I call as my heart grows faint,
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
…God is so vastly wonderful, so utterly and completely
delightful that He can, without anything other than Himself,
meet and overflow the deepest demands of our total nature,
mysterious and deep as that nature is.
— A. W. Tozer
I PAUSED AT THE FRONT DOOR AND TOOK A DEEP BREATH. THE usually quiet stretch of street in front of the small brick home I grew up in was filled with cars. I pushed open the front door and walked into a living room full of people both young and old. Upon my entrance, everyone seemed to simultaneously breathe in, looking at me solemnly. Some I knew; others were complete strangers to me. The whole scene seemed surreal, like time was playing some sort of cruel trick on me. My mother came rushing over. She flung her arms around my neck and started sobbing into my shoulder as everyone looked on.
“Oh, Robin, thank God you’re here… Did your dad tell you everything? I still can’t believe it… How are you doing, honey?”
Oddly enough, embarrassment was the only emotion that I could summon. I mumbled a few awkward expressions of sorrow. Certainly, I had grieved when I first heard the news. My husband, Dave, and I had moved to downtown Indianapolis and were lying on the just-filled waterbed when a phone call came from an old boyfriend, who I hadn’t talked to in many years. He immediately told me that my family was frantically trying to contact me.
A phone call to my father yielded the tragic news. My sister Jennifer had been in a freak automobile accident involving freezing rain and a sixteen-year-old who had been driving a truck with a winch on the front. My sister had stopped at a stop sign and rolled down the window trying to see. She ventured out into the intersection just as the truck flew over a hill. The teenager panicked, and the winch on the front of his truck caught my sister in the back of the neck, killing her instantly.
She was just a few weeks shy of turning twenty-one.
After I got off the phone, I lay on the bed crying while my husband tried to comfort me. I had just seen my sister several months earlier when I was home for Christmas. We had promised each other some extended time to talk, but she was spending lots of time with her boyfriend. Before she hurried out the door the last time I saw her, she gave me a big hug, told me she loved me, and assured me that we would find more time later to catch up. Now I knew that time would never come.
I brushed away my tears and pulled myself together. There were arrangements to be made. I had to get to Virginia as soon as possible. And as I closed my suitcase and rode to the airport, something inside of me closed as well. When my family all stood in a circle, wrapped their arms around each other and wept, I couldn’t separate what I was feeling from what I thought I should be feeling. I was used to being the pillar of strength in the family— the spiritual one who was supposed to comfort everybody else.
What didn’t occur to me, though, was that I needed the funeral for myself—I needed time to grieve the loss I had just suffered. And so I found ways to stay on the perimeter, letting out just enough sorrow to stay engaged but not enough to heal, outwardly giving the illusion of being strong, inwardly feeling weak.
Unknowingly, I had been transported back to a key moment in my childhood. I was lying on the bottom bunk of my bed while listening to my two little sisters crying. My parents were arguing in the other room, screaming words at each other that no child ought to hear and throwing things at each other. I willed myself not to cry, biting my bottom lip. Somebody had to be strong. At least that’s what I told myself. In reality I was hiding behind a wall of strength. I was willing myself not to be hurt by what was going on around me. At a tender eleven years old, I was already well trained in my role as the oldest daughter. I had already developed codependent coping mechanisms that I would carry with me into adulthood.
And now, twenty-four years later, I was feeling more than a little disappointed with myself. I yearned to be more like my mother in her grief—vulnerable, courageous and unashamed. But I simply wasn’t secure enough to be vulnerable in the most difficult test I had faced yet in life. As a Christian, a committed follower of Christ, I knew that Jesus had wept openly at the death of his friend Lazarus. I wanted to be like him, to grieve with others—my mother, my brothers and sisters, and even the people from my childhood who had gathered to support my family— but I couldn’t.
