Walking with God Through Heartache

Welcome to Day 6 of our #GodlyAdventure. Have you ever experienced heartache? Especially enduring pain—that you caused? Anita Ojeda transparently shares her story of walking with God through heartache.


Have you ever experienced heartache? Especially enduring pain—that you caused? Anita shares her story of walking with God through heartache. #GodlyAdventure #WalkingwithGod #BloggerVoicesNetwork #ThrivingInChrist #Bible #Christian #Jesus #mentalillness #hardtimes #forgiveness #hurt #words

At the time, we thought we said the right things. We thought we spoke in love and Christian admonition. Unfortunately, in our urge to correct and to help Sarah, our daughter, make good choices, we spoke without first letting the Holy Spirit filter our words.

“What you’re doing is prostitution,” we told her.

Sarah heard, “You are a prostitute.”

“You’re selling yourself for things instead of money.”

She heard, “You’re a hooker.”

“We raised you to make good choices. What’s wrong with you?”

She heard, “You’re worthless.”

To make matters worse, we wounded her during her darkest hour—during her first week in a psychiatric hospital. We had man’s approval for sharing our concerns, but we failed to consult God. Her psychiatrist advised that we bring these difficult topics up while she was in supervised care—in case she felt suicidal after our conversations.

Thousands of miles stretched between us. Disembodied voices over the phone heaping loving words of well-intentioned condemnation. But those voices didn’t sound the way we thought they did. Our daughter had every reason to resent us, hate us, and hold a grudge against us.

Years later, she shared that her conversations with us caused her to run to her room and scream into her pillow. Once she calmed down, she would write hate letters that she never sent.

At the time, we thought we said the right things. We thought we spoke in love and Christian admonition. @blestbutstrest #GodlyAdventure #BloggerVoicesNetwork Click to Tweet

After the Psych Ward

When the hospital released her, I felt so frustrated. They had shared her diagnosis with us—bipolar disorder—but nothing else. No after-care sheet like the hospital gave us after she broke her arm. Not even phone numbers or websites that the patient’s family might find helpful. Nothing.

I researched on my own. As I read, I came to the horrible realization that all the things our daughter had done were not under her control. For the first time, I really understood that mental illness is an illness—not a cop-out, not an excuse, but an honest-to-goodness sickness in someone’s brain.

My actions in condemning people in my mind for their perceived weaknesses as sufferers of mental illness haunted me. My unkind words to our own daughter haunted me, too.

The road to recovery took time. It took time for the psychiatrist and our daughter to decide on the best dose of the best medication. During that time, Sarah suffered from hypomania. During hypomania, the brain still misfires causing an electrical storm that messes with a person’s reasoning.

Our 21-year-old daughter often acted like a preteen. By this point, we understood the why, but the reality was hard to cope with. I prayed constantly for the Holy Spirit to guide my words. I didn’t want to say anything else hurtful.

The Slow Road to Recovery

I found a book to help me through this stage of Sarah’s recovery—The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide. The book, written for both family members and those who suffer, helped me see that Sarah needed to control the situation. I needed to back off and let her make important decisions.

Instead of giving directives, I learned to ask questions. Her answers didn’t always make sense to me, but they allowed us to have open conversations. Somewhere during that time, I think I apologized for our behavior. For not understanding.

But maybe not. Maybe that came later, as we wrote a series about our experiences for my blog. During that time, we each shared our stories—with each other and with the world. We came to know each other better and to understand each other’s perspective. She had returned to college a thousand miles away, so my apology may have been via text or email.

I do know that I have never felt condemned for MY actions by anything she has said, done, or written. Her forgiving heart humbles me.

Have you ever experienced heartache? Especially enduring pain—that you caused? Anita shares her story of walking with God through heartache.

What I Learned About Walking with God Through Heartache

First of all, I learned that all relationships will produce disappointment and heartache—even those with our children. We each have a choice, though. We can let that heartache help us learn and grow, or we can allow it to make us bitter.

Knowledge is power. When my husband experienced a catastrophic cancer diagnosis, I devoured all the information I could find in order to come alongside him and help him. Once our daughter had a diagnosis, I did the same thing. I had to put aside preconceived ideas about mental illness and the relationship I imagined I would have with my adult daughter. I believe our relationship is stronger and better because of what we went through.

Mental illness, whether it comes in the form of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, will put a strain on relationships—just like any other illness. Cancer put a strain on the relationship between my husband and me. As he recovered, I had to leave caregiver mode behind and once again enter into an equal partnership. Mental illness is no different. Relationships will go through periods of discovery, crisis, recovery, and rebuilding.

No matter what the context, learning to ask questions instead of giving directives will help relationships move forward. Instead of saying, “Why did you do that?” try asking, “How did you feel when you did that?” Don’t say, “You need to stop making rash decisions!” Instead, ask, “How did that work out for you?” Invite dialogue, don’t rain opinions.  Say, “Tell me more,” instead of, “That was a dumb thing to do!”

