When the Lord calls us to Himself, He rescues us all out of darkness, but I think my darkness was probably darker than many. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder just before I turned 17. Shortly after that, I was put on medicine and told that I would need to use them for the rest of my life. Throughout the following years, I took more pills than I care to count and bounced between numerous hospitals, psychiatrists, and mental health programs.
By the time I turned 22, my life seemed to have improved. I was living on my own, going to school full-time, and working. I even graduated college with honors. But the depression continued to pull me under like quicksand. In the summer of 2007, after repeatedly missing work due to anxiety and depression, I lost my job. My sister and her boyfriend, the only people I spent time with, moved out of state a month later. My life was suddenly turned upside down, and my depression deepened. The marijuana I once used for recreation had become my only source of happiness. Soon, chemicals I had never tried before became part of my regular rotation: prescription pills, cocaine, psychedelic mushrooms, and ecstasy. There wasn’t much I wasn’t willing to try if I thought it would give me even the briefest escape from my misery.
As you may imagine, the time leading up to my salvation was characterized by deep depression. I spent most of the day (sometimes up to 20 hours) in bed. In the evening, I only got up for a few hours to eat and smoke enough marijuana to help me go back to sleep. I had no friends and rarely left my apartment. It had been four years since my last job and had no hope of ever being reemployed. The apartment that had once been a haven became my tomb. Confident my life was over, I hoped death would find me before I took matters into my own hands. The hopelessness I felt was beyond anything I could ever describe.
The Glorious Light of Christ
I thought I knew how dark my darkness was but, it wasn’t until I saw the glorious light of Christ in July 2011 that I truly understood the extent of my darkness. It was like reading in the evening as the sun goes down without realizing how dark it's gotten until someone turns on a light. When that light comes on, you think, “Wow! I guess it was darker than I thought.” That is just how I felt when I saw the bright light of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit immediately began convicting me of my sin every time I chose to get high. He also convicted me of living a double life. My discipler warned me that if I ignored the Holy Spirit long enough, I would no longer hear His voice. I feared this more than the work it would take to stop living in habitual sin, so I decided to give up my fleshly desires and look to Jesus to fill the hole that I had been trying so desperately to fill with drug induced happiness.
At first, it was challenging, and I didn’t know how I could possibly live without something that had been such an important part of my daily life for over a decade. I am so thankful to be able to tell you that, as of the writing of this testimony, I have been sober over a year-and-a-half and been off psychotropic medicine for nearly as long. I never would have given up drugs on my own, and if it wasn’t for the hope I have in Jesus, I would never have reached either of these milestones. Because of the Lord’s work in my life, I no longer rely on mind altering chemicals, and my daily life has completely transformed. And if that wasn’t enough, the Lord has provided an amazing fulltime job despite being unemployed for six-and-a-half years! I am no longer the person I once was. I am a new creation.
It is never easy to deny your flesh. It wants its own way every minute of every day, but it is so much more satisfying to know you have pleased the Lord when you choose Him over something else. Looking back, there was so much of my life that was in direct opposition to God’s commands. I had spent 32 years living for myself, and I had no idea how to live for Christ. There were many days when I wondered how I could possibly make the changes necessary to follow Him. I saw the weight of my cross, and it looked impossible to carry. Thankfully, the Lord gives us exactly what we need to do His will and be transformed. In addition to the blessing of the church, we have God’s Word to guide us, Christ’s strength to sustain us, and the Holy Spirit to convict us when we've gone astray.
4 Principles for Maturing in Christ
Here are four important principles that the Lord used in my life to help me put off my sinful habits and get me where I am today:
- Get a discipler. This is crucial. You need someone to regularly lead you back to Christ when you mistakenly believe your way is better.
- Join a Small Group. In my church, our small groups are called Care Groups. Small Groups are an important part of church because they allow you to really get to know other members of your church. You learn what the other members of your group are struggling with, how to pray for each other, and practical ways to help one another. Never underestimate your need for people to come alongside you and encourage you.
- Be humble & be honest. Both of these are related to the first two principles. Your church family can’t help you if they don’t know you need help. You need to be transparent. My discipler has always thanked me for my willingness to be transparent, and until recently, I had no idea why this was such a big deal. It finally dawned on me that I wouldn’t have grown as rapidly in such a short period of time if I hadn’t been completely open with my discipler and Care Group leaders.
