The Ministry of Embodiment in a Chaotic World

by Alina Sato
I knew early- to mid-September 2022 was going to be hairy for me. The kids would be in full swing with school and extracurricular activities. Work stressors continued to sit at an unrelentingly high level. I had a big trip to Dallas on the calendar at the end of the month to give a couple of presentations at a large nursing conference, and I was feeling both excited and very anxious. I also knew that my monthly hormonal cycle was going to intensify my emotions and stress smack dab in the middle of that time. I tried to use wisdom and discernment regarding capacity and healthy rhythms in planning my and my family’s schedule, but I was already bracing myself by the end of August.
Despite my attempts to anticipate and wisely prepare myself spiritually, mentally, and socially for this stressful season, I hit some low points in mid-September that sent me spiraling in ways I’d never quite experienced before. I was feeling hugely inadequate in both my personal and professional roles, feeling certain that everyone was disappointed in me, and found myself battling thoughts and emotions that blared, “YOU SHOULD QUIT ALL OF IT.” If I’m honest, I’d say I was just a few steps away from calling it legitimate suicidal ideation. I felt ashamed and isolated by my inability to climb out of dark mental and emotional pits. I questioned God’s faithfulness. “Why aren’t You helping me feel better? Where is Your Spirit?” Even though I knew all the “right things” to do to try to set my mind on Him, such as reading Scripture, praying, and listening to worship music rather than the daily news, I still felt hugely oppressed and increasingly discouraged.
I suppose the term for this could be a “mental health struggle.” I can’t pinpoint what made it particularly acute. It was a perfect storm of circumstantial stressors, my own sin and pride in wanting to please everyone perfectly, hormone imbalances, a real spiritual enemy who comes hard after our souls, and trudging through a world that is not kind to us with its relentless demands – especially in this strange season after COVID quarantines with heightened pressures to perform and to regain what we feel we have lost.  
What really didn’t help was the isolation. Looking back, I see how I over-individualized what it meant to declare that “Christ is sufficient” in my struggles. I thought it would just be me and God working this out in the quiet privacy of my own mental and spiritual battleground. But I was too mired in my misperceptions of God, others, and myself. I was too ensnared in my idolatry of self, performance, and over-productivity. My vision was too blurred by exhaustion and wonky hormones. God’s liberating truths of unconditional love and acceptance, and His gracious invitation to rest my ambitious soul in Him, had never wavered. But I was too deep in the pit to hoist myself back up into the light by just trying to think about Him more.
No one around me knew how deep I had sunk. I had put on a brave face in public, but internally, I was increasingly unwell. The week before my Dallas trip, I finally had to reach out to people with intention and vulnerability because I knew I was hitting my breaking point. I woke my husband one night at 2AM to help me with my unrelenting self-accusatory thoughts. I texted Pastor Scott for an hour of emergency counseling even though I knew he had a full schedule himself. I talked with my sisters in Christ, in tears and trembling, about my frailties.
This beautiful community listened, counseled, and extended unconditional acceptance. They gently spoke truth into the lies from the world and the enemy about my worth. They readjusted my misguided beliefs about where I would find peace and hope. This community was the living theology I needed – the counsel and comfort of God actively dialoguing with my confusion and chaos, leading me to quiet waters, restoring my soul.  
To say Christ is sufficient does not mean we are to live in isolation from a safe, trusted spiritual community. God used His people and their ministry of embodiment to rescue me from my pit. This is why He gives so many “one another” commands. “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, [bear] with one another in love.” (Eph. 4:2) “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (Jas. 5:16) “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2) “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11)
It was an act of faith to ask God to help me by asking His people to help me. The Lord revealed His love, compassion, and liberating truth as my community cared for me with the “one anothers.” Each person applied balms to different wounds, as they each knew me from unique angles and had their own gifts and strengths to help restore me. In this way, Christ gives us more than enough to help one another through our darkest moments.
The struggles of this past year feed my deep yearning for the consolation of Christ in this Advent season. Sometimes, we are this frail, even as deeply sincere believers. Sometimes, my prayers are a befuddled mix of belief and unbelief. “I believe You have been faithful and good. I believe You are One who saves. But I can’t see you, and life is getting hard, and I’m trembling now.” This is where God’s people found themselves after centuries of seeming silence and hiddenness from Yahweh. God, you were there with Moses, Abraham and the prophets. You are here on paper in these sacred texts. But still, I need more than this head knowledge of You from the past and these papers. I need You, Person of God. And so He came in Christ, in the flesh. He came embodied. And He continues to be here with us now, His living Spirit manifest in the beautiful Body of Christ. We groan together, and we tenderly guide one another through the darkness to find His living light.
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