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Guest Post: And That’s When the Pastor Said I was Possessed

“Son, we’ve been praying for you, to get through this dark season in your life for some time now,” the pastor said with a foreboding expression.

“Usually I’d say this is a faith issue,” he continued, “but I know you have plenty of faith for God to break through this. There’s only one possibility left—you’re possessed by a demon.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Possessed? Was that even a thing that could happen to Christians? I wasn’t sure, and I still don’t know the answer to that.

“What about some antidepressants?” I asked. “I hear these can be helpful for people who are struggling with depression.”

“Chris, you should know better than to ask that question. Do you want medicine to cloud your mind, cloud your judgment, and cloud your ability to be faithful to God. No, antidepressants are not a valid option for real Christians.”

To be frank, I was pissed off. It seemed like there were no options for me to find health, and my church wanted to burn me at the stake. I wasn’t going to let the church elders pray over me to be freed from demons, because I didn’t believe that had anything to do with my unending sadness.

But I trusted my church leadership. I wanted to, anyway. It’s the only church I’d ever been in as an adult, and I found a path toward maturity there. But this. This didn’t make any sense.

I walked out of that meeting more hopeless than I’d been in a very long time. I couldn’t take any meds, prayer wasn’t working, and—according to the leaders—I was also possessed. I didn’t know what to do.

So I did nothing.

For almost a decade, I never asked for prayer about my depression again. I faked it.

As a matter of fact, I made sure to hide any sadness that I felt whenever I was around church people. I wasn’t ready to deal with another accusation. I put my Sunday smile on, no matter how overwhelmed with sadness I was. Because I learned that the church wasn’t a safe place for my mental health, I decided to button up my emotions and act the part of a good little Christian.

At the same time, those words of judgment about antidepressant medications stuck with me. I didn’t want to be a sub-par Christian who was reliant upon outside help—especially since this help would only result in a muddled existence. So for seven years, I silently battled depression.

Too many days my depression would come out as anger, directed at my wife or my children. I did my best to survive, and I did, but just barely. I had no sense of joy, no sense of purpose, and nothing to look forward to every day when I woke up.

The quiz

It stayed this way for seven years, until I had an appointment with my new primary care physician. As part of the normal work-up for a new patient, I took a simple “depression identification quiz.”

I aced the quiz—and ended up with a diagnosis of severe depression.

My new physician was also a Christian, so I talked with him about the spiritual side of antidepressants. He asked me a simple question: “Do you want to stay this way, or do you want to have a sense of hope in your life?” I was tired of being angry or sad all the time, so I agreed to start taking medication.

I wish I could tell you that my depression went away with the first pill. That wouldn’t be the truth. I still have good days and bad days. Not too long ago, I experienced a week of really, really bad days. But, I made it through that week, and I am making it through my life with more joy and a better sense of happiness undergirding my days.

New normal

It took me almost a decade, but I was able to overcome the lie that says depression equals possession.

I created a book that touches on experiences like this, moments where mental illness and the church intersect. Whispers in the Pews includes seventeen essays from men and women, pastors and nurses, parents and children—all of whom have experienced mental illness in the church. Some of the stories are positive, others less so. Together, they paint a tapestry of how the church responds to mental illness.

My hope is this tapestry will open doors for more honest conversations about the intersection of faith and mental health.


Chris Morris is a husband, father of four, CPA, and author. He writes honestly about pain, chronic illness, and hope. He’s the author of the new book Perfectly Abnormal, and co-author of the new release, Whispers in the Pews, Voices on Mental Illness in the Churchwww.ChrisMorrisWrites.com

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What the Hell is a Christian Agnostic?

Catching Your Breath is the first time I’ve openly described myself as a Christian Agnostic. Of all the stories and tough questions I shared in the book, it’s the one thing everyone seems to want to know more about. So, what the hell is a Christian Agnostic?

Christian Agnostic

The definition I use for “agnostic” in the book is this: a person who holds neither of two opposing positions on a topic.

I guess I also need to define “Christian,” since we all have a different opinion on what that actually means. To me, being a Christian is holding the example of Jesus at the center of your life. And what is that example? To me, it means having Love as the motivation for everything you say and do.

