I first want to preface this post by explaining that I am a firm believer that God is the one who truly transforms hearts. No amount of therapy could compare to the life-changing work that my Savior has done in my life. Even still, I know that God has blessed me through my willingness to undergo weekly therapy for the past ten months.
Prior to seeing Tanya, my amazing counselor who I refer to throughout this post, I did not believe that counseling could be effective in my case. I believed that what I was battling — sadness, hopelessness, apathy, anger at others — were solely versions of spiritual attack. I believed that resorting to seeing a therapist was synonymous with not believing in God’s ability to heal me and fight for me. To some, this belief is understandable. To others, it sounds silly. Regardless of which party you fall into, I want you to know that I did not want to begin therapy when I did. I was doubtful of its ability to help me and I only went because my mom asked me to (and I now thank God that she did). I hope this piece of knowledge helps shed even more light on what I’m about to share about the effect therapy has had on my life and my relationship with Grant over the past year.
I also want to note that I interchange the word therapy for counseling quite frequently because they are one and the same. One word sounds more clinical while the other sounds more comfortable. I use both because I want to express how therapy is both clinical and comfortable at the same time. It’s not cold and frightening, but it’s also not solely filled with warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s a place where a professional can help you see the effects of the things going on inside your mind (such as emotions, fears, and memories) while also providing guidance and counsel on how to work through and even thrive with them.
How Therapy Saved My Relationship
Rewind to November 2014. My first counseling session. I was intimidated and afraid of judgment while also slightly excited. I didn’t want to be labeled as sick or depressed, yet I still had hope that this woman might have the answers that God seemed to be withholding from me. If prayer wasn’t working, maybe pills would, I told myself.
Of course, I was very mistaken in my perception of therapy. Just because you go to a professional doesn’t mean you should expect to be diagnosed with an illness and thus prescribed some medication. I ended up finding healing without medication. God used therapy to heal my soul so that my body and mind could be made well, too. This does not mean that I am better than those who do take medication. It simply means that God can now use me to bring hope to those afraid of counseling just as he uses others to bring hope to those afraid of medication. We all have different journeys of healing, thus we all have different roles to play.
After my first few sessions with Tanya, I was diagnosed with DSM-IV 309.28, which is a fancy way of saying I had “Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood.” I was later re-diagnosed as having DSM-IV 300.02, which is “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Long story short, the focus of many of my sessions with Tanya have centered around the role that anxiety has played in my life. After becoming engaged to Grant in December 2014, we began to zero in on the role that anxiety has played and would continue to play in my relationship with Grant.
At the time of getting engaged, Grant and I were fighting all the time. That’s not something most people expect or want to hear. As I have assumed about others, people most likely assumed that Grant and I got engaged because we were so head over heels in love and terribly happy. The being in love part was true, but the being terribly happy part was not. We had been together for a year and we had reached a point where all our cards were laid out on the table. Our cards were not the hand we would have liked to be dealt. While my cards consisted of control issues, bitterness, and fear, his consisted of passivity and carelessness.
I want to say this once and for all for everyone who has even just one of these cards in their own hand: YOU are NOT your card. You have what many like to call “baggage” or “issues.” But they are not the true you, the person you were designed to be. You may think otherwise because these things are coming out of you, but these are things that have most likely been thrust upon you and nurtured in you from some past experience, maybe as far back as your early childhood.
You have baggage, my dear friend. But you are not defined by it. You are just lugging it around and need some help unloading it all.
What Tanya did for me was help me unload my baggage. It was a long and hard process. And I will tell you that for the first few months, I did not see much change in my life. She would remind me of the progress that I was making at every session, but I felt too defeated too many times to even believe her. This, of course, led to frustration and even more hopelessness as Grant and I continued to move closer to our wedding date with little resolution in sight. If this sounds terrifying to you, let me tell you that it most definitely was. And with every decision about the wedding that was made came more anxiety as I began to feel increasingly trapped. No one wants to be the runaway bride, but neither does anyone want to be the unhappy wife.
What’s a girl to do when she’s accepted a proposal with hope and excitement only to be hit with the reality of just how hard having a successful marriage really is? Some would say to give up and run away. In fact, I will not deny that there were friends who warned me somewhere along this journey that I did not seem to be ready for this commitment I was making. They asked me to consider delaying the wedding so that I could be absolutely certain that Grant and I should be moving forward. I will also add to this disclosure that I fortunately have had an extremely supportive family who have been able to speak truth into my life, as well. If it weren’t for them, I might actually have listened to those few friends and would not be getting ready to marry the love of my life less than two months from now.
Just a word of advice: if your twenty-year-old unmarried friends are saying something different than your forty-year-old married parents and sixty-year old married grandparents, you might want to consider what wise counsel in this situation really means. Just think about it.
