by Jennifer Peterson
Sunday had dawned crisp and clear that sunny, December morning. Behind the closed door of the bathroom, however, I was in for a storm. Waves of nausea and dizziness threatened to drown me while a fierce headache took residence behind my eyes.
"You can't do this, it's a terrible idea. Nobody is going to understand. You will be sorry."
The voice was clamoring in my head as I struggled to get ready for church. I had to get myself dressed, makeup on, and hair done so that I also could get my two children fed, cleaned, and dressed and out the door in time for the morning service. "What were you thinking? Are you crazy? You can't do this, you can't..."
As I pushed myself up from the floor, the nausea having knocked me to my knees a third time that morning, my heart pounded and I cried out, "Get away from me Satan, I am doing this and you won't stop me! Lord, help me!"
My husband had already left for church as usual, before the sun came up. It was up to me to get myself and the children there on time. This was not just a typical Sunday morning, however. In the service this day my husband and I were going to stand before the congregation where he had served as youth pastor for eight years and announce that we were taking a leave of absence. We also planned to share some painful, not-so-pretty truth about our lives. I fully realized I was under direct attack from the Enemy to prevent me from doing this. To be perfectly honest, there was a part of me that wanted to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers. However, Satan was not going to win this one! Jesus Christ was getting the victory on this December morning! It was time to take off my mask and reveal the truth behind the smile. My life was spiraling downward in a dangerous cycle of depression and alcohol abuse.
I was leading a double life that only a very few of my closest friends even had a clue about—my secret struggle with alcohol, my ongoing battle with anxiety and depression, thoughts that became so dark at times I even thought about taking my own life. In the weeks leading up to this moment, I had been arrested for drunk driving, spent a night in jail, and lost my driver's license. You might say I was in the pit of despair. In a rare moment of clarity, God had shown me the first step in His plan of restoring the situation; I had to confess my sin to the congregation. As a couple, we had to admit that we needed support and prayers from our church family. My husband needed to take a break from the youth ministry and minister to his first and most important calling—his family.
My husband and I had finally come to the understanding that our life was completely out of balance and out of control. On my husband's part, he had sacrificed time with family to build a vibrant and thriving youth ministry. To deal with my growing sense of isolation and feeling abandoned by him, I had turned to alcohol. In the evenings and weekends when he was off ministering to students, I would nurse my self-pity and loneliness with a bottle of wine. As time went on, I found myself growing more and more dependent on the numbing, anesthetic effect alcohol had on the feelings of bitterness and resentment I was beginning to harbor towards my husband. My mantra became, "Church gets the best of him, the kids and I get the rest of him."
At the same time, I would show up at church Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings wearing my "everything is fine" disguise. I sang in the choir. I would help out as a youth sponsor at different times. I even started a small group for stay-at-home moms, which met regularly for five years! The ever-growing gap between my public life and my private life was eating me alive inside. When I would allow myself to think about the hypocrisy of this existence, I was flooded with feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust. Keeping up with what I saw as my double life was exhausting physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I so desperately wanted to stop using alcohol to deal with the difficulties of life. I knew I was living in sin and allowing alcohol to become an idol in my life. I knew this sin was getting in the way of the kind of intimate friendship Jesus wanted with me. Ultimately, I knew that this would lead to death and destruction. Yet, I continued to allow this stronghold to entice and entangle me (James 1:14-15). I had shared bits and pieces of these struggles with a few women in my moms' group, but always left out the "gory" details. I was keeping too many secrets, and they were keeping me in bondage to mental anguish and addiction. I read somewhere, a long time ago, "you are only as sick as your secrets." That is so true! My secret was about to be revealed...
I battled through the morning, through my physical and emotional weakness. I knew that God was providing me with a way to end this madness or, at least, to start correcting the course I was on. I had to get out the door and make it to church that December morning. Satan had too much at stake; he wasn't giving up without a fight. However, somewhere in me I clung to the promise of Psalm 8:6 that put Satan where he belongs—under my feet!
I held on tightly to my legacy in Christ, my anointing as His beloved daughter. I had to get up in front of that congregation. God was calling me out of the darkness. I had to step into the light.
That winter Sunday morning, I poured my heart and soul out in front of the people my husband and I were called to serve. As the words spilled from my mouth, I could feel a supernatural cleansing occurring within my heart. Like an open wound it hurt, it stung and burned, but I continued to go deeper. I confessed my sins of addiction, and the legal trouble I was in as a result of poor choices. I revealed my spirit of bitterness, anger, and depression. My husband admitted that he often had pursued ministry goals and success at the expense of his family. He announced that he would be temporarily stepping away from his role as youth pastor so that he could lead his family with no distractions. As we stopped speaking, there was a heavy silence in the sanctuary. The lead pastor stood up and invited anyone to come forward who wanted to lay hands on my husband and me in a time of prayer. Within seconds, members of our congregation were on their feet and coming forward to lay their hands on us and to pray for us. My husband and I were seated with our heads bowed, but we could feel the warmth and weight of many hands touching us as prayers started rising up around us. Men and women, young and old, spontaneously spoke their petitions on our behalf. Later we would be told that nobody was left sitting in the pews. Every person in the church that day came forward, each one laying hands on the person in front of them in a human chain that ended with my husband and me receiving the power of the Holy Spirit through their touch.
Four years later I keep that Sunday morning close in my mind. It was through that experience that I learned an important lesson on community, confession, and restoration. First, we are designed to live in community and to share life with other people. Isolation is dangerous and will squelch the joy from your life. Second, confession is a necessary part of living in community. It may involve risk, it may be painful, but it is necessary to begin the healing process (James 5:16). Sometimes the deepest, darkest part of oneself is what needs to be uncovered in order to produce true, authentic community. Everyone has a story! Finally, God has the power and desire to restore any life, any sinful situation. On my journey that gift of restoration could only be received once I embraced the community I was in and I practiced the discipline of confession. Only then was I able to receive the beginning of true and lasting healing in my life.
How Do I Take the Mask Off?
Can you identify with the author of this poignant article? The desire to stop hiding in and from pain is a God-given desire. The tricky part for many people is how to begin to come out of hiding.
Following are some steps and resources that can help you get started on this sacred journey.
- Tell God the extent of your pain. Expose your secrets to Him. If verbal prayer is difficult, write it out. God knows it all, loves you unreservedly; sharing this with Him is an act of trust and worship. This step fosters self-understanding and assists us as we go to others with our pain.
- Choose another person to share your pain and struggle with. Prayerfully consider the best person for this! It ought to be a person who is loving, empathetic, able to keep a confidence, and non-controlling.
- If you are unable to find the person described above, think outside the box. Are there churches or other Christian organizations that have a reputation for competent, compassionate care? If so, place a call and explore some options.
- Consult some of the national resources below if you are unable to find help in your area.
Keep in mind that confession to an entire congregation is not always necessary, and may not be wise, depending upon the health of the congregation and church leadership. Those first people who walk with you can help determine the best path, if needed, for more public confession. Much damage has been done in the name of "confession" when done unnecessarily or with people who are unable to receive a courageous confession.
During the process, remain open to avenues God places in front of you for healing. Professional therapy, medication, sabbatical, and deep spiritual friendships can all work together on your journey to freedom.
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