Sunday, June 23, 2013

All about the wilderness

If there is one subject I am qualified to write about, it's this one.

The wilderness is a very important place in biblical terms. It's a place of hardship, of death, of struggling to survive, living rough, having your needs met but only barely. There's no abundance, there's no luxury, there's no real blessings, just the bare essentials to keep you from freezing and/or starving to death. Every day is a battle. It's a notoriously unforgiving environment. It's also often associated with the number 40, which is the biblical number of trials and testing. The Israelites walked in the desert for 40 years after their exodus from Egypt. Noah spent 40 days adrift in the ark with all of the animals (mate, that must have reeked after that long). Even Jesus Himself spent 40 days in the desert without food or water, as this was his time of trial.

I lived in Taupo for nearly three and a half years. This time was by far the hardest season I'd ever had in my entire life. From the day that I arrived there, things went bad immediately. I showed up at my job the following day to find out I'd been made redundant before I even set foot in the door. I was fortunate to receive a large payout, but I had rent to pay so that began to decrease rather quickly due to the fact that I was now without a job (through no fault of my own). I eventually ended up having to apply for the unemployment benefit. Finally, after being out of work for 4 months I took a job doing outbound sales at a local phone store which didn't suit me at all and by all accounts, absolutely knocked the stuffing out of me.

After 6 months there I got a new job at Lake Taupo Christian Camp which was a blessing. What I didn't realize at the time was that the damage had already been done and I had already begun my downward spiral before I even started this new job. A few months into the job God put it on my heart that I was to write a book, which I set about with fervent abandon. Then, me and my flatmate were forced to move due to violent neighbours keeping us awake all night with their domestic disputes. Despite several calls to the landlord, nothing changed, so we left and moved into our new house which was much nicer.

All was going well until 2011 when I began to find myself getting more and more tired. I began to take more and more sick days simply because I was no longer coping. The long hours of writing and the busyness of my job were taking their toll and my downward spiral was now in full swing. Once mid 2011 rolled around, the downward spiral accelerated partly due to God's intervention through social circumstances but also due to some physical health issues that had begun to show themselves. By August 2011, I'd hit burnout and sunk as low as I could sink. Once I hit the bottom, I bounced and began my journey back upwards to health and well being again - not to mention I now had an amazing conclusion to my book. Fast forward a few jobless months later and we were once again forced to leave our living environment and I moved into a place that turned out to be just plain bad - which God used to signal the end of my time in Taupo altogether.

Once I moved back to Tauranga I realized I had been there for nearly 40 months exactly. I was so angry and bitter at how badly things had turned out there and how it had just been one bad thing after another with fortunate breaks in between at times before the next onslaught of bad stuff hit me. This time was my wilderness time. It was awful. It destroyed me completely. It changed me - forever. And this is what I learned about the wilderness.

When God leads you into the wilderness, He will provide for you - but only just. I was fortunate to be blessed with amazing people that genuinely cared for me in my living environment from the time I got to Taupo till about 2 months before I left. The people I lived with played a big part in my recovery from burnout just by caring for me and allowing me to continue to live with them despite the very bad shape I was in. God also provided for me in terms of other good friends both inside and outside of church who were a big help to me. He also provided for me by speaking to my heart in 2009 telling me to start saving money which turned out to be a big help once I was out of work. My most basic needs were definitely met - but only just. Everything else was just plain hard work.

The wilderness is a place of death. In 2011, everything died for me. I lost my job, my health and I came very close to losing my own life as a result of what happened to me. Everything changed from this point on. Friendships that I thought were going to be long term came to a sudden end or were at the very least, fatally wounded and took some time to bleed out. Going through something as severe as burnout deeply changes who a person is. I had always been the super nice, passive guy who wanted to be best friends with everyone. After burnout, this philosophy was completely turned on its head. I began standing up to people and telling them that their behavior was unacceptable and hurting others. Due to this, a lot of people got fed up with the fact that I didn't fit in their pocket anymore and decided they didn't like who I was becoming. I also realized that I was hurting myself by not telling people the truth and not standing up to them when they'd hurt me, which lead to more friendships going downhill as I realized I had to let some people go in order to get well. Doors stopped opening and now started closing. I simply could not get another job in Taupo even once I began to feel well enough to work again. This cycle of doors closing and things dying off continued until I finally learned that my time in Taupo was up and that it was time to leave which wasn't until June 2012.

You can't make the wilderness your home. Most of my bitterness and fury was the fact that due to the good friends and great church I had, I thought Taupo was going to be home. It never was. You can't make a home in the desert. You can't live abundantly in a place of death and dying. You can't live comfortably in a place where your needs are only barely met. I spent so much time working so hard trying to make myself a home in a place that was never meant to be home but a short place to stay in for a season. The harder I tried to make it work, the worse it became and the more despondent I became as a result. The desert isn't there for your comfort. It's a place of spiritual growth forged in hard times. The hard times come from the fact that God wants you there, but the environment itself doesn't want you there. It was pushing with all of its might to get rid of me and get me out of Taupo, yet God wanted me there, so there I stayed, until June 2012 when God clearly instructed me to leave. Once I got back to Tauranga, things started flowing and life began to get easier. The desert was over and good things were coming at last and for once, I didn't have to fight for them.