Some of the things that Tanya and I discovered about myself in our sessions together shed a huge light on what was causing so many of the fights and unhappiness between Grant and I. However, when those things were first uncovered, I was not mature enough to actually implement any resolution. This, I realize now, is normal. With any major wounds, healing takes time and also continual treatment. You don’t just identify it, slap on a bandage, and expect it to go away. You have to change out the bandages and continue applying the right ointments. Otherwise, it might never properly heal. Likewise, you can’t expect your baggage to go away just because you can now identify it and want to slap a bandage on it. You have to continue to work towards healing and resolution. This is why I believe that if you go to a therapist for a couple of months and don’t think that you’re any better, I suggest that you consider sticking with it unless there is a compatibility issue between you and the therapist.
I now am at the point where I am implementing resolutions and seeing real results in both my personal life and my relationship with Grant. If I had given up on therapy this past spring because it had been six months since my first session and I was still at Grant’s throat, I would have been an absolute idiot.
I would have missed out on one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me: actual healing and transformation, true happiness and peace with my soon-to-be-husband.
. . . . .
For eight months, I saw Tanya every week. Now I see her every other week. This is because Grant and I are also seeing a professional marriage counselor together. I was skeptical when we first began seeing Jason, our marriage counselor, because I was so used to being with Tanya. In fact, I cried the entire car ride home after our first session with Jason because it was just so difficult to imagine him actually helping us. What could this man possibly do for Grant and I? I’m already knee-deep in therapy with Tanya. Now I need this stranger pointing out all the things I’m still failing at?
I now enjoy seeing Jason with Grant because he has proven himself to be a helpful source of guidance in our relationship. Tanya was right when she first suggested that we see him; there are some things that need to be worked out as a team. Despite the progress I was making with her, Grant was missing out on the experience. He would sometimes come to my sessions, but we were only able to scratch the surface there. Seeing Jason gives him more opportunities to unload his own baggage. If you ask Grant, he would say that he has learned a lot about himself since our first session together. And this newfound knowledge he has enables him to better love me as he works through his own issues and I continue working through mine.
Today Grant and I are thriving more than ever before. We are happier than we were when we first began dating. He loves me more deeply than I thought he could ever love me, and I can also say the same about myself. We have been humbled in a major way. For the first time in my life, I am able to both forgive and apologize freely; the desire for control and perfection no longer dominates me. For the first time in his life, Grant is able to be sacrificial in the way he loves and run full force in his pursuit of me; passivity no longer holds him back. This summer has been the best summer I have ever had because all of the hard work we put into this relationship and our continual pursuit of healing have finally paid off. We are not perfect and we never will be, but we are infinitely more ready for this marriage than we ever thought we could be.
I don’t want you to miss this or take this lightly: Grant and I owe so much to therapy.
Tears stream down my face when I think about where we were when we first signed up for this marriage thing and where we are now. I know without a shadow of a doubt that Tanya and Jason have played a vital role in our relationship. It needed to happen. And the best part is that it doesn’t stop there. Yes, therapy has done so much for us, but we now see when we look back that it’s been Jesus doing the work all along. Tanya and Jason were equipped by him to supply us with the wisdom and hope that we needed to keep going. And Grant and I have been equipped by him to put in the hard work and love each other despite our difficulties. Jesus has healed and softened both of our hearts, and he used counseling in a big way to do it. An instant fix wouldn’t have been as praise-worthy in this situation. I know this to be true because God has given me instant fixes before and I continually forget them and neglect to thank him for them.
This journey of healing between Grant and I that has required so much time, so much effort, so much heartache and praying and desperation is worth more than anything I’ve ever been given apart from salvation.
. . . . .
So to answer the question that many people have in the back of their minds but are either too skeptical or afraid to ask: Yes, therapy is worth every penny and minute of your day. Especially when you have a personal relationship with Jesus and he is guiding you the whole way.
If you are a Christian and have areas in your life that require healing, I implore you to begin praying that God gives you clarity on whether therapy is the next step for you to take. And if you aren’t seeming to get an answer, I then ask you to have faith, be brave, and try it anyway. When I first began counseling, I did not want to go. I did not believe it could fix me. And I was right. It didn’t fix me. God just used it as a tool to heal me. And he can do the same for you.
Both Tanya and Jason are believers. This has proven to be tremendously helpful because a lot of healing that needed to occur in my life was very much, if not entirely, related to my spiritual life. I suggest that you find somebody whose faith aligns with yours. I don’t know if it is absolutely essential, but I know it is most likely important. God can use anybody, but the journey to healing is probably easier when you’re being counseled by somebody who has similar values and beliefs as you.