And what is Love? The Bible defines love this way:

Love is patient and kind. It isn’t consumed with jealousy or bloated with ego. Love isn’t disrespectful. It isn’t only out for #1. Love celebrates the dignity of each human being who was made in the image of a God who loves us all without condition. Love is slow to anger and quick to forgive. Love doesn’t rejoice when evil happens, but chooses to celebrate when Truth prevails. Love is a safe place. You can’t love someone you don’t trust. But love believes the best of us, even when we aren’t quite showing our best self. (Obviously, my paraphrase.)

The Bible also says God is Love. So when you begin to see a combination of patience and kindness, respect and forgiveness, safety and dignity, it’s likely you are in the presence of Divine Love.

To me, being a Christian is following the instructions Jesus gave as “the greatest commandment”: loving God, myself, and my neighbor to the best of my ability.

I understand Jesus as the ultimate example of Love. Love makes room for others. The love of Jesus was bold, unafraid to speak truth to power. Jesus showed us a kind of love that consistently drew the circle larger, ever-inclusive of outcasts and misfits. The love of Jesus was never based on labels. Jesus was far more concerned with meeting physical needs, rather than debating matters of theology or man-made religious constructs.

So what does “agnostic” have to do with any of this?

I’m glad you asked.

To me, being a Christian Agnostic means I do my best to follow the loving example of Jesus, but as for the ins and outs of Christian history and theology: I don’t know. (And to be clear: I’m resting in the I-don’t-know-ness of my spiritual journey.) It’s why I love this line by Bob Goff in Everybody Always, “God is less concerned about the people who admit their doubts than the ones who pretend they’re certain.”

I’m more certain than I’ve ever been about this one thing: when it comes to theology, I’m completely uncertain. It’s doctrine and dogma that are my struggle, not Love. It’s all the other stuff that muddies the water for me.

To me, Love is Divine, and God is Love. Where you find one, you find the other. I see Love as Universal. I’ve known Buddhists who embody Love. I have Jewish and Sufi friends who are filled with patience and loving-kindness. I even have Atheist friends who lead their lives with Love far deeper than something mere mortals can cook up.   

A Soulgasm

The first inklings of writing Catching Your Breath began at the home of some friends, where a retired Episcopal priest would be talking about oneness and the 8 Habits of Love. I’d been warned that he was one of those “Oprah people,” so I knew I was in for a treat.

The Reverend who shared his story that evening wore no collar. A son of south Georgia, his drawl was as familiar as the kindness in his eyes. As he spoke, my mind began to fire on all 8 cylinders, and I wondered if my soul might explode from the compassionate sense of belonging that reverberated in every syllable of this conversation.

Much of what I heard from Ed Bacon that night sounded like a combination of Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, Paul Young’s The Shack, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins. As I sat on the couch, listening to this dynamic storytelling, I could feel myself being held by the Loving One.

I couldn’t get away from the idea that Love is far too great a thing to limit to only one religion or group of people – I had a soulgasm, to put it lightly. Or as Ed says, “a glory attack.”

For so long, I had been desperate to believe in the possibility of a God of love. A God of redemption. A God who is more passionate about reconciliation than anything else.

Love is a Crushing

Last week on social media, I shared these lyrics from Ronnie Freeman, “Love has crushed the prison doors.”

For the first twenty years of my life, I would have heard that a certain way (with language around sin and freedom). These days, I still connect strongly with the imagery, but I think about it in a slightly different way.

And it still gives me chills.

I’m learning that Love does crush whatever prison we find ourselves in. Either prisons of our own doing, or prisons of pain and woundedness others have tried to build around us.

Love crushes prisons of self-preservation.

Love removes masks of shame.

Love shatters walls of fear.

Love destroys certainty.

It’s a paradigm shift for me to think of Love as crushing. I’d much rather think of Love as only kind and comforting, compassionate and tender. And while that is true, Love is also willing to crush anything in its way to get to our hearts and transform our lives.

Daily, consistently, I need Divine Love to come in and crush the fear-based notion that there is anything that could ever separate me from the Love of God. As a Christian Agnostic, I need the crushing weight of Relentless Love to come in and tear down toxic theologies, rooted in fear, shame, guilt, and certainty.

For the first three decades of my life, my hope was built on my ability to out-perform the competition. My constant striving was exhausting, leaving my soul depleted to the point of desperation, resulting in a suicide attempt at the age of 29. In my effort to be perfect in hopes of earning the approval of God and other broken men, I ended up in an ICU hospital room, longing to die.

