When my heart is overwhelmed, when anxiety paralyzes my mind, when a thousand tiny maybes and should-haves preoccupy my thoughts, please be my Peace. Forget all those doubts I speak of so boldly as of late. Ignore the theological dissertations and questions that make me rage. What I could use right now is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother. Please show up for me today in the midst of this chaos. Come to me like Calm and hold me while I quake.
I penned that prayer in the midst of a particularly stressful season a few months ago. Since my suicide attempt, I hadn’t felt so completely overwhelmed and forsaken. If there’s a God, I thought, he has undoubtedly abandoned me. I was frustrated with doing all the right things to no avail. I followed my doctor’s advice, was exercising again, had been meditating for a year, and practicing the basics of good self-care, but I was completely frazzled.
Anxiety and a general sense of loss had taken all my mindfulness practices and thrown them out the window. I was scared to tell anyone how I honestly felt, for fear of being locked in a psych ward again. In the midst of mental health anguish, I was also angry at myself for feeling this way, and shame was doing its masterful, crushing work.
I felt like an olive, pressed into oil.
I am grateful for the example Jesus lives out for us during his darkest night of the soul. He knows what a deadly cocktail despair and loneliness create. Jesus begs his closest friends to stay awake with him during this traumatic experience. For me, this is the most precise picture of humanity Christ gives us. Jesus knew he needed his inner-circle to hold him close and keep him safe as he searched his soul for the courage to embrace what was coming next.
Next, Jesus began to pour out his heart to God. He didn’t hold anything back there in the Garden of Gethsemane. I don’t remember his exact words, but the point was, “God, my heart is overwhelmed. I know what is about to happen and there isn’t a single fiber of my being that truly wants to go through with this torture. Yet, I trust you. Please calm my shaking soul.”
Dread about things I cannot control and a past that I am no longer subject to still has, on rare occasion, the power to knock the air right out of my lungs. When life feels suffocating, I get that all-familiar knot in the back of my throat which turns into a knot in my stomach. My hands become weak, and my forehead starts to sweat. The anxiety is crippling.
Like so many others, I wore the mask of performance and perfection for a long time. But honesty and vulnerability have brought a new kind of strength, healing, and energy to my life, and I don’t ever want to go back. Maybe you can fake it til you make it, but it’s a rotten way to live. And some might ask, “Is it even living?”
I know the tendency of so many people is just to “fake it until you make it,” but that is the worst thing you could possibly do. In the Good Friday Narrative, Christ shows us how important it is to begin to own our stories. Through his living example, Jesus urges us to tell the truth. He gives us permission to embrace our fears only long enough to confess them. Because confession indeed is good for the soul.
If you’re going through a dark night of the soul, I’m sorry. Depending on the circumstances, it’s pretty standard to think that no one else could understand what you’re experiencing. But take it from me – things do get better, and you are not alone. Community and honesty help you keep from completely losing it in the process, so keep cultivating your tribe and speaking your truth. Your life-change may not look like a Jesus-esque miracle, but no matter how dark the night seems, Hope is just over the horizon.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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