You don't get over the wilderness overnight. When I arrived back in Tauranga I was emotionally black and blue due to everything that had happened, not to mention severely underweight due to stress and poor eating habits. Only now after being in Tauranga over a year am I beginning to feel like I am finally able to let the wilderness go and put it behind me. It has taken a lot of counseling, a bit more surgery in terms of removing people from my life who were holding me back, a lot of grieving and actually seeing good things happen in Tauranga to help me get to the place where I am now. The wilderness is a brutal environment. It breaks you, it changes you, it forces you to face who and what you really are. It's like having major surgery done on your soul. It hurts, but it's necessary. However, there's also a recovery time before you get back to full strength again. The wilderness hurts - a lot. And, like everything that hurts, it takes time to heal.

When God hasn't lead you there, the wilderness is a dangerous place. The wilderness of Taupo was a place that God called me to, so although it was brutal and hard, He was still there. I have found myself in other places of wilderness in the past - such as several years back when I insisted God give me a job and wouldn't take no for an answer. He said "fine, take it, see what happens." I did - and it was a disaster. God's spirit wasn't with me in that place because I had disobeyed. I found myself in serious trouble health wise just 6 months after taking that job and I was forced to resign. The Holy Spirit later Rhema'd to me that if I had continued to live as I was living, in willful disobedience by refusing to obey His will for my life and taking what I wanted instead - that I would have been dead within two years. That means my book would never have been done and I would never have had the opportunity to make my mark on the world as a result. From that point on, I knew I would never disobey God like that again.

If you find yourself in the wilderness today due to the leading of the Spirit of God, I hope and pray this sheds some light on what may be happening for you. Also remember, if God has lead you there - it won't last forever (there's a good chance that the end will involve the number 40 somehow!!) and if you find yourself in there due to your own doing, perhaps now is the time to do something about it.

Take care.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's never the same again

It's been nearly two years since I hit absolute rock bottom with burnout. I'd been told through a prophecy that this was going to happen to me, and to be honest I thought it had happened already. I was wrong. August 7th, 2011 was both the best and worst day of my life. The worst day of my life as I'd sunk lower than I'd ever sunk before - which was a terrifying place to be in. But the best day of my life in the sense that I finally learned about the spiritual ties that had been keeping me bound up and I began to get better for the first time ever.

Ever since then, life has been a slow and steady upward climb. It took me at least two years to get into the place of hitting burnout in the first place, and I was advised that it would take me at least that long again to get back out. There's been some pretty hard stuff that's happened since then - such as the final two months I spent living in Taupo and the time I spent coming down off antidepressant medication - but overall it's been a slow and steady journey back upwards. I'm finally beginning to come back to normality again.

Except that's just the thing - the normality that existed before I went through burnout, is now gone for good and will never return.

Before I went through burnout, I was working long hours at a very busy, demanding job with an hour long commute each day (half an hour each way). I'd come home every evening and write, along with every weekend. Despite the terrible spiritual and emotional burdens I was continually carrying at the time, I still somehow managed to find the energy to keep going - at least for a while.

Oh, how that was to change.

After going through burnout and resigning from my job, I'd be completely exhausted and in need of an afternoon nap after a simple hour long stroll in the sun. This continued for months on end. Even close to a year later, once I shakily started working once again, after three hours cleaning motel rooms I would go home and sleep for two hours just about every day. This continued until I finally began to get my confidence back and realize that I could actually hold down a job, and that I was capable of responsibilities. Once this truth began to sink in I began to feel I had a bit more energy and with continued prayer and emotional support, I continued my journey back to health - or in a lot of ways, my journey to health for the first time.

Nearly two years later, I'm stronger and healthier than ever before. But I've realized that when faced with such a life-defining moment, a moment that literally shatters you to the very core of your being - that things will never really be the same again. I was talking with a friend about it this evening and he likened it to a car that's been in a massive accident - it can be rebuilt, but at the end of the day it's never really going to be the same car. Once something is completely destroyed, a rebuild may get it functional again but it will always be that little bit different.

I can't even imagine doing the working hours these days that I used to do. I get tired just thinking about it. I've realized that I'm a totally different person now than what I used to be. I am far more relaxed and far more balanced but at the same time, I'm even more wary of people than I used to be. I've developed the courage to throw some of the people out of my life who had treated me badly - something I never had the ability to do before. I went from being an incredibly passive person before I went through burnout - to an overly aggressive, confrontational person while I was coming down off the medication. Once that had passed, I began to develop a more balanced, assertive personality. Burnout, in a way, has helped me to gain everything I wanted and needed. But it's cost me everything at the same time. It's made me realize the reality of life and that the consequences of our actions are far reaching and can last a lot longer than we realize.

This whole scenario has caused me to understand what it must have been like for Jesus to go through the crucifixion. It's easy to write it off and say that because He was resurrected, His suffering was over. If anything, it was just the beginning. I believe God's heart is even further burdened these days simply due to the amount of people who reject salvation and ignore the only way to be freed from sin - even though God Himself paid such a high price for that salvation to be achieved. I can't imagine anything more frustrating as a parent (even though I'm not a parent myself) than to see your kids walk in a way you don't want them to go despite the warnings you've given them against it, and despite you paying the price so that they didn't have to.

I remember reading somewhere that the only remnants of sin in Heaven will be the scars on the hands, feet and side of Jesus - to serve as a reminder of the price that was paid in order to get us there. Even in that place of paradise there's still consequences for sin that Jesus has to bear for eternity. I guess one thing I've learned through all of this is the reality of both sin and life altering circumstances - even when forgiveness happens, there's still consequences and things are never really the same. Some of those consequences can be long lasting. Some can even be eternal.

My advice to you, readers, is to think and pray before you act. Some of the things that you do and say may not be so easily reversed and can leave eternal marks behind.

Take care.