I knew something was wrong. A friend’s passing comment triggered a strong, irrational, inner feeling of being judged. Suddenly I was a cowering five-year-old in an adult’s body. A wave of insecurity swept over me.
Most people would describe me as an outgoing person, well-liked by many and one who had her act together. When I’d hear remarks about my outward confidence, I’d feel an inner stab knowing that what they saw wasn’t what I experienced inside. When I was alone or with my closest friends a different me emerged: one with depressive swings and a troubled inner life. In my vulnerable state the real me was a big, jumbled-up ball of emotional issues.
My mind was set on this unspoken belief: I could not accept myself or value my worth because I saw too many problems with myself. I didn’t accept or even like myself because I felt the primary people in my life whom I looked to for acceptance did not accept me. Deep down, I didn’t believe in my own self-worth. It was hard to believe that I was worthwhile as a person unless I measured up to something great, the standards set out by my family or my own ideals.
This sense of rejection created a craving, or to put it graphically, an addictive lust for something or someone to satiate my need for affirmation and diminish the painful feelings of rejection. I often wanted someone to talk to and be there for me. It was a craving or addictive need I could not free myself from. I looked to people who would help me process my thoughts and solve my problems. Eventually, I felt that I was draining my friends’ emotional tanks. It was infuriating to live with such strong emotional needs. Who wants to be this way? Unfortunately I knew no other way to be. I also knew this couldn’t keep going as I started to see unhealthy patterns of dependency forming.
It’s a torture to be self-aware about your condition when you are clueless about how to get yourself out of it. How do I get myself out of this problem? I tried and tried. The effort I was exerting left me more exhausted and frustrated with myself than ever. I was emotionally sick. And no attempt to cure my inner illness was working.
What I needed was to find a doctor, someone with objective, who could untangle my issues and get to the root problem. But who should I turn to? As I thought of the idea of finding an objective “expert” to assess my emotional state, I remembered hearing Jesus described as a “great physician” (Mark 2:15-17). Sure, two thousand years ago Jesus miraculously healed people with extreme ailments like leprosy or paralysis, but what concern would he have with my 21st century, first-world problem of depression and low self-esteem?
The truth was that not only did I have a problem with self-hatred, I compounded the problem by believing that it was up to me to fix myself. All my life I pursued this elusive goal. Because I practiced a form of prideful self-protection, a defense mechanism to dull my pain, I could not see that I was my own enemy.
I desperately wanted to prove that through my own effort and intelligence I could change myself and overcome my issues. But the more I tried, the more my heart grew sick with depression. I could not cure or save myself.
As I looked into the idea of Jesus being a “great physician,” it surprised me to learn there was a whole book in the Bible simply called “Lamentations.” I learned that the Bible contains records of people talking to God about their personal problems with depression, suffering, heartache, insecurity and anger. Just as I would talk to friends about my troubles, people throughout history were talking to God about theirs. They opened up their hearts to God and God received all their complaints, without despisement or condemnation, but with love and understanding.
Gradually I became comfortable with the idea that God had things to say about what he thought of me. Over time I grew to trust his opinion, even when what he said was hard to hear. Just as you grow to trust a friend whose time-tested character is proven to be loving, loyal, honest and wise, I grew to trust God, who has all that and more. I realized that if I was looking for someone with an objective (and might I add, omniscient) point of view, God was an obvious candidate. I was definitely ready to take seriously what God had to say to me.
If learning to trust Jesus was my introduction to the “great physician,” he was testing my trust by taking me straight into the operating room. When you begin a friendship with God, he won’t let you stay ignorant of the issues in your life. Like a good doctor who is lovingly concerned for our well-being, he’ll make them so painfully obvious that you’ll be pleading for them to be taken away! It was clear I needed a spiritual operation to remove what was causing me emotional pain.
The Bible says God’s word is alive and active, like a sword that cuts through the toughest exterior to reveal my true condition inside (Heb. 4:12). With the precision of a surgeon, God used his Word to remove layer after layer of scar tissue created by years of false beliefs, expectations and lies I held about myself. God’s words went right to the source of my inner wounds in the area of acceptance and self-worth.
My depression and over-dependency on friends were outward expressions of an inward illness: self-hatred. It is said that depression is anger turned inward. I was angry at the unrealistic expectations that others and I had placed on myself and was taking that anger out on me. And it was destroying me. I needed an intervention of a divine kind.
Jesus is the most kind and gentle doctor, but at the same time he is absolutely no-nonsense: he is precise and unrelenting. I knew God was getting to the bottom of things. I also knew his words had the power to penetrate through any walls of defense I had built around myself and to expose the truth buried inside.
I found Jesus is unlike any doctor on earth. He not only unravels the symptoms, uncovers the root problem and prescribes a cure, but goes further by taking on all the cost of providing the cure himself. In my case, I needed a new heart, free of pain and darkness. I needed an emotional and spiritual heart transplant. The Bible actually describes this process in the book of Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26). Who is this person who gives us a new heart? God is the one who gives us a new “heart of flesh” in exchange for our sick “heart of stone.” God went with me into the operating room not only as a doctor but as a donor.
Just as receiving a healthy heart requires the death of a donor, my new life required a death. Not just anyone’s death, but the death of someone who was not heart-sick himself. That person was Jesus. He was utterly untouched by the disease called sin. His heart was pure, whole, holy. By dying on the cross and then overcoming death by coming back to life, Jesus made a way for humanity to experience a new and redeemed life. This changed life of joy and hope is available for those who open their hearts and yield to God.
With God healing will always first start with a death. God himself, through Jesus Christ, set this example. In my personal journey, I first had to die to my view of my identity and my ideas of how I could fix myself. I didn’t know how sick I was until I let God examine me. The process of inner healing began when I finally submitted myself to God’s expert hands and let him do spiritual surgery. With Jesus, the Great Physician, he will always tell you the hard truth about yourself, but you can fully trust him because his prognosis and promise is always Life (John 10:10).