- Be willing to be held accountable. I know this doesn’t sound appealing at all, and there may be times when you regret asking for accountability. Let’s face it; nobody likes to admit they messed up again. But that’s just your pride talking. Don’t listen to it. It will only get in the way of your growth. The Lord didn’t create His church just so we could get together on Sundays to sing songs and have potlucks. He created the church so that we can help each other grow by encouraging one another and holding each other accountable. Take advantage of this gracious gift!
5 Principles for Transformation in Christ
Here are five biblical principles and verses which also helped transform me in Christ.
- Using Scripture as my guide. My discipler showed the importance of spending time in the Word, so I could learn what God had to say about living a life that pleases Him. Then she taught me to practice replacing my instincts with Truth. I had 30 years of faulty thinking to overcome and had to learn to replace the lies in my head with the Truth of His Word. Psalm 19:7-8 taught me the power of God’s Word: “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” Also, Matthew 11:28-30 was a passage I came across when I was in the psych ward in June 2012. I was so tired of living in such a depressed state. I wanted to die so I wouldn’t hurt anymore. To read “come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. . . .” was a major source of comfort during that time and will no doubt continue to comfort me for the rest of my life. Finally, Philippians 4:8 was a verse I repeated like a mantra on days when my mood was low and I was tempted to dwell on negative thoughts. In the past, my low mood would quickly spiral into a debilitating depression because I would allow myself to listen to any negative thought that popped into my head. Dwelling on that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise has helped me put off sinful thinking.
- I was used to dealing with problems on my own because I had no one I could talk to. It was a big adjustment (and honestly something I still struggle with at times) to share my struggles with the Lord and ask for His guidance. One of the first verses I came across as a new believer was James 1:5: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” I immediately wrote this on an index card and put it on my fridge. It has been there for over three years.
- Confessing my sins to the Lord and others. This was very hard. It still brings tears to my eyes when I remember the shame I felt when I would get high. I knew getting high was wrong because of what God’s Word says and because I felt the Holy Spirit convicting me. It broke my heart every time I chose a temporary pleasure over my Lord. I still vividly remember the last time I smoked weed. I ended up on my hands and knees sobbing to the Lord; confessing my sin and pleading for His forgiveness and help. Confessing to my discipler and my Care Group leader wasn't easy either. I hated admitting I had messed up yet again. However, the thought of having to confess to them that I had gotten high again made doing it again a lot less appealing.
- Removing provisions that made it easier to sin. This is the one my discipler was adamant about doing, and I’m so glad she was. She taught me what the Lord says about removing provisions by sharing Romans 13:14 with me. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its” I knew not to keep drugs in the house, but I didn’t realize how many other provisions I surrounded myself with. I got rid of all my paraphernalia plus movies and music that glorified getting high or that I associated with partying. I also had to stop spending time with my brother. This is the one rule my Care Group leader strictly enforced. He saw that I could overcome the temptation to get high until my brother came over. I hated that my Care Group Leader laid down the law when it came to spending time with him, but it was necessary. For so long he was the only one I socialized with. I loved him to death and it broke my heart not be able to see him, but I knew I had to do it because I loved my Savior more. My brother was the toughest and final provision I removed, but it wasn’t long after that I stopped spending time with him that I was able to stop getting high for good.
- Spending time in fellowship especially when I wanted to be isolated. My tendency is to isolate myself even though I know it isn’t always good for me. I only sink deeper in the darkness when I am alone with my thoughts. Fellowshipping kept me from spiraling into depression because I was surrounded by godly men and women. The first year I was saved I continued to hang out with my brother and his friends—unbelievers who love what the Lord hates. It is very hard to say no to drugs and alcohol when you are spending time with people who get wasted on a regular basis. My advice is to seek the company of those who love the Lord.
I pray that you are encouraged by my testimony, especially if you are struggling with habitual sin. Christ wants and deserves your devotion. If you give everything over to Him, He will do mighty works in your life as he has in mine. If you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior and you hear Him calling, I pray today is the day you answer and give your life to Him. You will not regret it.