The truth was staring back at me: the only way I could heal and move forward was for everything to change.

I had to allow the waters of Love to come in and crush my need to perform. Love had to squash my constant striving. I was desperate for Love to wash over my tired soul, pulling the shattered pieces back with the tides.

These days, Love continues to crush me.

Each time I place the unrealistic expectations of others over the truth of my being, I hear the tides drawing closer. Whenever I begin to hustle for my worthiness, I feel the waters lapping against my ankles, begging me to live from my true self, rather than my ego. As my pride swells, Love raises up a mighty roar and brings me back down to earth, back to humility and a place of service.

Love is the great equalizer, reminding us that on our best or worst day, we are all standing on level ground. The ultimate message of Divine Love is this: everyone belongs.

For the longest time, I couldn’t understand how one strain of religion could hold the corner market on Divine Love. I saw how my evangelical Christian friends used divisive language, fear-mongering, and shame-based theology to keep us all separated. It never made sense to me that one religion (supposedly based in Love) could set itself up above another. These days, I’m calling bullshit.

I think Jesus is a most excellent example of Divine Love. But I also find that same balance of Love and Truth in the teachings of the Buddha, Gandhi, Rumi, and Mr. Rogers. The difference is that these days, that no longer confuses me. My faith is more full of holes than ever, but I don’t think that makes me less of a Christian.

I’m fully aware that people will read this kind of confession and commit to pray for me in my “struggle,” but the truth is, there’s no struggle here. I’m perfectly comfortable and confident that Love cannot be labeled as either sacred or secular, “Christian” or not. This is actually the place I’ve been all along, I’m just finally finding the freedom and courage to admit who I am: uncertain of many things, and desperate for Love’s crushing.

So what the hell is a Christian Agnostic? It looks a lot like me.

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Download the FREE Catching Your Breath Study Guide

I’d like to say a great big THANK YOU for your support during this book launch process for Catching Your Breath. This has been an extremely successful release and I am HONORED by your enthusiasm and encouragement. This book is the #1 New Release in the Psychology & Religion category on Amazon!

I wanted to make sure you know about the following free resources:

There’s no catch. No gimmick.

These are FREE resources, as a special benefit to you, just for purchasing my new book, Catching Your Breath: The Sacred Journey from Chaos to Calm.

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What is the Sermon on the Mount?

What is the Sermon on the Mount?

In short: it’s a massive collection of the teachings of Jesus.

But who cares? And what does it mean for us today?

This Summer, I asked 11 friends that very question, and I got 11 different answers (the Bible is cool like that). I recorded their responses, and I think the results are pretty powerful.

Here they are:

  1. Love is the Center of Everything (feat. Ed Bacon)

  2. Judge Not (feat. Teer Hardy)

  3. Divorce is an option, but is it the best? (feat. Ryan Brown)

  4. Blessed are the Peacemakers (feat. Jon Scott)

  5. You Have the Grace You Need Today (feat. Paul Young)

  6. The Big Problem with Your Arrogant Religion (feat. Arthur Harrison)

  7. The Beatitudes, Queerness, & Scandal (feat. Liz Edman)

  8. Those Who Hunger & Thirst for Righteousness (feat. Brad Polley)

  9. Jesus was a Social Worker (feat. Dr. Holly Oxhandler)

  10. Jesus & Retaliation (feat. Bec Ray)

  11. Series Finale (feat. Ryan Dunn)

Listen to all the other episodes of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast at AskSteveAustin.com today!

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The Truth about My Ever-Evolving Faith

When I woke up in an ICU room and decided I would keep living, one of the most significant changes was getting rid of the thoughts, theologies, and unrealistic expectations that were killing me. Moving forward meant letting go and choosing to accept myself, just as I am. Accepting myself allowed Perfect Love to do its work of casting out the fear that was entrenched in my heart, mind, and soul.

After receiving a scathing email this weekend, praising me for my suicide prevention work, and condemning me for my political views, I thought it was time to get perfectly clear about who I am and what I believe.

I am many things. I am not only a Christian or a mental health ally. I am a whole person, full of diverse views on everything from life to faith to politics. I need something more profound and more genuine than Sunday-morning Christianity. This is the new leg of my spiritual journey.

