Towards the end of September, I was really struggling with anxiety. Eventually, my emotional stress reached a point that I was physically vibrating. I could not stay still. This visible agitation was a pale reflection of my inner turmoil. I was not okay.
So during this time, I did what I always did. I prayed. Steve prayed, the kids prayed, and my anxiety levels just kept going up. During a moment of frustration, I asked God why He wasn’t fixing me. Instead of answering me directly, I was instead reminded to shift the atmosphere. Immediately, a certain book series came to mind. So I borrowed some books from my mom and scavenged others from the public library to begin immersing myself in a positive, gentle series. As I kept reading, the prayers, Scriptures and hymns quoted in the book began to come to mind during moments of stress. When I cried out “I can’t do this!”, my inner voice would respond with “Philippians 4:13”. As my mental atmosphere shifted, my leg stopped twitching as violently, which was nice. But I was still carrying more stress and anxiety than felt healthy.
While Steve was traveling for work, my Sunday on the prayer team came around. Each prayer team member is asked to pay attention to what God might want to do that day and to let the worship team know before the service. Since solo-parenting on Sunday morning is especially stressful, I asked God what He wanted to do the night before. Immediately I heard “Give away peace”. Well, that was funny! Because let me tell you, I didn’t have any peace to give! But I was obedient. As I gave away peace to each person I prayed for, more of the same flooded in to me. And although that Sunday was not an easy parenting day, I left feeling significantly lighter!
At the next Encounter service, I still felt this call to give away peace. During small group prayer, one person shared that the next month or so was going to be difficult for them. Immediately an Advent calendar came to mind. Instead of the days of December, each door was numbered with the dates for the next month and a bit. Instead of chocolate, tea or Lego, behind each door was exactly what they needed to get through each day: peace, joy, patience, strength, courage. Whatever they needed, God already had it laid out for them.
This image was so powerful, that I decided to claim it for my own. Whatever difficulty I was encountering, it was comforting to know that God had already put aside what I needed to get through. In pondering this more, the gift aspect of an Advent calendar began to stick out at me, as did Scriptures that referenced how God loves to give good gifts to His children. While cooking one day (because chopping onions offers great opportunity for deep thought), my perspective suddenly shifted. What if God wasn’t giving me pity gifts because this current season sucked? What if God was giving me gifts because He delighted in me? And… what if this time of hardship was itself a gift because it offered an opportunity to learn more about God?
As I meditated on this new perspective, I began to look back at the impact various hard seasons in my life have had. In examining each difficult period of my life, I could see the gifts God had given me through that season, whether it was a healing of my relationship with Him, a new understanding, or a shift in my direction. Uncovering these examples radically shifted my perspective around the times in the valley. Instead of feeling despair and frustration over life’s circumstances, peace and hope flooded in. Although it’s hard to tell how exactly God will use each individual struggle in my life, I could take great comfort in the fact that His plans are always good. No matter what else is happening, God is doing a good work in me!