Yet, I've gone through multiple cycles of depression; some have lasted months. Last month, I broke down wondering if the cycle of depression would ever end. If I could ever truly feel and embrace God's love for me. The hard truth is that it is easier to love others and all their brokenness than it is for me to love myself and mine.
Wherein lies the difference? Why is it so hard to show myself the same love that I give to others? What does the healing process look like for the prodigal daughter who has returned home to the Father that loves her?
I could attribute my feelings to a case of being too close to the sinner's heart. I know my sins and the state of my heart—but so does God. And God loves me in all my flawed humanness (Jn. 3:16, Rom. 5:8). When I strayed from His flock, he set out after me and never gave up on me. His love is so vast that it surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:19).
What I choose to do is accept my sins, remember them, and move forward in my life. I have no power to change the past, but I have the power to decide how the past influences my present and my future. Compared to an eternity with my Heavenly Father, who freely loves and forgives me (1 Jn. 1:9), my sins are nothing. Therefore, they have no power over me. My life is in God's sovereign hands.
Healing is a process. We have to understand that we cannot make the decision to accept God's love for us and expect to feel better right away. What it does do is set us on the right path towards forgiveness and self love.
What does the healing process look like?
Acknowledge the Source(s) of My Anxieties
I tend to become depressed when something, oftentimes a source of stress and anxiety, is pulling me away from God. The source of stress and anxiety may not be apparent at first glance; it may even be something that took place a year ago or even a few years ago but had not been properly resolved. This is especially true when we find it challenging to love ourselves. It takes time to learn an ideology, longer still for it to become ingrained in us. The actions of someone or multiple someones in the past taught us our worldview on love. We may have even struggled against this worldview only to have it reinforced over time.
My breakdown forced me to acknowledge that, while I have read about and understand the greatness of my Heavenly Father's love for us, I have yet to fully embrace it.
Accept That My Sins Are in the Past
I know that I'm a different person today than I was a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago . . . the challenge that I face is letting go of my regrets from the past.
What we need to remember and trust in is that the past does not define who we are. One of humanity’s greatest traits is our ability to hope for the future. We have hope in Jesus. Through him, we are saved (Rom. 10:9-10), redeemed (Eph. 1:7), justified (1 Cor. 6:11), and made holy (1 Pet. 1:16). Our regret for the past is a good thing. When we regret our sins, we show an understanding of what it means to be called to a holy life, and we are able to change or remove the things in our lives that are keeping us from embracing God's grace as being for us. What we must not let it do is let our anxiety keep us trapped in the past and from moving forward to a life of purity.
Live a Life of Purity
When we regret and repent our past life of sin, we cannot continue consciously living in sin (Rom. 6:1-4). We must change our life to pursue a life of purity. As John tells us, we cannot claim to have fellowship with God, who is purely light, and walk in darkness (1 Jn. 1:6). To do so would be to attempt to claim one part of His Word while rejecting the other. We cannot do that, for God is eternal and unchangeable (Is. 40:28 Rev. 1:8); to continue to consciously live in sin after receiving His salvation is to reject His nature. In order to practice the truth, we must not only aspire to a holy life but seek to practice it in our every day. Can we live an absolutely pure and flawless life? To borrow from Paul, by no means! Jesus alone can (and did) live a perfect life in our fallen world. It is on him that God has set his seal of approval (Jn. 6:27). What we can do is strive to live as pure a life as we can, continue to repent our sins, and constantly pursue a godly life.
As the Bible tells us, we are chosen and set apart.
❝But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.❞ (1 Pet. 2:9)
❝Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.❞ (Rom. 12:2)
Scripture provides a foundation for our faith. When we’ve made the decision to change our present lifestyle in pursuit of a godly lifestyle, reading Scripture will inform the actions that we take. We need Scripture because it is God’s word, and God provides an absolute moral standard towards which we can strive. Being born to sin, we will always fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23); we need these guidelines to support us in our pursuit of a life that looks more like that of Jesus. Since man is flawed, any standard we create for ourselves would be subject to change with a passing whim. Scripture gives us security, for it will never change, just as our God will never change. 1 Corinthians is a good text to start reading once you’ve made the commitment to live a life of purity.
The world hates our way of life (Jn. 15:19), but we do not need to fear the world’s rejection. God is with us, and He will always be for us (Josh. 1:9, Deut. 21:6). Nothing can separate us from God's love that He has shown us through Jesus's sacrifice (Rom. 8:38-39). To Him, we are chosen and precious (1 Pet. 2:4), and He calls us to live in holiness (1 Thess. 4:7). Our Heavenly Father has a plan and a purpose for our lives (Ps. 138:8, Rom. 8:28), and it is so much greater than anything the world has to offer.
Slow Down and Have Patience
Our culture tells us that our value is in how much we can accomplish in as short an amount of time as possible. We are pushed to live at a faster and faster pace, such that we feel anxious when we are not doing anything or do not accomplish as many tasks as we thought we would. When I made the decision to make my journey of healing and self-forgiveness, I wanted badly to receive God's healing in the moment, but the reality is that, though the spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41). I may have been willing to let go of my past resentments, but my human heart with all its sinfulness needed time to convince. We need to learn how to slow down, breathe, close out the whispers of the world, and listen to the Holy Spirit.
The healing process takes time. We will not forgive and leave behind our past in the very moment that we make the decision to repent our past sins and change our lifestyle. (If you are able to do so, all the more power to you!) It is okay to take our time; it is better to slow down now than to later realize that we had not completely let go of the past. It will be worth the joy and peace that you will find in God’s great love for you.
One of the greatest challenges after acknowledging our sins is to speak up about it. We feel shame; we have an image that we feel like we must maintain; we do not want others to think less of us; we do not want to be another statistic ... many of us were raised better. Perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18). When we embrace God’s love for us, we will be secure in our identity in Him, and we do not need to fear any judgment from the world. In fact, there is power to speaking up. Talking to others about our sins helps us acknowledge that they happened and that we have left them behind in the past. It brings our shame out into the open and turns it into something to be used in God’s plan.
I hate my sin. I hate how my worldly desires threaten to separate me from God. In accepting God's promises, however, I have peace in the promise that God will never let me go, and I find my self-esteem and confidence in my Heavenly Father. In accepting His great love for me, I see how God takes my sin and my brokenness and turns them into something that can be used for His good, good plans. God's power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). In admitting our weaknesses, we can form our testimonies about God's strength and the perfect healing to be found in Him. Our stories pave the way for others to come to know His love and grace.
Instead of mourning the loss of our past, I challenge us to anticipate all the years we have left before us to dedicate our lives to God and shine as lights in the world. We are not the only ones who have been broken by this world; stand firm in the faith and support one another. Your example of love may be the one to heal another prodigal daughter seeking to return home.