The last thing and maybe the most important thing I want to mention about therapy is the financial cost. When I talk to my friends about seeing a therapist, the biggest reason they give me for not going is money-related. They say that they just can’t afford it. And they might be right. In that case, they might benefit from finding a therapist who works with their insurance or, if they’re a college student, seeing a professional who provides free services at their school. There are also most likely programs or ministries at their church that offer similar services, although they might not be offered by trained, licensed professionals. There is nothing wrong with receiving help from these sources versus receiving help from trained, licensed professionals if they are able to give the necessary amount of support.
To give you a picture of what my therapy has cost my family, I will tell you that every session of therapy I go to is $100. If it was compatible with my insurance, it would be less, but it’s not. Because I see Tanya by myself twice a month and also go with Grant to see Jason twice a month, my mom and dad pay $400 for therapy each month. At one point, my parents were also going to therapy, as well. You can imagine how expensive our cumulative therapy bill was.
You probably think that that is an absurd amount to be spending, and I respect that opinion because I know that different people place different worth on different things. I, however, would have been willing to pay even more than $400 if I knew that God was going to do this work in my life. If my mom were to tell me that she couldn’t help me pay for therapy any longer, I would’ve gotten a second job. I would’ve given up my nicest clothes, date nights with Grant, Starbucks coffee, textbooks, manicures, unlimited data plans, and vacations. I would have found a way to keep going. Thankfully, I am at the point where I feel comfortable with not seeing Tanya or Jason every week and I could see them less if money needed to be conserved. This could not have been the case just a few months ago. At the beginning of summer, Grant and I were on the brink of revelation, of uncovering this amazing place of peace we are now living in. If we had quit too early in order to conserve time, energy, or money, it would’ve been a true shame. It’s true that God could have continued healing us anyway, but what we’ve gained through therapy is just too valuable to imagine giving back.
If you are on the fence about whether or not to begin seeing a counselor because you are afraid of it being expensive, my words of advice are to find a way. If you are serious about your healing, you should take the time to assess how money can be allocated towards it rather than being allocated towards non-essentials. Going out with friends every week is a non-essential. Buying nice, new clothes is a non-essential. Using your gas to go to Atlanta every weekend for fun is non-essential. Manicures and tans are non-essential. The latest pieces of technology are non-essentials. And in many cases, proving your independence by refusing to ask your family for support in affording something that is good and perhaps vital for your health is non-essential.
I cannot stress this enough: your wellbeing is far too important for you to delay doing something about it.
It might not be so important to you right now, but I know it is very important to God. He has entrusted you with this beautiful life. And if you are not living as you are called to live because baggage or wounds or illness is holding you back, you are doing both yourself and God a disservice. Some might argue I am being too harsh; I argue that people are not harsh enough.
My prayer for everybody reading this post is that you take the time to pray and think through the decision of going to therapy. Some people reading this truly just don’t need it or are already receiving it, and I think that is great. Other people reading this probably do need it and are holding themselves back, and I think that is sad. I don’t want anybody to hold themselves back from what God has in store for them. And if you are not allowing yourself to receive help in your process of healing, or if you are not even striving towards healing, that’s exactly what you are doing. Counseling is not for everybody; sometimes prayer and continual pursuit of God is enough. But sometimes in your pursuit of God, you are led to other sources of help. Don’t do yourself a disservice by resisting them.
Believe that God has trained up an army of counselors and helpers who are designed to love you, counsel you, and encourage you in your darkest times of need. Therapy is far from worthless or a waste of money. You can ask Grant and I after years of marriage and even ask our future children down the road if we are glad that we made the decision to receive help. I am positive that we will give you a resounding yes.
Are you that positive that you won’t look back on your life and wish you did the same sooner?
Dear friend who just relapsed,
I heard you gave in to the lies again. You were holding out for a while and fighting pretty hard, but the voices in your head just got so loud and you didn’t know what to do. So you caved last night.
And now you’re hating yourself for it. Thinking you were so clean for so long and now it’s all gone to waste. Now you don’t know if you can stop again.
You broke promises to your loved ones. You broke promises to yourself. You broke promises to God.
You feel like the damage is irreparable now.
You feel weak. You feel defeated. You feel selfish and stupid.
But you’re still loved.
My feelings haven’t changed for you. God’s feelings haven’t changed for you.
You’re tired of feeling so weak, but let me tell you that you’re a fighter.
You weren’t defeated. You just lost a battle. But the war doesn’t have to be over. You don’t have to raise your white flag.
I know it’s hard to convince yourself to keep going, but you did it once and you can do it again. You can hold onto freedom. Christ died so you could.
. . . . . .
I’m so sorry you were hurting so bad that you didn’t know what to do but return to your former life. I wish I could’ve been there the minute you decided so I could’ve reminded you just how hard you’ve worked to be okay and how damn much you wanted to be okay.
You want to be okay. And you are.
It doesn’t feel like it right now. But you are.
Today was just one day. It was just one time. And yes, one time can change everything. It can make everything fall apart. It can lead to another time and another and another.
But it doesn’t have to.
