Just last week I was preparing dinner when the electricity in our apartment tripped. It was dark outside, dark inside and my husband was still at work. It was so pitch black, I couldn’t find my phone as a light source and for a second, I had no idea what to do. I managed to feel my way around until I found a box of matches and struck a match to light the way to the fusebox where I could fix the problem.
Life without God is like that moment in the pitch black. Not knowing one direction from the other and having no hope of finding any way out of the situation.
Psalm 119:105 says, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ and it’s true. Jesus provides the light we need to walk the path to holiness, wholeness, peace, and joy.
At the age of 26, I know this full well with every fiber of my being. But a decade ago, things weren’t so clear for me.
I grew up in a Christian family in a small, sleepy town where not much happened at all. I guess we never think bad things will happen to us, but my relatively easy life was in for a rude awakening when I was 16 and my only sibling was diagnosed with leukemia. My family spent much of the following months split apart between home and hospital while my brother underwent intensive chemotherapy 100 miles away. It was a rough few months for all of us and the stress of the situation took its toll on my family in more ways than one. During this season of intense uncertainty, tension and turmoil, things weren’t going so well for me either. I spiraled into a pit of feeling unknown, afraid, misunderstood, and in desperate need of safety while all I knew to be secure was falling away beneath my feet. In a desperate attempt to feel seen and known, like many teenage girls, I looked in many of the wrong places for validation, only to feel even more alone and heartbroken.
After my brother relapsed, he passed away almost exactly a year after his initial diagnosis, confident he was going home to Jesus. I experienced what is called ‘complicated grief’ and ‘survivor’s guilt’, with few tools available to help me deal with my trauma. Few 17-year-olds feel understood at the best of times, and mixed with the trauma I was failing to navigate, I fell deeper into a pit of feeling unseen, unknown, hopeless and ashamed by how badly I was coping. Anxiety began to rule my life. Still grasping at unhealthy validation to mask my feelings of inadequacy, fear of abandonment and need for safety, I didn’t allow myself to be vulnerable with God. He felt far, far away and I felt unfixable and unlovable. When I looked around, my fear was so intense that all I saw was darkness.
By 18, I had gone away to college and that’s when God began to work on my heart. In reality, I’d been avoiding being honest with Him for so long, because deep down, I was convinced He was angry with me for the choices I’d made. I was afraid that he would make me walk out of the emotionally and spiritually unhealthy pit by myself. The only thing scarier than staying in the pit I was in was having to climb out by myself because I knew I couldn’t. Thankfully, that’s not who our God is and that’s not what grace is. And I was about to experience this radically.
Matthew 11:29 says, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’
God’s grace and gentleness are true. He lit my path, walked ahead of, beside and behind me so I knew where to go. One by one, God helped me walk away from harmful situations and relationships that weren’t part of his plan for me, his treasured daughter. I began to deeply know more of God’s character and that I had never been alone after all. Over the following months, I became more plugged into my church community, helping lead worship and tapping into hearing God and receiving prophecies. Of course, my trauma, grief, and fear were still things I battled each day and some days, I was so anxious I couldn’t get up in the morning. But this time, I was battling with God by my side and I knew there was hope for me yet.
I began attending counseling, which I would recommend to anyone experiencing anxiety or working through trauma. Other things that helped me invest in my emotional and spiritual growth were:
- Honoring my body through exercise and eating better
- Recognizing my need for community by confiding in friends andmentors
- Seeking the Kingdom by listening to preaches and worship musicduring the week.
- Tapping into my gifting by pursuing art as a creative outlet.
Slowly, the good days outnumbered the hard ones.
By 21 I was engaged to my now-husband and my life was in a place full of excitement and wonderful things to look forward to. But some days I still felt suffocated by shame. That summer, at the Bethel Leader’s Advance conference, something pretty remarkable happened! I suddenly felt the shame and fear creep up on me very intensely and God told me to speak to one of the speakers after the session. I awkwardly made my way down the auditorium steps and approached him in the crowd of people around him. Before I said a word, he looked at me, put his hand on my head and recited Isaiah 61 – The Year of the Lord’s Favour. ‘Beauty from ashes’ had been the verse I’d leaned into for months by this point, and this encounter only confirmed that truth in my life.
It’s been quite the journey so far but I’m more certain than ever of God’s hand on my life, having seen His work in my life over and over again. Surrendering to God’s will for my life is the best thing I ever did and I no longer feel shame about the person I was ten years ago. Instead, I know God’s heart for who I was and feel compassion for her. So now, when anxiety and fear rear their ugly heads, I know God’s love and compassion for me. I know I have nothing to fear because God has already lit a path for me. Of course, some days are still hard and I’m still learning and growing, but it’s a journey I feel bold and equipped in because I know God has already gone before me and is working in me.
I don’t know your journey or the battles you face. But I do know this – you are not who the world says you are and the world can never satisfy your need to be known, seen and loved in the way Jesus can. You are beautiful, set apart, and if you give God your ashes, He will bestow on you a crown of beauty. My prayer for you is that you will experience rest for your soul and a firm certainty in God’s plan for you, even if you can’t see what He’s doing just yet. You can never mess up in ways God can’t free you from. God is FOR you! He loves you and wants amazing things for you. He is working in your life and partnering with Him is a wild journey that you don’t want to miss!
‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’ – Exodus 14:14.
Anna Naylor is a wife to Josh and lives by the beach on the south coast of England. Anna is passionate about sharing truth and encouragement through words and hand lettering, cooking, travel, creating an inviting home, and growing in her relationship with Jesus!