I don’t have it all figured out. And it’s okay that you don’t, either. If you disagree and you’re still clinging to the black and white thinking of dualism, that’s okay. I hope you feel safe here, too. This is a place where people are free to disagree, because we see the dignity in each person. As long as you are kind and respectful, always choosing to value the person over the issue, I won’t try to convert you, and I hope to God you won’t try to change me.

This is, in essence, a statement of my ever-evolving faith:

I am desperate for honesty.

I’m hungry for conversation and a celebration of diversity.

I’m stripping away fear and perfectionism to connect with my true self. This means I can show up with my success, failure, vulnerability, questions, and the core tenets of my ever-evolving faith.

I stand with underdogs (whether they are children, women, refugees, LGBTQ, black, hispanic, elderly, immigrant, refugee, differently-abled, or otherwise) and support equality for everyone.

I promise to listen to victims of abuse.

I will use my white privilege to make space at the table for everyone, to seek truth and redemptive justice for all who need it.

I refuse to dehumanize anyone, even those with whom I vehemently disagree.

I believe all people were created in the image of a God who loves us without condition.

Divine Love is at the core of our being, and this kind of love is a free gift, not a loan to be repaid with good behavior. I have been freed from the bonds of toxic religion, and I will do my part to help everyone understand that we have been wounded, but we are not broken.

I believe in nonviolence.

I am committed to following the loving example of Jesus and to respecting those on a different spiritual journey than me.

I refuse to follow the status quo of politics, culture, or religion when it means trampling those without a voice or a vote. I will not compromise my convictions to make someone else comfortable.

I believe Love wins.

I believe Fear is the enemy.

I believe all people deserve love and justice. If people think their lives don’t matter, it damages the soul and sometimes kills the body. People don’t want to live in a world (read: a family or a church) where they aren’t known, accepted, and loved. Perpetuating hate and fear through destructive theology or political ideology is damaging the collective soul of this worldwide community of humans.

No matter how we were raised or if we cling to a faith of any sort, genuine love doesn’t have prerequisites. Grace doesn’t have qualifying criteria. Compassion has no strings attached. At the end of the day, it is more important to love my neighbors than to expect them to pass a litmus test on morality or religious fervor.

I believe the only way to move forward is together.

I believe we must share our stories boldly. This is the way we overcome injustice, shame, and stigma. Talking about our traumas, fears, and disappointment takes back the power from our deepest wounds. Freedom comes when we begin to own our stories. Period.

It would be pretty hard to box me in because I’ve spent the past six years of my life saying no to labels and crushing every box I find. But if you’re wondering who I am, here are the high points: I am a Jesus-centric, liberal-leaning, mental-health-advocating, LGBTQ-loving, bourbon-drinking, cigar-smoking, cussing-like-a-sailor lover of God. I cling to Divine Mystery in myself and others, believing the very best of everyone I meet, regardless of our differences.  

No matter who is in office, where I live, what church (if any) I attend, what job I hold, or how many books I sell…these are the things I hold most dear.

If you don’t agree with my views, it’s okay. Really, it is.

If you’re willing to disagree with kindness and respect, we can sit down over a cup of coffee (or a glass of whiskey) and talk about it. Because your humanity will always matter more to me than your faith, politics, accolades, or failures.

So can we please play nice? The truth is, NONE of us have any of this figured out. You don’t have all the answers. And neither do I.

We’re all just doing our best. So, let’s put down our guns and hatred and fear of “the other,” and learn to look one another in the eye when we talk. (Hint: there is no “other.” We are all made in the image of the Divine.) Let’s talk about issues rather than people. Let’s be decent, respectful human beings.

It’s time to loosen the death grip on our precious moral stances and open our hands and hearts to those around us who are longing for love and acceptance. Now, more than ever, we should love the person in front of us. We can’t always depend on the church or the government to do what they should. Grace is beckoning each of us to step out, speak up, and make room for everyone, regardless of what the institutions are doing.

I wish we could find grace to be unique, to embrace the story of us all, the great big circle that binds us together. We need the weirdness, the history, the art, the passion, the music, the queerness, and the glitter. We need the richness, darkness like the soil, the dancing, the rhythm, the soul, and the persistence.

Dr. Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

We need you. Don’t back down in your resistance to the lies. You can love and be loved in return, exactly as you are. We need you at the table. There is plenty of room for you.

I believe Love wins.

So I choose kindness.

