Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Being called to the depths

Life - especially life as a Christian - is not always easy. But what does it mean when we are constantly faced with difficult and trying circumstances, and you feel as if the worst aspects of yourself are being constantly exposed? How are we supposed to navigate our way through this time, especially when it seems to drag on for years on end, and every "light at the end of the tunnel" appears to be a false dawn?

Over the last 12 years I have faced seemingly endless struggles within my life. It all started when I moved to Taupo in 2009 and took a job selling cellphones at a local retailer. To say that it was the worst job I've ever had in my life would be an understatement. The job paved the way for my breakdown two years later. Though there has been improvement since then, I've never really been able to move on from the very deep place I found myself walking into. 

Recently I was watching a documentary called Secrets of the Titanic. It was about finding and exploring the wreck of the Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. This was a challenging task -  they didn't know exactly where the ship was, so it took a long time to find it. When they eventually did find the wreck, in order to explore it they had to pilot a tiny submarine to the very bottom of the Atlantic. It was a very dangerous environment as visibility in the submarine was very limited, plus the water pressure on the submarine was also huge - 2.5 tonnes per square inch. If the hull failed, the crew would have been instantly killed.

I felt God speaking to me about the time I had walked through over the last 12 years while I was watching this documentary. I felt He said to me that the time spent at Faith Bible College had been a time of construction. After that, when I did my first trip to USA - it was like I was being tested out in shallower waters to get a feel for things. But when the real call of God came to move to Taupo and take the job selling phones in 2009 - it was the beginning of being called down to the depths. Here are some of the lessons I have learned.

1. The pressure you are under when you are called to the depths with God is insane.

I knew straight away this new job was a poor fit for me. I am an introvert by nature, and back then I was struggling with overwhelming internal problems, so going into a work environment where I was dealing with hostile customers and staff on a face to face basis was not a good fit for me. From the first few weeks of being there, I wanted out. I tried to find another job, but it didn't happen, so I tried to make the best of where I was and hoped to succeed.

One day God told me that I was not going to succeed in the role, as that wasn't His plan for me. This knowledge added even more pressure. I had people asking me "why you don't just go and get another job?" -  but I knew that I couldn't as I was still meant to be where I was. 

I did eventually leave this job after a very long 6 months, but the pressure never really subsided -  I went into my next role not knowing that I was on the path to burnout. In 2011 I hit rock bottom and had to quit the role I was doing at the time, and eventually I had to leave the city and move in with family while I recovered. I eventually got another full time job several years later - but it didn't work out. This pattern of short term living environments and jobs continued for many years after this.

2009 was the beginning of walking into the place of "crush depth", and it would continue for many years to come. Every time it looked like I was coming out of that place, I'd just end up at the bottom again, as there was still more exploration to do. I have chosen to name this place "crush depth" because it honestly felt like being at the bottom of the ocean in a submarine with tonnes of water pressure on you at any moment.

2. There's no light at the very bottom.

The entire 12 years I've been in this season, it's like there's been no sense of guidance or direction at all, and the few times that it has come, it's only illuminated the path a few feet in front of me. There's been times when I felt as if I was going nowhere, and there's been times I've felt lead to go and do things that didn't make any sense at all - such as to take a new permanent full time job, only to be asked by God to resign from it just a few months later in order to go into full time ministry in another city. Often, if questioned why I did certain things, the only answer I could give was that "I was lead by God to do this".

Watching this documentary on discovering the Titanic wreck made me realize just how deep that part of the ocean really is. It is pitch black down there - sunlight doesn't get anywhere near it. The submarine has a few lamps to help navigate but relies heavily on SONAR and advanced compass systems to find its way around. I realized that this also spoke to my journey in the sense that the only navigation system I had in this place of intense depth and pressure was the Holy Spirit. 

I would wonder sometimes if I was heading down the wrong path. But I learned to become familiar with God's SONAR system in my spirit that would clearly tell me if I was going the wrong way, and I had to learn that even if I couldn't see a thing in front of me, I had to trust that I was being lead in the right direction. Things often didn't turn out the way that I wanted or expected. Despite the number of setbacks I experienced - I knew I had no choice but to keep going.

3. It's up to you how long you stay in that place.

A wreck as historically important as the wreck of the Titanic could not go unexplored. There has been strong interest in the wreck since it sunk in 1912. There were many expeditions sent out to find it which were unsuccessful. Once they finally found the wreck, the hard work had only just begun. The wreck had to be thoroughly explored, documented and photographed. They did not stop until their mission was complete.

I realized into this 12 year journey that I had to explore the darkest parts of my heart and that I could only do it while in this place of great depth. I couldn't come back up until the work was done. I could choose not to face what I was being called to face in this time - but that would only make the time spent in this place carry on even longer. The Holy Spirit would always be bringing things to the surface in my heart that were brought up by the high pressure circumstances I was always under, and I knew that I had to examine them and deal with them when they arose. Once one thing was done - it'd be straight onto the next thing. 

I knew that if I was to leave this place eventually, it would not happen until I was ready - and that I wouldn't be ready until I had learned everything that I was meant to learn. I learned to look inwards about things first and foremost whenever challenging circumstances arose to see if there was anything in me that first needed to change. I learned to see this time as a place of deep refinement and personal growth, and to allow my flaws to come to the surface and explore them as they arose, as this brought healing and breakthrough. 

For example - it was revealed to me how much I struggled with perfectionism and wanting to be right all of the time. As I examined this I realized perfectionism came from a lack of understanding about grace, which was connected to wrong thinking about who I believed I was in God. This type of self examination was the way that I was able to start moving in the direction God wanted me to go during this time. After a while I began to see the progress from doing this - anxiety and distress were slowly replaced by peace and calmness, one small piece at a time.

4. God will lead you out at the right time and will restore back to you what was lost.

For the first time since I've been walking in this deep place, recently I have truly begun to sense that it was coming to an end. For one, 12 is an important Biblical number - it is considered a perfect number, and stands for God's power and authority, as well as completeness. The job selling mobile phones in Taupo started at the end of May in 2009. Funnily enough, around the same time in 2021 I began a new project in my current job where it involved working with mobile phones - meeting with users face to face to help to set their new mobile phones up and performing upgrades.

After 12 years in the dark at crush depth, God has lead me back to where it all began - and shown me the huge distance I had covered within that time. I'm now doing a very similar job as I was 12 years ago but I'm coping with it far better due to the spiritual and mental place I am now in. I have a sense of peace and calmness that I never had before. I can honestly say that I love my job these days. I felt God say to me that I was beginning to leave the place of crush depth, and that He wanted me to go out on a high note. Being able to say that I have finally succeeded in a field that sent me on a downward spiral to burnout was certainly a high note indeed.

I hope this has encouraged you somewhat. If you find yourself in that crushing place of pressure, where there seems to be no light to guide you, and no sense that it will ever end - keep going. Keep working on yourself. Keep being faithful. Keep trusting God, and listening to His leading. It won't last forever. You'll come to the top eventually, carrying amazing records and treasures from your time in the dark, crushing depths.

Take care.

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