed and wounded me. Their implications started to heal my emotions and body, while simultaneously wounding my ego and sense of pride.
Ahhhh!!! I felt immediate relief, as when a tense string of an instrument is loosened.
I felt release from further obligation to keep pushing, to keep everything under control. I could let go of all the things that kept adding to my exhaustion: the keeping up of appearances, proving myself a successful leader, living a fast-paced and hurried life.
But as those words sunk in, I felt terrified.
I felt as if I was losing my identity. The work in which I had invested all of my dreams and labors, the only thing I loved or knew how to do, had left me with no energy to learn something new. I now had no position or performance from which to prove my worth.
In the long days, months, and years that have followed, given my limited ability to produce, I still struggle with feeling shelved, worthless, and useless. I feel but a shell, a relic of my past accomplishments, with little capacity left to produce like I once did.
Stepping down from my aspirations of being a significant leader with only a devastated body and a hollow and dismantled soul, I was confused at how I was now going to find worth moving forward, whatever forward was. I was desperate to return to at least my previous attained productivity and worth. That hope has long passed.
It has been a long and hard look in the mirror. What is the worth of my soul? Giving up my dreams of being a successful leader has revealed just how much my fast pace and performance treadmill was both the way I sought to secure my worth, and my bane.
Stepping away seriously hurt my spiritual pride.
Until the moment my regional director asked me to step down for at least 6 months, I hadn’t given much serious thought to the importance of my capacity, and learning to live within it.
In my naivety, I hadn’t paid attention to my limitations and weaknesses. I only resented them as unnecessary evils to push through. I also never questioned my motives. I was thinking and saying I was living for Jesus, but actually, all along, finding my identity in what I could do and accomplish or what others were saying about me.
I wasn’t self aware. I ignored my body and pushed through its revolts. I only knew how to live by what next opportunities were before me. I didn’t know how to live by priority. I didn’t know I could say “No!” and risk not pleasing people. Given the seriousness of my mental and physical condition, I became determined to learn how to better live within my limitations.
If I continued to ignore, or didn’t get to know, my capacity or limits, how could I know how to function within them? Through chronic fatigue, anxiety, and depression, Jesus is teaching me to slow down and rest in his finished work, and to not look for my significance and worth in my accomplishments and influence.
Steps of faith within my capacity
God is so faithful. Eventually he did show me a way that he could yet work in and through me, even despite my low energy levels and physical limitations. At just that time, Power to Change – Students was forming the Creative Communications department — a place where creatives could gather and produce meaningful content and resources to help students grow in and discover faith. When someone invited me to consider joining the team, I was grateful for the opportunity to do work within my minimal capacity and still have meaningful impact.
To be honest, it took me a long while to figure out where I could best serve. After experimenting with various artistic projects and opportunities, I was finally invited to write for our blog. I had plenty of experience in life and ministry to draw from. I also found the writing process itself helped me understand my past experience and heal. I slowly started to realize that others were benefiting from my writing.
It took some steps of faith. For me, it took courage to write about confidential things that were hard to face in myself, let alone share with the world. It meant subjecting myself to the criticisms of the editing process. My art form was now subject to feedback and reworking. Most of all, it meant that I was going to go public with my weaknesses.
After many years now, I am growing to appreciate more the new ministry to which God has called me. Ironically, it almost feels a polar opposite to the striving to be the successful and influential leader that I was before. My journey is now one of becoming more authentic, vulnerable, open and accepting about my weaknesses. Through this I am more acknowledging of my fallen condition and motives, quick to confess them, relying on the forgiveness of Jesus as my identity.
In many ways, I am rediscovering the gospel. I don’t only need saving from my selfish pleasures but also my striving to justify myself. God is helping me recover my performance-driven legalistic tendencies. He is doing some heavy confrontation with the Pharisee within me.
Jesus is prying my tightly clenched fingers off of my pride and effort to justify and control my life. Instead he invites me to rest.
Why do I strive?
What does my striving indicate? Bottom line, I am prone to seek my significance, meaning, identity, pride, and even my rest, in what I can do for God instead of what God has done for me. I try to justify myself.
