Anxiety had taken over my body. Certain situations became triggers for which I had to prepare myself hours in advance – like church, grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments. Even though the anxiety was completely illogical, my body would react to those triggers, leaving me nauseous, faint and on the verge of collapse. I felt like I was losing my mind and I hated it. I felt completely defeated and it was humiliating.
I struggled in silence for far too long. Eventually, I talked to my doctor about it, but healing was slow. I was on a painful journey of recovery from a host of health issues. It was a dark and lonely time. At my weakest, I wondered how I could possibly endure another day. I doubted that I’d ever experience victory in the anxiety battle.
The physical stress was high, but it was my mental anguish that finally led me to open up to a friend. I simply could not suffer alone anymore.
Sometimes life is unbearable. It can seem like continuing on in our current state is too much to handle on our own. How do we press on when we’re physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted and overwhelmed? How do we survive when our burdens are crushing us? How can we experience victory in the midst of impossible circumstances?
Hebrews 12 gives us a prescription:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Hebrews 12:1 starts off with “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” and leads into “let us run with endurance“. Being surrounded by these “witnesses” is an important part of being able to run with endurance. And remembering what Jesus had to endure in order to fulfill the call God had on His life will prevent us from growing weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:2-3).
We need to see what faith looks like in real-life situations, to be reminded that endurance is possible.
Surrounding ourselves with “a great cloud of witnesses” does not happen automatically. We must be intentional in reading about and meeting inspiring people. We need to surround ourselves with people who know God’s Word, know how to pray, and can support and encourage us in our difficulties. We were not created or designed to be solitary beings.
You Were Created For Fellowship
God created Eve to be Adam’s helper (Genesis 2:18) But God didn’t create her immediately after deciding it was not good for Adam to be alone. He created all kinds of animals first! He wasn’t just looking for a suitable spouse for Adam. He knew that Adam needed companionship, fellowship, someone to work alongside him, talk to, and live life with. It wasn’t just about marriage and “being fruitful and multiplying.”
There’s so much Scripture that talks about the importance of fellowship.
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 – Two are better than one because we can help each other up and keep each other warm. We are stronger together.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11 – Encourage each other and build each other up.
- Proverbs 27:17 – Godly fellowship sharpens us and makes us more effective (iron sharpening iron).
- Galatians 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens.
You Need Someone to Hold Up Your Arms
Even Moses couldn’t do it alone. Exodus 17 tells the story of Moses having to hold up his arms to ensure victory for the Israelites. Their lives depended on it!
What an incredible responsibility! “No pressure, Moses, but if you let your arms fall, we’re all dead.” I can almost feel that burning in the biceps, the shakiness consuming his shoulders, the tension developing in his neck.
Eventually, Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses and held up his arms. They couldn’t take his place. They couldn’t do his job. But they could support him as he endured what God had called him to do.
God’s design for the Church – His family – is all about fellowship, togetherness, unity, helping and encouraging and supporting each other. It’s not easy. We hurt each other sometimes. (Families are usually dysfunctional in some way!) But God still uses us and His design is still the best design. His way is the best way. It works and accomplishes His purposes.
Fear of Fellowship is Real
When we’re weary and exhausted and struggling, we often tend to shrink back and isolate ourselves. We don’t want to inconvenience anybody. We know everyone else has their own struggles to deal with. Or we’re afraid of being hurt or rejected and we don’t think we can handle that right now.
During my health struggle and battle with anxiety, I resisted opening up to someone because I didn’t believe anyone could help. I knew what God’s Word had to say about anxiety. I was spending a great deal of time in praise and worship, studying and meditating on Scripture, seeking the Lord, praying. I thought I was doing “all the right things” and there was nothing else another person could suggest. (That was ugly pride, by the way!)
But when I shared with an older and wiser friend, she shed fresh light on one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It hit me like a freight train! Immediately, I knew what I’d been missing and what I had to do. Not only that, I now had an advocate and a support person who faithfully prayed for me and encouraged me and checked up on me with care and compassion. It gave me what I needed to press on and not give up.
