Words by Marina Hanna
As April drew to a close, I sat in a café across the table from a dear friend of mine. Exams were finished, my dorm packed, and my mother was currently driving across the border to take me home for the summer. Between sips of coffee, my friend said, “I just wanted to catch up and make sure you’re okay before you go home. I feel like when I’ve seen you lately, I sense a kind of heaviness—like something is weighing on you.” She was right. Over several months, I noticed this bizarre buildup of panicky foreboding in my gut.
Of course this made no sense, since it took me about a year to meticulously craft a series of important goals I would achieve this summer. I would overcome a long-fought, exhausting battle with my mental health issues. This would be the summer where I finally lose those last 15 pounds in order to be less massive and more attractive. This would be the summer I’d finally budget my money carefully enough to contribute to my education. I had everything sorted out, and it would be perfect. So, this increasing bout of fear I felt towards my homecoming certainly did not jive with my plan, which only made things worse.
As I stood in my church-away-from-home for the last time during worship, I started to cry. I pleaded, “God, I just don’t know what I’m walking into this summer. I have so much fear. Give me courage to face whatever comes next. Stay close to me, and please don’t leave me alone.” Between those desperate prayers, I saw a picture of myself dancing with Jesus.
We were the only ones in sight, and everything around us was white, bright, and calm. He held me firmly to His chest with His right hand and used His left hand to hold mine. I watched myself bury my head in his shoulder as we gently swayed to the worship music. It was a moment of quiet, perfect safety that I would find myself returning to over the next few months. I realize now that I received my comfort months in advance of when I most needed it.
Bluntly put, the ominous anxiety I felt was not misguided. I did not reach any of my precious aims for this summer. My foolproof plan to conquer mental illness fell through due to circumstances beyond my control. The weight did not come off. In fact, I gained several pounds and felt far less pretty then I did before. My airtight budget was thrown out of whack when one of my jobs fell through and I saw decreased numbers on my paycheques. For a while I was working a schedule that was hectic and stressful. My plan to become perfect and awesome simply did not come together.
My heart tumbled into a gripping sadness, and I started to mourn. I would come home on my lunch breaks in tears, confused and frustrated as to why my good-hearted attempts at self-betterment were spontaneously combusting.
As I continued to push and pull at my goals without any success, it dawned on me that perhaps I was supposed to have my focus elsewhere. Almost as if Someone were interrupting the pursuit of my goals on purpose.
At some point God allowed me to decide that my circumstance would not have power over my countenance. I have the deep, permanent, abiding joy of Christ in me regardless of the spiritual battles I’m engaged in. I was nudged and steered into a lifestyle of dancing with Jesus. Soaking in music proclaiming confidence in God’s faithfulness, rather than soaking in my sadness. Singing aloud of His closeness on the nights I worked alone. Choosing to speak life onto others (or not speaking at all) instead of firing bitter little bullets to relieve my own stress. When I could retreat into that place of comfort (God’s parting gift to me in April) I found greater success in trying to be better than when I stared in dismay at my list of lost goals.
My friend, here is the takeaway: Never subject your joy to your situation. Acknowledge your feelings of dismay, then make a conscious choice to praise our Father anyway. I’ve watched God’s provision come when I allow my mourning to coexist with my worship. When the two intermingle, God stoops down to draw us closer and, step by step, teaches us how to keep dancing with Him until that season of sadness is over.