The first half of 2016 was insanely busy for me as I threw all of my energy into making my first short film since graduating college while still working full time with a ~4 hour daily commute. It was mentally, physically and spiritually exhausting. This is the part where I say it was also the most rewarding experiences ever, and it was, but that’s not the whole story. Beyond the exhaustion was probably the largest spiritual battle I’ve ever had to face as I went through a season where I was more distant from God than I had ever been before.
I think my drifting from God started in June when I entered the work force. Though my job was (and still is) rewarding and enjoyable and my bosses were (and still are!) great, a little at a time my demons started to show up. As I entered this new season in life, I became blatantly aware of my insecurities and weaknesses; the parts of me that felt inadequate; the parts of me that constantly compared myself to others; the parts of me that always feared rejection and loss; the parts of me that chose to cry to herself and vent to others about her burdens rather than laying them at the altar. It was a time where I became reacquainted with the Amber I knew as a freshman in college- the Amber I knew as a freshman in high school– the Amber I hated.
It was easy for me to drift from God. I would roll out of bed around 5:30AM and groggily, rush through a quick prayer before spending ~45 minutes exercising. I’d then rush to the train and then spend ~12 hours out of the house. When I got home: Netflix. And then when tiredness overwhelmed me, I would kneel at my bedside and give God about 3-5 minutes of prayer before picking a scripture from my promise box; I’d read it, reflect for 2 minutes before calling it a night. This was a pattern I repeated for months. I would occasionally have the day where I’d give God a little more time, but I would always come back to this routine.
I blamed it on my lack of community, lack of time, but it was really just the result of my selfishness and laziness. I could’ve given God more of my free time, but I didn’t want to. Even when stressful situations arose, I let pride get the best of me. I would sit and pray for a bit before using my own logic and reasoning to solve whatever challenge lay before me. God was merciful and gracious in this time and bailed me out time and time again. I worked through some of my inner demons I’d been battling, but I never got to the root of each of them so it was always just a temporary fix.
Fast forward to December. I wanted to make a short film and when I read an article in the NY Times about the responses people had been having to the mass shootings, I knew what I had to make a film about. I inched a little closer to God as I sought His guidance and asked for His help to make the right script to address this sensitive topic. At some point, the story came to me. I started to brainstorm and outline and ask peers if they’d join me in making this project.
January began and so did the downward decay of my walk with God as I continued in pre-production. My emotions were out of control. I was always getting frustrated with those around me; I was impatient; I would complain; I was insecure; I didn’t trust people; I would get irrationally angry or irrationally sad. High stress + Distant from God = Recipe for Disaster. I was a mess. It was by God’s grace that I was able to clench onto a minor amount of sanity to get the film done.
Then production wrapped and I had freedom again. Rather than using my free time to get close to God again; I used it to mentally dive into the world.
“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” — Romans 7:19
This verse sums it up. I wasn’t physically or verbally sinning, but I was mentally. I was constantly at odds with what God wanted me to do and what my flesh and heart wanted to pursue. I would pray and pray for His voice and His will, then 5 seconds later I would allow my mind to wander and imagine the outcome that my flesh wanted. My mind is my best friend and my worst enemy.
I wanted to want God more than the world, but for a while, I didn’t know how. I felt lonely and different and after talking to a friend who was grappling with her own faith, I found myself thinking ‘that would be nice if there wasn’t sin, if there wasn’t a God…..’ I told my mom these thoughts and she’s a woman who knows the Lord– I mean really knows Him, so she spent that night telling me of stories where she’d seen the Holy Spirit move. I dismissed her stories and thought about my unanswered prayers, the miracles I’d hoped for, but never seen. In spite of these arising doubts and the massive distance between me and God, part of me still wanted to be with Him. So I still prayed and asked Him to help me through this season.
That Friday– desperate to reconnect to God– I decided to attend a young adult meeting at Times Square Church. I walked to that service in tears. I felt so depressed and overwhelmed and I didn’t even know why. All I knew was that I didn’t want to feel like that anymore. I got to the church and could barely worship. I thought to myself, God understands how weak I feel right now. Then the next worship leader got on stage and said she wants everyone to stand because any chains that are holding onto us, will remain there if we’re worshipping halfheartedly. So I stood on my feet and raised my hands as I surrendered to God. I went to subway outreach after the service and we just sang songs and worshipped. Occasionally a member from the group would step out and briefly preach. “I believe this?…” was the thought that came to me as I heard each person’s snippet of the gospel. The words and notions sounded foreign to me. That was when I realized just how distant from God I’d gotten. Nonetheless, hungry to reconnect with God, I continued to worship and sing with everyone else. Because while my mind was far and doubting, my heart knew this felt right.
Sunday. After the church service, my mom saw a sign about an art exhibit with prophetic paintings. She wanted to go look at them, but my feet hurt so I wanted to go to the car and sit. I got the keys from her and made it to the church lobby before a faint whisper (what I believe to have been the voice of God) came to me, saying it would be nice to go to the exhibit with my mom. I turned around and joined her and that’s when it hit me: peace. A peace I hadn’t felt in months. A peace that overwhelmed my feelings and emotions. A peace that could only have been authored by God. I looked at every painting and read the scriptures and words from the painters and they touched my heart. I felt a change brewing in me and it felt great.
I wish I could say from that point on I never felt sad or overwhelmed and I never chose the world over God, but I can’t. The next day I was hit with another spiritual attack. I felt weak and it was hard, but God got me through it just like He always has and like He always will. The biggest lesson I’ve learned throughout this season: “Seek and ye shall find…” — Matthew 7:7.
After being so distant from God, I’ve learned that there isn’t any magical formula to connecting to Him or to being a Christian. There’s no 10-step method or plan. Seek. Search. When you earnestly pursue God, He’ll find you wherever you are and come into your life. He’s gracious and merciful and He’ll bring you peace you’ve never known, but you have to keep pursuing Him. Is it hard to choose Him over the world sometimes? Yes. But is it also incredibly rewarding and satisfying? Absolutely.
I wrote this post without much of an agenda or plan. I just wanted to share what I’d been going through. I wear my heart on my sleeve, but when at my lowest, I bury my pain. Whenever I’ve gone through these seasons, God has picked me up, but I know there are other men and women out there that don’t have that luxury. They put up a masque to hide their pain because they’re ashamed or afraid. I pray and hope that my vulnerability in this post pushes others to realize that there’s no shame in being weak; there’s no shame in questioning God; there’s no shame in admitting that you’re in a spiritual, mental or emotional battle that you don’t know how to get out of. You are not alone and you can experience healing. Seek.
“Seek and ye shall find…” — Matthew 7:7.