Before you read any further, understand that I’m not posting this out of a desire for pity. This is more a testimony than anything else and my hope is that it will bring greater freedom to some of you.
This year has been called the ‘year of breakthrough’ by many Christians, which is in line with what the Lord said to me back in January.
But breakthrough is just as much about the stuff that keeps us in bondage internally, and let me tell you, I’m feeling freer right now than I’ve felt in ages.
It’s mid-November now and my year has been a pretty hard slog. I’m still waiting for breakthroughs and if I were only looking at the outward stuff, I’d be tempted to think this whole year was a giant disappointment.
After a rocky 2016, the start of 2017 plunged me into major battles with no let-up. With a toxic mix of intense spiritual oppression and emotional stress, for months my life was pretty much reduced to getting through each day. I sometimes had to drag myself to church, dreading the inevitable ‘how are you doing’ question, and when I did go, I was always ending up at the front during ministry time, asking for prayer. I sang on the worship team knowing it was only grace that kept me up there. I felt fragile, incapable. I couldn’t bring myself to go to any extra church events, and with that came a sort of guilt.
As the year progressed, I felt like my life was slipping further and further out of my control. I was on a treadmill, trying desperately to stay on top of my finances, my health, and my ability to properly function, and I was one misstep from falling off and crashing spectacularly.
Living in the tension between John 10:10 – the abundant life Jesus promises – and the cloud I was under, shook my faith. Though I knew I was just in a ‘wilderness’ season, I’d be lying if I said I never doubted that God was really who he said he was. I was praying and contending and singing through my pain and holding onto God’s Word and doing everything I knew to do – yet life seemed punctuated by more disappointments than victories.
By the time I left my job a couple of months ago, I had a major case of burnout. It took weeks to even get to a place where I could start looking for work.
Those who’ve been there will attest that unemployment is no joke. There’s nothing fun about the endless applications, or about going to the job centre, or the giant headache that is Universal Credit, or about not knowing how you are going to pay your rent next month.
But I needed to be brought to that point. It showed me that I’d relied on my working and earning and doing, rather than on God alone, for my needs and for my value. Being on benefits used to be one of my worst fears, yet once I had to face that reality, the fear no longer had any power over me.
And when you’re not in work you suddenly have a lot of time – which was good, because I had a lot of stuff I needed to deal with.
One day about a month ago I felt overwhelmed with hopelessness. As I cried out to God in desperation, I had a vision of Jesus reviving me and so clearly sensed his heart for me to stay in the fight; to not give in to despair.
The next morning, I was due to lead a couple of songs at church, so I got up. I showed up. And that morning my worship didn’t feel like sacrifice – I had the same joy and conviction as though I’d already seen the outward breakthroughs.
That’s when I knew something in me had changed. All those times I’d forced myself to sing through my hopelessness had actually broken its hold over my life.
Along with the return of hope came renewed strength to pursue the freedom I really wanted. I got vulnerable with the people around me; I admitted that I needed help both emotionally and practically.
The church I felt I could hardly serve this year has shown me outrageous love and support. That’s grace, isn’t it? Getting what you didn’t earn.
So no, this year has not been wasted time. The greatest intimacy I have ever known with God is the fruit of the wilderness. And I am so much freer now than I was a year ago because my hope is in the One who brings the breakthrough, not the breakthrough itself.
My life has never and will never be truly within my control. It’s at the foot of the cross where it belongs.