“I love stress!” said no one ever. Except me. I’ve said it. Maybe not in those exact words, but certainly in my actions. Most of my lifelong struggle with stress has been self-induced. I’ve unintentionally sabotaged my pursuit of peace with misplaced Christian habits and selfish ambitions. I thought I was limitless. I’d mask unsure feelings with obsessive focus on temporary things:
When I felt insecure, I’d revisit my achievements.
When I felt fear, I’d call my favorite hype girl.
When I felt weak, I’d overcompensate for my lack of confidence.
When I felt unlovable, I’d seek validation in shallow ways.
When I felt overlooked, I’d shine light on me, not God.
I was looking in all the wrong places to validate my worth. What once convinced me that I was indestructible, now brought exhaustion and feelings of worthlessness. Self-help audiobooks and empowering messages no longer soothed my restless mind.
Being a good Christian girl, I asked God to fix what wasn’t right. A pastor told me to pray more. I did. A friend told me to dream bigger. I did. A mentor told me to work harder. I did. A counselor told me to dig deeper. I did. And I did, and I did, and I did. I did all the things—until I couldn’t do anymore.
All of my doing led to an unhealthy place of self-reliance. I was convinced that it was my sole responsibility to find, define, and fulfill who God wanted me to be. Culture had convinced me that through self-actualization, I could attain anything I put my mind to. I was caught up in this hierarchical race to the top of whatever peak quenched my ego.
It was a trap. It was an addiction. It was a disease. And I needed the antidote.
Stress is rarely unpredictable. Unlike most traumatic events with a single turning point, this can occur as a continuum. Outsiders can see it from a mile away. Dangerously though, when you’re on the front lines, there isn’t a more common blind spot. Some handle this mental and emotional implosion by lashing out, while others swallow the pain and slowly deteriorate.
When God has given us an assignment and we take it upon ourselves to outdo His task list, we do not get golden stars in heaven. On the contrary, we burn ourselves out while stealing someone else’s chance to participate in God’s creative story. Even in the middle of doing good things, we can take it too far. Apparently, I come by this naturally.
When I turned thirteen, I convinced myself that I had the aesthetic eye and cosmetic skill to try a new trendy look for my eyebrows (think 90s style). Mind you, a little bit goes a long way and a long way it went. One thing led to another and I found myself sitting at the dinner table with irreversible damage.
My dad, abnormally observant, asked, “Laura, did you shave your eyebrows?”
“Well, why are they so…?” Apparently, he lost all ability to describe the sight. Either that or there were simply no adjectives to narrate the half-empty, scrappy hair lines above my eyelids.
I broke the silence, “What!? I just tweezed them.” I protested my parents’ stares because by the view in my mirror, those brows were spot on to match the style I saw in my teeny bopper Tiger Beat magazine. My parents know nothing, I thought. Attempting to salvage my forthcoming tainted self-esteem, my dad said, “You are no longer allowed to use tweezers, Laura. You are grounded from your eyebrows.”
I repeat, he grounded me from my eyebrows. What? Is this a thing? It became a thing when my dad had no other choice but to protect me from myself. And thank goodness he did. To this day I have eyebrow repercussions. They waved their white flag and decided to stop growing.
I wonder how many times our heavenly Father wants to protect us from ourselves. I’ve often wondered how many times He has sent speed bumps to slow me down and I cruised over them, damaging the engine in the process. We won’t always get it right. In fact, He knows more often than not, we will get it wrong. And He chooses to invite us into His story anyway. That is mercy!
To reset our hearts and allow God to cleanse our motives, we must first admit this behavior of overdoing it is a sin. We mean well. But well is not enough. God requires holiness. To attain holiness, God has to be the Operator of all our hard work. Once we’ve repented, this makes a way for God to redirect our path and teach us how to rest:
“Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and upholds my cause. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness” Micah 7:8-9.
Unlike my hair follicles, when you’ve taken things too far, you can recover. You may be down, but God doesn’t want you to stay there. He may want you to sit there awhile until your ego is broken, but His plans for you are good (Jeremiah 29:11). Let’s slow down and do only what He asks us to do and let Him do what only He can do.