Today, I’m much quicker to seek out someone who could teach me or encourage me in specific areas of my life. Even if they have no new information for me, just being able to share makes a difference.
Reaching Out is Risky
This feels like risky business. Maybe you’re reading this and saying:
- “Ask me to do anything else, but don’t tell me to reach out for help or make myself vulnerable.”
- “There’s no one for me to turn to for help or encouragement or prayer support.”
- “Been there. Done that. I know very well how that’s going to end and I refuse to open myself up to that kind of hurt again.”
- “I’m the only Christian I know.”
- “I’m a busy mom with too many spinning plates and cannot fathom finding time to talk to someone about something other than car pools and soccer practice.”
- “There are Godly women I’d love to talk to and learn from but they’re so busy and have their own families. Why would they ever make time for me and my own problems?”
I know. I’ve been there:
- Told by a pastor, “Counselling is not my job. I can’t help you.”
- Judged after pouring out my heart and told to “suck it up”
- Preached at about how my situation was my own fault
- Told I was wrong to feel the way I was feeling
- Didn’t know any Christians I could talk to who were in a position to pray for me or encourage me
- Rejected by friends when my circumstances took a turn, when I needed friends the most
- So busy taking care of my family and other responsibilities that I didn’t believe I had time to seek out the fellowship that would nourish my spirit
I’ve been hurt, betrayed, rejected, judged, ignored, and belittled. So I understand the risks.
To surround myself with the fellowship I need, I must take that treacherous step. I must be real and open. I must reach out and let others know I need them.
Our tendency is to hold unrealistic expectations. We want others to know automatically when we need them and what we need from them. But most people are not perceptive enough to know that without us telling them. And that’s okay.
Most people are willing and eager to help or encourage or pray when you let them know what you need. (Not all, but most.)
Don’t take it personally if you reach out to someone and they let you know they can’t help. Don’t camp out there. Let it go. Forgive. Move on.
There IS someone else who WILL be there for you. Manage your expectations realistically. It won’t always look the way you want it to. It might not be a friend in the same age and stage of life as you. It might not be over coffee at a nearby café. It might not be in person. Maybe it’ll require FaceTime or Skype or email exchanges or something else. Maybe it’ll have to be a brief chat in a corner of your church after a service, at least as a start.
Reaching out is risky, but the risks don’t negate the rewards.
Vulnerability Leads to Victory
Vulnerably reaching out when I was desperate for help has led to incredible gifts of friendship. These friends are not perfect. They fail me (and I fail them). But I know they are there for me.
Friends have brought my family meals when I was too weak to cook. They’ve provided weeks’-worth of groceries when employment was scarce. They’ve given clothing to our kids, cut and styled my hair, given me thoughtful gifts to brighten a dark day, prayed for me, interceded for my family, called to speak God’s Word to me, reminded me of His truth, listened when I lamented, cried when I cried, hugged me when there were no words. I could go on.
No friend has done all of these things for me. But each friend has done at least one.
As I’ve opened up my heart to others, I’ve been privileged to see pieces of theirs. I’ve learned so much from them by sharing the tough stuff.
Friendship forged through the furnace of suffering or failure is valuable treasure worth the risks.
God designed us to need people. His Church is a big deal to Him and He desires each one of us to be in fellowship with other Christians. And if that’s His desire, He will provide what we need to make it happen (2 Peter 1:3 and Philippians 4:19). But we still have to take some scary steps. Those steps are worth it. I promise.
Live It Out
- Who has had a positive impact on you with regard to your relationship with Christ? How?
- Who is someone you respect and admire for their faith and walk with the Lord?
- What is an area in your life where you feel you could really benefit from the input of someone older and wiser? Do you have an idea of who that could be? Pray about it. Ask the Lord to connect you with someone who can walk alongside you in this area.
- Reach out to one person this week to ask for prayer or encouragement for something specific that you’re struggling with. If it’s really difficult for you, pray about it and ask the Lord for courage.
- Read Hebrews 11. If one of those “heroes of the faith” stands out to you, find the rest of their story in the Bible and read that, too.