I had to put aside preconceived ideas about mental illness and the relationship I imagined I would have with my adult daughter. @blestbutstrest #GodlyAdventure #BloggerVoicesNetwork Click to Tweet

In Addition, Own it and Grow

Don’t shy away from acknowledging your part in the problem and asking for forgiveness. “Sarah, I should have prayed before I spoke. I deeply regret the heartache I caused you. Will you forgive me?” It has taken me years to learn to apologize without sounding like I want to make excuses for myself. Simple, specific, and sincere works best.

As a woman who rarely feels shy about sharing my opinion, I’ve learned the importance of praying before speaking. The verse I pray over myself comes from Psalm 19:14(ESV).

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

I wish I could have sheltered Sarah from all she experienced, but that experience made each of us stronger and better-equipped to face future storms in life. It also allowed us to reach out and bless other people who walk through similar storms.  

What’s your story of walking with God through heartache?

Anita OjedaAnita Ojeda has a passion for educating people about the early signs of mental illness in adolescents. She blogs at www.anitaojeda.com in between preparing lessons, teaching classes, and toddler wrangling her grandson. When Anita’s not lurking outdoors looking for and photographing rare birds in odd places, you can find her hanging out with her husband, camping with her kids, or mountain biking with her students.

 

 


 

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32 Comments

  1. Anita, this is a great article. Mental illness comes in many forms, and we put so many labels on them like PTSD, or just plain co-dependency. These have been my battle. I think every individual deals with struggles like this – as long as we are in this thing called humanity. I jotted down you do and don’t questions. They are very good. Thank you. May God bless your teaching in a greater and greater way.

    1. Thank you, Ann! It’s funny (ok, downright amazing and awesome) how God uses our personal trials to grow us in ways we can help others. Every since this experience, we’ve changed the way we deal with our traumatized students. We ask more questions and assume less (if little). God is good.

  2. Anita, once again, I’m learning from you things I need on my own journey parenting a young adult with mental health issues. This journey is harder than when my husband had a major health event. Thank you for giving me hope of a stronger, better relationship in the future.

    1. Oh, Barbara, I agree! Helping our daughter through mental illness was much more difficult than catastrophic cancer! Praying that God continues to guide you and the Holy Spirit comforts and teaches you!

  3. Anita, I appreciate your honest sharing here and on your blog about mental illness. Such an important topic that needs to be talked about more often in our current culture. Blessings to you!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Sarah! My Sarah and I decided that we could either keep her ordeal a secret or share it to help others. She awes me with her bravery and willingness to talk!

  4. Thank You for sharing so vulnerably friend! I need to find that Bipolar Survival Guide. I wonder if it would teach me more than what I have learned over the years. And oh so much THIS: “For the first time, I really understood that mental illness is an illness—not a cop-out, not an excuse, but an honest-to-goodness sickness in someone’s brain.” YES! YES! Yes! Love you friend!

    1. Thank you, Tara! You just might find something new or a new way to look at something! I’ve found it invaluable. If nothing else, now you have a resource to share with others!

  5. kellyrbaker says:

    You’ve been through so much, Anita. Thank you for sharing your wisdom here!

  6. Thank you Anita for sharing the scripture from Psalms. My journey walking through heartache with God is one of getting my children and I out of my abusive marriage. It is continuing as we are trying to figure out what kind of relationship my kids will have with their father, now that he and I are divorcing. Thank you so much for your encouragement.

    1. I am so sorry, Jolene. Jesus knows all about abuse, and he’s walking alongside you and carrying you when you can’t walk on your own. I’m praying that the Holy Spirit comfort and teach you. God will whisper in your ear what you should do. He loves all of us so much.

  7. I’ve been in your shoes, Anita–saying things I later regretted to my children. It’s been a challenge for me to navigate away from being a “mom” to being a friend and support to my adult children. But this is even more important when a medical problem comes into the picture. I know that bi-polar is so misunderstood, so I can see how this blindsided you and your husband! I’m grateful you did your homework and now see things through her eyes and experience. We need to do this with everyone–whether there’s a mental health issue or not. Very powerful post, my friend! I’ll be pinning!

    1. Realizing that our children are on loan is a tough thing, isn’t it?! Our job is to train them up so that they have a clear path to establish their own adult, healthy relationship with God. I tend to be a know-it-all, so I’ve been learning to bite my tongue and pray for guidance when my ideas clash with my adult children’s ideas ;). “Would you like advice? Or do you just want me to listen?” is my new favorite phrase!

      You might love Katherine Reay’s new book The Printed Letter Bookshop. I kept bumping into myself in its pages :).