Are you with me?

Grace and gratitude,

Steve


Resources:

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(Yes, it’s possible)

This 4-session coaching package is designed for coaching every other week.

Bonus: includes the e-book, Catching Your Breath.

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Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. A second chance, a grueling recovery, and years of honest conversation allowed Steve to find healing and purpose. It’s evident in his writing, speaking, podcasting, and coaching: he helps overwhelmed people get their lives back.

Steve is also the author of two Amazon bestsellers: From Pastor to a Psych Ward and Catching your Breath. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Lindsey, and their two children.

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Suicide, the Woman at the Well, & You

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

— Brene’ Brown

I have been on stage, in one role or another (acting, speaking, and singing) since I was five years old. I’m quite comfortable there. It’s one of the reasons many people said, “Steve Austin will either be a preacher or a politician.” I have no fear of the spotlight.

But all last week, as I was preparing to speak at my home church on suicide, I wanted to vomit. No, really. My stomach was in knots from the time I woke up Thursday morning. This was the first time I’d spoken in my hometown since I nearly died by suicide six years ago.

I was a nervous wreck. On-edge. Cranky. Distracted. Anxious. Ready to cry. If I didn’t respect my friend and pastor, I might have considered backing out. But I’ve come so far since those dark and terrible days, and I know my story matters. So I pushed through nausea and paranoia.

Are you familiar with the Bible story of the woman at the well? Here’s my paraphrase:

It was about noon when Jesus arrived at a town called Sychar. He was tired, sweaty, and thirsty. He sat down by the city well, and a local Samaritan woman showed up.

Jesus asked the lady for a drink, and she was shocked. Didn’t he know that Jews and Samaritans didn’t mix? If this had been the 1960’s, they would have had separate water fountains and different schools.

But Jesus didn’t care. He was dehydrated, and she had the means to give him a drink of water.

Jesus goes into this bizarre little speech about something called, “Living Water,” and promises he can give her a life where she’ll never be thirsty again. Jesus was tapping into the woman’s need. She’d been trying to fill a void for years. He already knew her story.

In fact, everyone knew this lady’s story. And the townspeople never would have called her a “lady.” Far from it. She’d been with five different men, and Jesus was quick to point out, “the man you have now is not your husband.” Like the town gossip, the woman at the well got around.

Hearing this story as a child, I pictured Jesus channeling his inner Mrs. Cleo (“Call me now!”), and harnessed some heavenly psychic power and reading this woman’s mail. But that’s not true at all.

That’s not the miracle. They already knew her story.

After her encounter with Jesus, the woman is so stunned that she forgets her water jar and sprints back to town to invite others to come to meet the man who, “told me everything I ever did.” Her meeting with Jesus changed everything.

But why?

I think it’s because Jesus recognized this woman as a whole person, rather than limiting her by a few big mistakes. Instead of avoiding uncomfortable conversation, Jesus sat down next to her, ignored her scarlet letter, looked her in the eyes, and asked for a drink of water. Jesus was more focused on wholeness than holiness.

To paraphrase Mike Yaconelli and his book, Messy Spirituality, the real miracle here wasn’t that Jesus pulled out a crystal ball and told the woman her story. It’s that Jesus already knew her story, and chose to engage with her anyways. Jesus approached her with understanding and compassion. People in the town called her terrible things: slut, whore, and homewrecker. But along came a wild-eyed Rabbi who gave this lady permission to be human. He issued her an invitation to experience a better way of living.

The invitation of Jesus is always into a better way of living.

As I spent time preparing for this Sunday’s sermon, I connected with the woman at the well more deeply than ever. I don’t think she feared people knowing her story: everyone makes mistakes. I think she avoided the crowds because of her fear of all the things they didn’t know.

The woman at the well was drawing water in the middle of the day because all the other women went early in the morning when it was much cooler. Like a dog that’s been abused, she tucked her tail, stayed low to the ground, and did her best to avoid anyone that seemed threatening. The sad news is that when you’re full of shame, everyone looks like a threat.

I felt the same way on my ride home from the psych ward. The time leading up to my suicide attempt was the darkest season of my life. Not only was I in mental health crisis, I had made some poor life choices, too. I imagined I’d never feel welcome in a church again if people understood the gravity of my story.