You will still be hurting, the ones around you will still be sad, but you will have made a decision that will ultimately save you. If you would only just pick your resolve back up like I know you can.
. . . . . .
Let me remind you of who you are: you are a redeemed child of God. You are important. Do you know the lives you have impacted just by simply being you? By smiling that smile? By offering that listening ear, that compassionate heart? You are special. And that’s not something to be ashamed of. You feel things more deeply than most, and that is simply beautiful. Yes, you are beautiful. You are a beautiful being comprised of gifts and talents and love and grace.
You are also comprised of genes. And I know you hate your genes. You hate your chemical makeup. You hate that it feels like there’s so much crap you can’t do a darn thing about.
But despite the way it feels, it’s simply not true.
You can make a choice. Just like you did that solemn, brave day when you decided you wanted a better life and you knew God could get you there.
You’re not forgotten. God’s still pushing you forward. He has a plan for you, and it doesn’t involve this mess. You can still get there. I promise. God’s holding out his hand and I can be your cheerleader on the sidelines. Just one more step. And then another. I got you.
I love you.
The writing has slowed down.
You may or may not have noticed.
My summer in Clarkston is coming to a close and I feel like my heart has somehow decided to close itself, too.
No more, God. I’m done thinking. I’m done praying. Let me just stop and breathe for a minute.
I know life is meant to be filled with growth and change and learning. When any of those stop happening, we might as well be dead. Or so I’ve heard.
But growing and changing and learning sometimes hurts. And even though we’re told that we need to press on because it’ll be so worth it, that you can’t have gain without pain… well, I just don’t want to do that right now.
I don’t WANT to press forward with all I’ve got because it’s just super, super hard.
Doesn’t that sound so pathetic? But it’s the truth.
Right now I just want to sit. Forget carpe diem. Forget Paul’s running the race with endurance. Forget YOLO.
I want to curl up in my bed and sleep. Or stare at the wall and not even think about anything in particular. And then when I get up from my bed, I want to drink coffee, sit on the couch to stare at the wall some more, and ignore everyone who tries to talk to me. And maybe I’ll write some. But maybe I won’t.
Of course, my life right now doesn’t offer that “luxury”. I have a week left in Clarkston, and with being in Clarkston comes priorities and people relying on you. I can’t afford to just lie on the floor for hours on end (although I have been giving myself at least an hour of exactly that for the past few days). I can’t just “check out” and silence the world.
Life still happens, whether I want it to or not.
But what I have a say in is (and no, I’m not going to say any of that cheesy “you can choose your attitude” Pollyanna-esque stuff) whether or not I receive what is offered to me.
I know God wants me to grow. And change. And learn. He’s offering me things, I can tell. The doors are there. And stepping through one of those doors could mean the difference between wallowing in my self-pity and finding true freedom and joy.
But if I’m going to step through that door, I’m going to need to take my time. And I think He understands that. God is patient, you know.
He knows I’m not ignoring Him. He knows I’m not giving up. He sees my heart, how much it truly longs for Him and all the gifts He’s offering to me after all this time. It may be difficult to pray, but I still say hello. It may be tough to communicate with the world, but I still let myself be a friend to others. And it’s hard to call myself “happy”, but I know how to find joy in the little moments He brings.
It takes time for babies to learn to walk.
And I’m just a baby. I’ve been carefully putting one foot in front of the other for some time, but I haven’t let go of the ottoman just yet.
It’s okay, Jessie. You can do it. I won’t let you fall.
I know, Daddy. I’m getting there. I just need a minute.
I know I’ll get there. I know it because I have within me a spirit that is yearning for far too much to stand still for very long. It looks like I’m not doing anything right now (and you may be right), but what you don’t see is that every hour I spend in solace and silence makes my soul a very restless one indeed. And when the conditions looks a bit more favorable and I am able to get out of this bed, I will charge through that very same door I’ve been staring at for years. I know this because God loves me too much and I love God too much to stand still forever.
I’m not going to feel bad for not pursuing Jesus as hard as everyone else right now. I AM pursuing him, and HE is making up for the rest (and then some). This is not hide-and-seek or tag. This doesn’t even feel like a race.
No, this is a long and challenging stroll on the beach.
And as we’re walking hand-in-hand, looking out at the horizon, I sometimes get so overwhelmed that I just stop and have to take a minute to look down at the sand. It’s too much. But after a little bit of time, he lifts up my chin, gives me that understanding smile, and helps me take that next step. In some cases, he even carries me. And when I pass by people who are also struggling to take that next step, I’d like to take their hand and walk with them, too.
Before I know it, we’ll be at that boardwalk. That little speck in the distance that I thought (and still sometimes think) I could never reach.
And in that moment, I’ll know that it didn’t matter how long it took me or how many times I had to stop to catch my breath.
All that’ll matter is that I arrived and I didn’t let go of his hand.