  8. Rebecca Jones says:

    I think discernment is the key, because everyone can’t be mentally ill. We all have our trials, being taught the love of Jesus, and why we do things the way we do is a part of it, perception and deception. The man who buried his talents thought the master a hard man, just the way many perceive God and not the grace of sending Jesus, of course som will also abuse that grace.

    1. You’re right! Not everyone is mentally ill, and we certainly need to pray for more discernment :). Only about 2.6% of the population suffers from bipolar disorder (but that’s a whopping 5.7 million people). Many more suffer without a diagnosis. When we see the warning signs in a family member or close friend, we should pray for discernment and seek help. I just wish we would have know that there WERE warning signs!

  9. “I do know that I have never felt condemned for MY actions by anything she has said, done, or written. Her forgiving heart humbles me.” — Yes, merciful people have taught me so much more than harsh words from a pulpit or where ever they came from.

    Thank you for sharing part of your story, Anita. Your daughter is blessed to have you as a mom. I too struggled with anxiety and depression, and I have people in my life who are walking the journey of BPD. I have also been on the flip side where I thought I was doing what was right, and am glad to have learned as you did–there’s another, a better way.

    So thankful God is patient with us and never tires of loving us and showing mercy,

    I love too how you said we should “invite dialogue,” which is a great practical thing to remember when I am frustrated with my children. Love and hugs!

    1. I’m so glad we can learn from each other! Asking questions and listening in humility are two of the biggest skills I’ve been learning lately.

  10. Anita, thank you for your transparency here. Your words are challenging and encouraging. I’ve had to learn to really watch my words with my boys. I still walk into attitude minefields where things are spoken in tones that don’t help. I so appreciate your reminder to filter my words, and my heart, through God first.

    I’m glad your relationship with Sarah has improved.

    1. 🙂 The older I get the more ‘attitude’ bothers me–but the more I understand that staying neutral during attitude is vital to good communication! One of our ‘boys’ cursed at a staff member last night. The staff member called us, and we sent the boy over to resolve the issue. When he came back, the staff member didn’t feel as if he’d been apologized to properly, but as we dug deeper, our boy started crying. Something else is going on, and the disrespect was just a small outlet for a big burden he’s carrying. I’m so glad we’ve learned better skills for communicating with young people!

  11. Thank you for such an honest and forthright description of your struggle with your “unfiltered” words. There have been many times I wish I could take back words that I later realized were harsher than I meant them to be when talking with my children. When you said that the incident made you both stronger, I exhaled and gave thanks. It probably strengthened the bond between you and your daughter, too.

    1. She and her sister are my best girlfriends :). Pedro is my best friend. We are blessed.

  12. In my ladies bible study we are studying Job. I signed up because it said it was a bible study on joy. Well, later I found it was about Job, which didn’t sound very cheerful. But it has been a good study. But the thing I keep coming back to is Job’s friends who keep giving him bad advice and not so wise council. We keep calling them the foolish friends in the study. But the thing is I am not sure I would have been much wiser or done a better job if I was in their place. I know not in my younger days. I pray now I would have a little more wisdom, grace, patience, and would have asked questions and listened more than I talked. Even so, we do the best we can. We fumble along. Ask for forgiveness. And that seems to be the way of life. Learning on the other end. And while Job’s friends gave bad advice, they did come and spend days with him and try to help them. And a lot can be said for them trying to be there for him.
    I appreciate your honesty Anita. Trying to maneuver an unfamiliar place and event. May we learn from each other and better help those walking through heartache.

    1. Amen! I giggled when I read your reply–joy and job could be easily confused! I’ve had my share of Bildad moments (both from would-be Bildads and ME acting like Bildad). Having a teachable heart is what’s most important!

  13. Anita-

    I have had the blessing of following your story and your daughter’s for a few years. What has impacted me the most is how you shared not only your transformation in the journey but your daughter’s too. Your willingness to admit your mistakes and point us in the right direction has helped me in so many ways.

    Learning how to speak in grace and truth requires not just head knowledge, but heart knowledge too. Thank you for your wisdom.

    1. Aww, thank you! We are always glad to share our story because it is a redemption story and even though we don’t like all the parts of it, we know that God is writing it in ways that allow us to help others.

  14. Anita – Thank you for sharing your families story. Is there an easy way to search your entire story on your blog. I will be sharing with a group I host for families that have a loved one with mental illness.

    I too have had to apologize for the hurtful things I said out of ignorance or attempting to help. I bet I have a lot more to apologize for that I am not even aware I spoke.

    Yes, praying before speaking is key.

    Blessings, Maree

  15. Illnesses are so tough to battle even after they are diagnosed. Recognizing the steps to take though helps us to begin coping for ourselves and for those we love.

  16. What a powerful testimony! Thanks for sharing, this really helps me understand better some of the things my daughter has been try to say. What a blessing you and your daughter are to share your story of healing. Many Thanks!

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