The biggest reason I’ve spoken anywhere but my hometown until now is because I still fear the gossips. Those who would rather fill-in-the-blanks with their own assumptions, what-ifs, and slander, rather than reaching out to me personally. The slick church people who cloak their own twisted versions of my story in “prayer requests” are the people who have kept me shut up until now.

Maybe it’s true for you, too? Perhaps it isn’t a mental health diagnosis, but what is it? The divorce you’d rather not speak of? The affair? The fact that you’re about to file bankruptcy? There are a million different reasons you might be drowning beneath an ocean of shame, but we all know that terrible feeling.

In her book Rising Strong, Brene’ Brown says, “Many of us will spend our entire lives trying to slog through the shame swampland to get to a place where we can give ourselves permission to both be imperfect and to believe we are enough.”

Brene’ is right. For the longest time, I let my story hold power over me. But taking power back from my story is simple: I just have to show up and tell the truth. Each time I invite others into my story, I take power back.

I strongly identify with the woman at the well, because, like her, Jesus met me at my lowest point. I was lying in a hospital bed in an ICU room, when I felt the warm hand of God on my chest and heard an inaudible whisper in my soul, “I’m not finished with you yet.”

Jesus shows up and changes everything.

Jesus always changes everything. And sometimes it isn’t in a mud-on-the-eyes, dipping-seven-times-in-the-river kind of way. More often than not, it’s through the most ordinary of circumstances. Jesus comes to us as we confess our darkest secrets and biggest fears to the therapist. Jesus empowers us to own our story and guarantees us that the power of confession will bring healing.

For a woman who had been shunned and shamed for years, the miracle is that she found the courage to be vulnerable for possibly the first time in her life. Everyone else had been whispering what they knew about her (or what they didn’t know), from behind closed doors. But Jesus shows up and blows the doors off of her guilt, shame, and secret-keeping.

He did the same for me. That’s just how Divine love works.

The Power of Conversation

The call of Jesus is, “Come just as you are.” When the woman (or man) at the well shows up at our front door – or our church – we are charged with creating a safe space, where everyone feels welcome. We are called to create an affirming home environment, church community, and world, where hurting people feel compelled to tell the truth and ask for help. Jesus knew that (he was fully human, after all).

Whether you’re a hurting person or a helper, the power of conversation saves us all. Admitting we need help, and listening to those in need is the first step in suicide prevention – because it helps us feel less alone. Jesus met the woman at the well and changed her life in the most ordinary way: through the power of conversation. The same is true for us: the only way to live fully free is by owning our stories and asking for help.

Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. A second chance, a grueling recovery, and years of honest conversation allowed Steve to find healing and purpose. It’s evident in his writing, speaking, podcasting, and coaching: he helps overwhelmed people get their lives back.

Steve is also the author of two Amazon bestsellers: From Pastor to a Psych Ward and Catching Your BreathHe lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Lindsey, and their two children.

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“I just want to feel safe for once.”

“I just want to feel safe for once.”

I read this sentence on a friend’s social media account recently, and it wrecked me. To think that there are people in my circle who feel constantly scared, uncomfortable, or uncertain breaks my heart.

I’ve felt terribly unsafe three times in my life:

I knew I wasn’t safe for about two weeks, leading up to the suicide attempt; yet somehow I managed to hide it from those around me. But waking up in intensive care – numb from the waist down, hooked up to a catheter, knowing my next step was a psych ward – was the worst kind of dread imaginable.

In the middle of my scary darkness, I had what I can only describe as a God experience. I know, I know: I’m the ex-pastor, the ex-vangelical, the guy who’s walked away from the Christian Machine, the Christian Agnostic. But even though I have more doubt than faith these days, but as I laid there in that hospital bed, I felt something like a man’s hand on my chest. Blame it on the drugs if you must, but I experienced an inaudible voice, whispering, “I’m not finished with you yet.”

I’m not finished with you yet.

That singular message has echoed through my soul for the past six years. It’s why I keep writing and speaking about it, every chance I get.

Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to feel suicidal. Perhaps you don’t have a diagnosis of anxiety or PTSD, but you know what it’s like to feel like you’re drowning beneath the weight of guilt, shame, fear, stress, and exhaustion. You know what it’s like to hate yourself. Or be shakily scared of the dark. Like me, you have felt unsafe in your own skin.

