I am thrilled to welcome Anita Kelly to my guest blog series, Unmasked: stories of authenticity. She shares with great honesty and openness about life with a son with high-functioning ASD, but also delves much further back to explore where her sense of having to ‘have everything together’ for everyone came from…
Over the past year or so, God has been challenging me about taking off my mask of emotional deception. Since July, when one of our sons was diagnosed with autism, we have been coming to terms with what that means for us as a family and working through a rollercoaster of emotions.
While reading The Emotionally Healthy Woman by Geri Scazzero, God started to point out my true emotions about my situation and church, particularly around my relationships with other Christians and where I was getting my sense of affirmation from rather than looking to God first. I started to be honest about my negative emotions about myself and look more to God to hear what He said about who I am and His unconditional love for me. The verse from Ephesians 3:18 started to take on more meaning for me: ‘I pray that you may be able to grasp how high, and how wide and how long and how deep is the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.’
FACING THE HARD TIMES HONESTLY
Coming to terms with emotions around the fact that we have a high-functioning ASD son has been difficult and painful at times. Even more so has been taking off my ‘I am capable and strong in my own strength’ mask and being honest with myself and others about the negative impact of this situation on our family life when we were in crisis.
It was only when the paramedics were talking to us about being very clear with the other medical professionals about how we were feeling that I realised I had to face how rough I felt. Even at church I struggled to be real with some people because I wasn’t sure how they would react or I simply didn’t want to be judged. Unless you have been through a similar experience, it’s very difficult to empathise and understand another person’s situation. Certain people were quick to tell me to stop being so down and that I should have more joy. You can’t summon up these emotions at will, no matter how hard you try in your own strength!
The one thing I can say is that I’m beginning to rest in the knowledge of God’s love and acceptance and reject any false beliefs that I need to be anything other than myself. There is an unexplainable, mysterious peace in being in that place with God, not striving or driven to prove myself. It’s a new place, but one that I continue to delight in!
RECOGNISING FALSE BELIEFS
The lesson I have been learning through these hard times is that I can be real about how I feel emotionally with those I love and trust, including God, my loving, heavenly Father. Growing up in a non-Christian family, where I cared for everyone else’s needs and ignored my own, had a damaging effect on my self-esteem and sense of identity.
I picked up the unsaid rule that: ‘I must please others’ and found myself losing sight of myself under the weight of others’ perceived demands and expectations of me, especially as a carer to my mum. Coming from a family where nothing but hard work and the need to succeed were the bottom line, I threw myself into everything I did: music exams, Duke of Edinburgh awards and my university degree.
I believed that if I excelled at what I did then I was okay and people would love and accept me. The truth is that I’m loved and accepted by the One who created me and knew me before the beginning of time. In my teens and early twenties I struggled to know this truth outside of my intellect. I looked for love in the wrong places, hoping that a romantic relationship would fill that ‘God-shaped hole’. It never did and I found myself lost in anxiety and fear of others’ approval, constantly striving to be the perfect woman, glossing over my weakness, unable to admit my failures. This pressure to perform was the mask I chose to wear, denying my sadness, anger and fear.
A LIFE-CHANGING VISION
Things started to change while I was on retreat in Wales a few years ago. God showed me a vision of a solid marble throne, representing Him as the Rock. He told me He wanted me to sit on this as a princess in His Kingdom, and that He chose to put His crown on my head. I was really gobsmacked by this as I still didn’t believe I deserved this in my heart. I had to make the choice to receive His identity for me as His precious daughter and reject the lie that what I did made me worthy of His love.
I am still on this journey of receiving and accepting my true identity in Christ, allowing the masks of self-reliance and independence to fall to the ground, shattered. In their place, I choose to accept my new identity, clothed in Christ’s royal robes of righteousness, pleasing and acceptable to Him. All because of His body broken and His blood poured out on the cross for me. There’s nothing I can do to gain His love – today I can simply receive it as a gift.
All I can say is that God remains faithful to us, despite our weaknesses and failings. In our pain and suffering He holds us close and says: ‘No matter what happens, I AM here with you, loving you and cheering you on every step of the way! I will never leave you nor forsake you.’
Are there any masks of self-reliance that God is showing you that you need to surrender to Him?
Anita Kelly grew up in the home counties of the UK, becoming a Christian aged 12 in her home church, before studying for a BSc (Hons) Environmental Sciences degree at UEA, Norwich. After graduating, she moved to London, where she has worked in environmental administration, for non-government and public sector organisations and the financial sector, before moving into education. Her home church is St. Peter’s Church, Harrow, where she has worshipped for nearly 20 years. She met her husband through the local church and since then has also gained an MA from Kings College London, in environmental politics.
Anita now writes a blog, Hope in the Wilderness, sharing insight from her Christian faith and practical advice for overcoming mental-health issues, reflecting on God’s view of us and our true identity in Him. She is also writing her first book, an autobiography about God’s healing in her life while battling anxiety and depression. Being creative, she has recently rediscovered watercolour painting alongside her writing as an expressive outlet.