When I returned to Indianapolis, I didn’t let anyone else in either—even my brothers and sisters in Christ who sincerely wanted to minister to me. With nowhere else to go, that sorrow got shoved back deep into my heart. I didn’t know how to find my way through it, so instead I found my way around it.
Sad, too, is the love that has no communion with those we love when they suffer. How miserable it is to have to stand in mute sorrow with nothing to say to those we love when they are in great pain. It is a terrible confession that our love is not big enough to surmount suffering.1
It wasn’t long after my sister’s funeral that I asked God to create something new in me. A new heart. A secure heart. Later, at a missions conference in the Philippines, a women’s ministry leader from Russia, inspired by our discussion of insecurity, challenged me to write a book on insecurity. “We all need this,” she said in her sketchy English. “God wants you to write this book.” They say you shouldn’t ask God for what you really don’t want because he might just give it to you. I did so much want to be secure. I wanted to be secure enough to be vulnerable with my heartaches, my fears and especially with my own private suffering.
I was inspired by the thought of being able to help other women as well. And, I sensed that all of this would take a bigger love for God. But as much as I desperately yearned to be secure, I had no idea what I was really asking for. As it turns out, before I could move toward security, God had a lot more work to do in my heart. And Satan certainly wasn’t ready to let go of the stronghold he had built in my heart.
In the couple of years that followed, Satan unleashed a fullfledged attack on my security. When the church Dave and I were serving full-time came into a time of struggle, I took it on my own shoulders. Since the church is struggling that must mean that I’m struggling. My attempts to please everybody were dividing my heart and separating me from my faith. When a well-meaning friend suggested that my pride was at fault, I took it to the nth degree, taking some of the most challenging scriptures and trying to bring myself to repentance. I started questioning whether I was even a Christian at all. I started talking about being “re-baptized.”
One day I had an emotional breakdown at a church leaders meeting. I was cracking. But the more others around me tried to help me, the worse I became. Eventually, out of fear for my mental health, we were asked to step down from the ministry, forcing my husband to give up his lifelong dream. I had hit the bottom. But now I know that God in his abundant mercy was actually protecting me. He was preparing to do major surgery on my heart. I could no longer put off dealing with the way that I had grown up—with my dad’s alcoholism and the accompanying verbal abuse.
Amazingly, just a couple of days after we stepped out of the ministry, my head began to clear. Thanks to my husband’s encouragement, I read the book of 1 John and saw with certainty that I was a Christian. My salvation was secure. It was like a dark cloud had started its sojourn off my soul. My husband and I made a major transition out of the fulltime ministry into the secular world and job market. We moved to Chicago to try to transition and nearly went bankrupt. My husband eventually landed a job downstate in Bloomington, Illinois.
We were broke and humbled, but ready to turn a new chapter in our lives. And for me, I knew that turning that chapter meant somehow figuring out the causes of the insecurity that seemed to chase me in every corner of my life. And my hope was that if I could figure out why I felt so swallowed up by insecurity, maybe I could help other women as well.
As I began to open up more and more about my insecurity, I didn’t find shame. Instead, I found kindred souls. I began to understand more and more that this wasn’t my battle to face alone. As I risked letting my insecurities out in all of their unkemptness, I made some of the best friends of my life. With their help, I engaged the battle. Somehow, acknowledging the depth of my insecurities didn’t make other women look down on me. Rather, they felt they could trust me with theirs as well. And through that I bonded with another woman who was to become one of my best friends—Andrea. Together, over the last ten years, we’ve fought together and held up each other’s arms in our own individual battles to be secure. Graciously, she’s agreed to let you into her battle as well.
Andrea’s story highlights an important truth about insecurity. Andrea didn’t grow up with physical abuse or some dramatic story of trauma. Yet her father’s inability to connect with her emotionally from the time she was a little girl combined with her mother’s death at the age of fourteen created emotional deficits that she is still trying to understand. In this part of her story, she shares about how a childhood incident started what eventually grew into a full-fledged insecurity in her heart.