That’s why this whisper of, “I’m not finished with you yet” changed me. I was so scared of myself, fearful that I would try to die again, or that my addictions would destroy my life and the lives of those I cared about. Because my self-hatred ran deeper than my skin, I would have never spoken to myself in such a kind, encouraging, HOPE-full way.

It wasn’t necessarily the words themselves that changed me, but the understanding that in my own darkness, mess, and pain, God was sitting with me. My legs were numb and my brain was in a fog, but Divine Love was writing on the walls of that hospital room, and the walls of my heart:

Don’t give up.

I’m not giving up on you.

There is more to this life.

Let me show you a better way.

I’m not finished with you yet. You may need to hear the same thing. Maybe you’re angry at the church. Perhaps you’ve been wounded by people in the name of God. Maybe those who were supposed to keep you safe royally failed you. You might be recovering from a lifetime of addiction. Or a million different unthinkable things.

I remember what it’s like to feel….nothing. It’s been nearly six years now since my ship capsized. I remember how the water poured in and the waves crashed. My heart was tired from trying to keep my head above water. I knew I was going to drown, and somehow that was good news. I know what it’s like to feel completely unsafe – scared to death of the person in the mirror.

I didn’t want anyone to do anything in particular. I just remember wanting my wife and best friend to stay with me that first night in the hospital. I begged them not to leave me alone. It was entirely against protocol, and yet somehow, my nurse made it happen. My wife and her best friend camped out in office chairs in my hospital room, holding my hand until morning.

Starting Over

When we love one another, guided by understanding and compassion, and just hold each other close, no words are needed. It doesn’t take any kind of an expert to show messy grace.

Life is tough sometimes because bad things have happened to us. And we’ve made bad decisions. And those bad decisions have consequences that are less than desirable. But hear me: life is worth living. Sometimes the only way you can keep living is to start over. Maybe starting over means moving out, leaving the group, getting a new job, or asking for help for the first time in your life. Starting over has a thousand faces, but death and resurrection are what this entire human experience is all about.

For me, beginning to feel safe in my own skin again started with sitting down in the counselor’s office. I had to get honest about everything that’s ever wounded me. Medication saved my life for a season. Following the doctor’s orders helped, too. Walking away from toxic theology, while still clinging to this idea that there is a Source more magnificent than anything I can fully grasp – those are the things that continue to save me and make me feel safer these days.

I remember coming in and out of consciousness in that hospital room six years ago, wondering what the hell life would look like when I was finally released. But I couldn’t allow that fear to consume me. I had to continue to let, I’m not finished with you yet wash over me. I had to accept the grace for that moment and eventually learn to let go of the pain from my past.

Hope is the Anchor

I can’t make you feel safe, but I can tell you that for me, the journey toward calm meant I had to start separating the terrible things other people were saying and doing from the character of God. Healing means I continue to listen to the voice of unconditional love – that’s the one that holds us. That’s the voice that pulls us back from the ledge when we’re ready to jump. That’s the anchor.

These days, I have hope. But it didn’t show up overnight. When you are anchored by something (or Someone) greater than yourself, the wind still blows. The waves still crash. The lightning strikes and the rain might pour down on your head. But when you’re anchored, you know that in the end, you will be okay.

You will be okay, my friend.

So if you’re hurting, scared, or brokenhearted today, this one’s for you. If you feel like you’re slipping beneath the weight of life, dragging yourself forward to the next meeting or trying to slap on a smile for your kids or your partner – I get it. I know what it’s like to think your heart mind pound out of your chest. This sacred journey isn’t always easy. I just have the doubt-filled faith that God isn’t finished with either of us yet.

Resources:


*The critics have spoken. Read Zachary Houle’s editorial review of Catching Your Breath. Just click here.

I am Steve Austin. As you check out my site, my goal is to encourage you to do things like: silence your inner critic, cultivate a lifestyle of self-care, and recover from whatever has wounded you. Fear, shame, and guilt have permeated our culture for far too long. It’s time to be embraced by Divine love, exactly as you are.

Whether you’re looking for a coach you can trust or a lifeline because your soul has been wounded, you’re safe here.

Welcome home.


Pre-order the e-book of Catching Your Breath for only $2.99 until 10/22!

Exciting news, friends! My upcoming book, Catching Your Breath: The Sacred Journey from Chaos to Calm, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. To pre-order your copy, go to catchingyourbreath.com.

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