When the furnace dies on Christmas morning in Southern Alberta, you do your best to find extra slippers, blankets and sweaters to outfit all 21 of your visiting relatives. While you’re waiting for the furnace repairman, you hit up the Boxing Day sales for several space heaters, eat ridiculous amounts of Christmas baking to warm up the inside, and reminisce about the lack of central heating in the “good old days.” At least that Christmas I could find the charm in the chaos because the Christmas before, I was frozen in depression and anxiety.
As a wife, mom to five children, ministry leader, and “how does she do it all” woman of God, I fell suddenly ill to what began as burnout, escalated to panic attacks, an anxiety disorder, OCD, and then suicidal depression. I was fighting for my life that Christmas, unable to spend time around family, host parties, bake cookies, volunteer at church, or help create the “magic” only moms can bring. My mind, which had worked tirelessly in the past to ignore my negative thoughts, shove down painful memories, and deflect my scary emotions, had now rebelled on me. I was bombarded with chaos and disorder; my mind was scattered, anxious, paranoid, depressed, hopeless and terrified. My mental health crisis was not only ruining my Christmas but my physical health, my family, my friendships, and my entire being.
The Prince of Peace was not just a Christmas lyric for me that year. The Prince of Peace was a God I was wrestling with, clinging to, running from, running to, yelling at, and begging to set me free. I desired peace above all else: peace over my spirit, my body, my family, and my raging mind. God’s Word said that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,” would guard my heart and my mind, so I had this expectation that when I prayed for peace I would instantly receive it.
I expected that when I felt anxiety hit I would pray, “God, help me not to feel afraid” and then I would feel this supernatural peace come over me and wash every anxious thought and symptom aside. Nothing.
I expected that when I turned my anxious prayers into desperate pleas for God’s peace to “wash over me,” I would instantly feel free and fearless—but yet again, nothing.
I expected that when I read Scriptures over and over again, especially the “fear not” ones, I would have my mind instantly renewed. Didn’t happen.
There were countless moments where Jesus met me in the dark places. Jesus met me there with His comfort and encouragement, but He was giving me a different gift I didn’t know I needed. He began changing my expectation of wanting instant peace in moments of mental assault to a peace that was sustaining and life-changing. God led me on the long but permanent path to His peace, the kind of peace that was beyond my understanding, even to this day. God trained my hands for battle so I could forever have victory over the thoughts that once tried to ambush me. Instead of crying out for God to take away fear, I had learned how to pick up my weapons and fight for my own peace.
We often define God’s peace as the absence of fear, sadness and/or the problems in our lives. We plead with God to remove pain, obstacles and anxiety, but what I discovered through my journey to wholeness was that God’s peace offers so much more than that. What if I were to say that our definition of God’s peace, which is limited to the idea that peace means the absence of suffering, actually means “to restore order”? Whatever is chaotic, dysfunctional, misaligned or in need of repair must go through the often painful process of restoration.
As much as I desired instant relief from fear and trembling, God began to show me that He desires to renew our hearts and minds, not just reassure them.
God absolutely wants us to go to Him for everything! We need to have a relationship with Jesus that is open and free, a relationship where we can share our burdens with Him and feel His peace and reassurance. This is key to our foundation. As a mom, I want all of my children to come to me with their struggles, but if I were to simply validate their emotions and give them reassurance without teaching them how to find strength in their challenges, then I would raise weak and vulnerable children. We can become habitually dependent on God’s validation and reassurance for our fears, but we must be willing to do the deeper work. We need to stand up and be trained for battle, and to allow the Holy Spirit to restore order. Sometimes that process feels like a breakdown and it seems that everything is falling apart, like my mind and sanity so many years ago. When we allow the Prince of Peace to take over, He comes with a sword, not a campfire song. He is not afraid to let us be tested in the wilderness a little longer so He can deliver us fully from our chaos. He desires to restore order in every area of our lives. This process can feel so incredibly painful. Often it feels like God is making more of a mess, taking everything apart and exposing deeper things that we just aren’t ready to face—but it is the key to wholeness.
When the furnace repairman came that Christmas; we cleared the path of slippers and space heaters and allowed him full access to the furnace. He removed the cover of the furnace, tested its function, and checked every part. He cleaned out the filter and tightened a few loose screws. When he found the root of the issue, he had to remove a major part and replace it with a new one. We stood over his shoulder, anxiously waiting to see if the pilot light would catch. To our jubilation, our furnace began to fire up! Order was now restored. “How much?” we asked, bracing ourselves for a tummy ache worse than one caused by eating turkey sandwiches at midnight. “Nothing. Looks like it’s all covered under warranty!”
Sarah E. Ball is an award-winning author, speaker, mom of five, and mental illness survivor. She inspires others to live fearlessly by sharing her humour, vulnerability and wisdom on overcoming anxiety and depression. Sarah offers fearless hope to many through her award-winning blog (saraheball.com), online courses, speaking engagements, and her book, Fearless in 21 Days: A Survivor’s Guide To Overcoming Anxiety.
This article appeared in the October/November/December 2019 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © istockphoto.com.