As much as my depressive episodes are devastating to me and to my family, I cannot deny that God uses every episode as a tool to rock my faith to its core and reinvent it. This episode has been no exception.
Looking back, I think God told me in advance what my lesson would be. One week before Lizzy was born, I met with an author of mine and listened as she discussed a concept that inspired her to start the marriage book she was writing. (She just signed a publishing agreement for the book this past week, by the way. Go me.) She painted a picture of “the idolatry of marriage,” how so many people—women in particular—look to their spouses to fill an emptiness only God can fill.
The idolatry of marriage.
I felt like I had been punched in the gut when she said it. (And it wasn’t the massive baby in my belly.)
I do this. I am guilty of this. Terribly, terribly guilty.
My self-esteem, especially when I was struggling with depression, was—okay, still is at times—inseparably tied up in Chris’ opinion of me. And what’s worse is that I “ask” for the reassurance I am desperate for in passive aggressive ways, in GirlSpeak. For example, when I complain to him that I am a horrible mother, my complaint is really a request in disguise; I am not making a statement but actually asking Chris to reassure me that I am a great mother. It is like whining to a girl friend that you feel fat because you know she will immediately respond by telling you that you look great.
Unfortunately, Chris does not speak GirlSpeak. My indirect requests are met with blank stares. He has no idea what to do when I beat myself up in front of him. He has no idea that I am desperately clinging to him to tell me all of the ways I am awesome. And when he doesn’t tell me how awesome I am, I—very logically, of course—assume it is because he doesn’t think I am awesome. Because he did not argue with me when I said I was a terrible mother, it must be because he really does think I am a terrible mother!
Are you laughing right now? You should be.
Ladies, this is ridiculous. I am ridiculous. And Chris has absolutely no idea any of this is going on in my heart.
And for a very long time, neither did I.
I am learning that I am a deeply, deeply insecure person. I am learning that I look to Chris to fill my insecurities. And I am learning, slowly, that Chris cannot fill them. Not even a little bit.
He is not. big. enough.
I have a God-sized hole. And only God is big enough to fill it.
At the prompting of another blog I follow, I decided to write down every single fear I could think of. It doesn’t matter if I know it’s not true or if it doesn’t make sense. I wrote everything that came to mind.
Want to see the list? Oh, boy.
- I am not enough.
- I am a disappointment.
- I am not seen.
- I am not known.
- I am not delighted in.
- I am not worthy.
- I am unlovable.
- I am weak.
- I am lacking.
- I am not worth pursuing.
- I am not beautiful to others.
- I am not approved of.
- I am not worthy of affection.
- I am too broken.
- I am too insecure.
- I am not wanted.
- I am not pleasing to others.
- I am alone.
- I am too “other.”
- Chris deserves more.
- Chris is unhappy with me.
- Chris regrets marrying me.
- Chris wishes things were different.
- Chris wishes I were different.
- Chris resents me.
- I am not loved for who I am.
- I am unappreciated.
- I am not valuable.
- I am not strong enough.
- I am not brave.
- I am not safe (emotionally).
- I am suffocating others.
- I am too needy.
Most of these are lies. I know that. But that last one—I am too needy—is true. I have an approval addiction, an affirmation addiction, and an appreciation addiction. I am needy, but I am mistakenly looking to Chris to fill those needs, with Christ in my back pocket. Whenever Chris fails to fill me—as he often does—I reluctantly turn to Christ to fill the gaps. A last resort.
Why am I so desperately seeking what I already have? I need to chase after Christ. Period. Chris can complement and accompany me on my journey, and he actually does a VERY good job at this; I am tremendously blessed to be called his wife. But he is not the destination; Christ is.
John and Stasi Eldredge do an amazing job of expanding on what I am getting at, so here are random pieces from the chapter “The Greatest Gift You Can Give” from their amazing book—seriously, go read it—Love & War.
Yesterday was a good day. But that was yesterday. As I (John) am regaining consciousness this morning, coming back to myself, none of that remains. My soul is needy again. Good grief – I feel like a sponge. I can take in so much in a day, almost ravenously, feel pretty good, but the next day I am dried out. Again.
This is the nature of our condition. All of us are leaky vessels. When it comes to happiness, our soul is like a colander.
This is brutal on a marriage.
We can have the best sex, kick over the nightstand sex, but as a man I want it again the next morning. That was last night. What about today? We can have the most intimate conversation, deep soul connection, but as a woman Stasi wants it again the next day.
Sometimes it is just a look in Stasi’s eyes as she comes into the kitchen in the morning—Am I okay? Are we okay? And I think to myself, Geez freaking Louise, we had a great night last night. It made no difference? What’s it gonna take? It can be wearying. You’re not satisfied?
Let’s face it – we are insatiable. We have in each of us a famished craving. An aching void. A returning hunger. If we are not aware of this, and if we don’t know how to handle it, our insatiability will do a lot of damage.
The human heart has an infinite capacity for happiness and an unending need for love, because it is created for an infinite God who is unending love. The desperate turn is when we bring the aching abyss of our hearts to one another with the hope, the plea, Make me happy. Fill this ache. And often out of love we do try to make one another happy, and then we wonder why it never lasts.
It can’t be done.
You will kill yourself trying.
We are broken people, with a famished craving in our hearts. We are fallen, all of us…. Every woman now has an insatiable need for relationship, one that can never be filled. It is an ache in her soul designed to drive her to God. Men instinctively know that the bottomless well is there, and pull back. I don’t want to be involved by that. Besides, no matter how much I offer, it will never be enough. This is the break in her cup. She aches for intimacy, to be known, loved, and chosen.
Of course you are disappointed with your marriage. It is not a sin to admit that. It is not a betrayal. Of course you are disappointed; your spouse is disappointed, too. How can we possibly be enough for one another? Two broken cups cannot possibly fill one another. Happiness flows through us like water through a volleyball net.
The good news is, of course, you aren’t enough. You never, ever will be. This should come as a tremendous relief, actually. How your spouse is doing is not the verdict on you. Your spouse’s unhappiness — and yours – means you both have a famished craving within you that only God can meet.
And so the greatest gift you can give to your marriage is for you to develop a real relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the kindest thing you could ever do for your spouse. We are talking about a relationship where you are finding in God the life and love your soul so desperately needs. The love of God is real, and personal, and available. He wants to be this for you.
Understanding how deeply a woman needs to know she is loved, that she is beautiful, that she will not be abandoned — these are the very questions she must bring to God. Ladies, your marriage better not be the primary place you are looking for intimacy!
This is the kindest thing you could ever do for the people in your life — to have Somewhere you can turn, Someone who loves you and understands. It does not mean you don’t love your spouse. It does not mean that your spouse is not important to you. It simply means that you understand you are not a well and your spouse is not a well. You are both leaky buckets in search of a well. It lifts all of that crushing expectation off the marriage. It rescues your marriage from resignation, and then you have something whimsical and light to bring to the relationship.
There’s all sorts of joy to be found in your marriage, once you stop looking to your spouse to make you happy.