I was in my late twenties and had been working for about seven years at a speech and drama centre for children. I loved every bit of it - the comfort, financial stability and I took great pride in all that I was doing. I was helping children find themselves, enabling them to express their best selves and creating confident communicators. Nothing gave me more joy than to be a part of this.
I was getting tremendous opportunities to train teachers, to travel and to teach children from many different backgrounds. Life was fantastic! While all of this was happening at the work front, I was quite involved at church too. I went regularly to church, was involved in ministry and had a great set of friends. All of these were truly good things.
But a sense of despair was beginning to take over my life. I soon realised that my work was starting to define me. I looked to it for affirmation, for financial stability, for security, for purpose, for self-worth and everything else. I lived to work.
I put aside all these thoughts constantly and continued to justify how important my contribution to this organisation was. I thought I was indispensable to the functioning of the organisation and they wouldn’t be able to survive without me.
Little did I know that life would soon begin to physically reveal how broken and deprived my heart was. I developed something called vocal nodules, according to google they can also be called “teacher’s nodules” and “screamer’s nodules.” I was asked to rest my voice for a whole month. I was not even allowed to whisper, let alone speak. The anxiety and fear that came upon me that month crippled me.
What if I can never speak again? What work would I be able to do? Who will ever pay me this much? Will I be able to survive without a salary? How will I pick up new skills now? This is the only thing I’m good at.
I began to get glimpses of my heart. I saw the things that I held on to dearly. My confidence was in my work and not in God. And my despair continued to grow.
In hindsight, I understand why I felt such despair then. Sin is more than just breaking the rules. As Tim Keller says
“Sin isnʼt only doing bad things; it’s more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.”
But I continued to drown myself in work. The despair grew and a sense of purposelessness also began dawning upon me. I still didn’t stop to listen to God.
Very soon, I was diagnosed with endometriosis. The disease itself is quite common in women but what it does to us is a whole new story. In short, you experience tremendous fatigue, debilitating pain throughout your whole body and sometimes you just don’t want to get out of bed. With a lot of tears and shame and to the shock of my organisation, I was forced to ask for part-time options. From working around the clock, I went to just a few hours a week. My body couldn’t handle it anymore. This meant a tremendous pay cut and giving up a lot of what I loved doing.
I felt like my whole identity was taken away from me.
During those days of despair and tears, I was asked by my church if I would like to take some time off and spend it with a church in the US to observe their children’s ministry. I said yes promptly and the idea of a holiday was tempting.
As I spent time week after week in quietness with God, I began to feel a change in my heart. When Jesus was all I had, I realised that Jesus was all I needed. Just knowing Him and being in His presence strengthened me again, refreshed me and gave me hope. I realised how easily carried away we get with the things of the world, that we forget our one true source of joy. My despair was slowly turning into true joy.
God in His goodness not only wanted my whole heart back but He had bigger plans for me, plans I could never see until I finally rested in Him.
I was filled with a deep desire to serve the children at my church back in India. I knew that God would provide for every need of mine because this is what He was calling me to. God wanted me to use my skills to help nurture safe, creative, inclusive spaces for children to grow and thrive. Deep down I think I always knew this, but the allure of financial stability, comfort and accomplishment took over and stopped me. It was in those moments of quietness with God, that my despair turned into joy and my purposelessness was replaced with purpose again.
Though sickness and trials still continue as we live in a broken world, I am so much more aware of my heart idols. When I look back now, no matter how far I tried to run, I realise that God was always one step ahead of me, ready to draw me back to Him, to guide me and to grow me. He used both mercies and trials to pursue my heart with great compassion. However far I run, I can never outrun Him.