God is patient with my addiction to approval, and is gently confronting me, unearthing subtle idols associated with spiritual pride. He is confronting me on:
- My addiction to recognition: I am addicted to the spotlight and stage time. I am driven to perform, hoping to get people’s attention, wanting them to look up to me, revering me. I want their eyes and ears to affirm me. I desire to stand above the rest, striving to be the best exemplar, resting in my own reputation. I think my recognition will be my soul rest.
- My addiction to success: I am anxious to have quantified success. I want to do better than other people, especially those who do the same job as me. I want more people following me. I am obsessed with the tracking and rating of my successes. I think I am a somebody if I have superior talents, abilities, devotion, and hard work, I rest in my accomplishments. I think my success will be my soul rest.
- My addiction to a fast-paced life: I am prone to an inflated self-importance, coming from the high of feeling like I am important because I am busy, going places, doing more than others. My selfish pride is inflated or deflated in comparison to others. I think I am better because I show I am more committed, work harder, and longer hours than others. I am tempted to think I am the only one who really cares and is doing anything significant. I rest in my self-importance. I think my business will be my soul rest.
- My addiction to efficiency: I want to be a machine. I need to know everything, do everything right the first time, and not make mistakes. I need to have the best ideas, and they need to be successfully implemented. No room to be human, weak, fearful, sinful or vulnerable. I have to have my life together. I think my efficiency will be my soul rest.
Make every effort to enter that rest
In Hebrews the author warns me to pay attention to God’s call to rest.
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example.” (Hebrews 4:9-11 NIV)
At first look, the phrase “make every effort to enter that rest” seems like one of the most contradictory I have ever come across in the Bible. Wait, how can “make every effort” and “to enter that rest” be in the same sentence? How do I make every effort to enter rest?
I am discovering the beautiful story of rest threaded through the Bible. I now know my soul need to meditate on it always, to make every effort to understand and let it inform my life.
The first evidence of this rest I see is in Genesis. It says God that rested from his creating of the universe on the seventh day. He then established the seventh day of each week as sabbath rest for human wellness.
Later on, all of the Hebrew festivals were constructed to provide rest. The land was to rest, to remain fallow, every seven years. Every forty nine years (seven sevens), the Hebrew people were to celebrate the year of jubilee. All debts owing were to be cancelled and all slaves set free.
A genealogy pointing to ultimate rest
With Tim Keller’s insights into Matthew’s genealogy, documenting the ancestors of Jesus, I discovered something absolutely phenomenal. Here is the passage he helped me understand:
“Thus there were fourteen generations in all from the time of Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.” (Matthew 1:17 NIV)
To my modern mind, I don’t at first comprehend what Matthew is saying. With some help from Keller, I see the deeper significance of what the numbers mean. Here we see three groups of fourteen generations, which represents six sets of seven generations. When Jesus, the Messiah shows up, he is the seventh seven. He comes at the climax of these forty nine generations, as the greater and perfect rest that all other rests point towards.
Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s ancient promise to Abraham, thousands of years earlier. He is also the fulfillment of the promised eternal king to sit on David’s throne, and ultimately our hope of deliverance from the greatest exile, our alienation from God. Jesus is the true rest for every human generation. The works of Jesus have accomplished my rest before God, are accomplishing my rest before God, will ultimately accomplish my absolute full rest before God.
Jesus is my ultimate worth, in whom I can find rest.
My striving to be the most influential leader was futile. I am not the Christ. Jesus is the only ultimate leader and significant difference maker, therefore I don’t have to strive to be. I can now see in part why God stripped my ability to produce. I am now more motivated to rest my worth in what God has done for me, than what I do for God.
Perhaps God is using my chronic fatigue, crippling anxiety, and grievous depression so that I would cease from my striving and enter his rest more fully. Perhaps he is saving me from my spiritual pride and its devastating consequences.
The rest Jesus offers me is the only antidote to quiet my striving soul:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.” (Matthew 11:28 MSG)
The offer to rest my worth in Jesus is fully available. The question is, am I willing to make every effort to keep reminding myself to find my ultimate worth and rest in Jesus?
Perhaps you find writing and creative work an opportunity to pursue healing, just like Corey. Consider applying to write for us. We are excited about the opportunity to work with you.