The last few months have doled out the most difficult and painful days of my life.

Manifest Church, the once-vibrant faith community my wife and I planted eight years ago, fizzled-out and died early March—leaving me emotionally gutted, burned-out, and unsure of my future for the first time in, like, ever. Navigating burnout is more frustrating and discouraging than I thought possible. That said, in the past few days, God opened up a beautiful revelation to me that He wants me to share with you. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At several points along this journey, I recorded what I was feeling as vividly as possible. It wasn’t pretty.

When Shauna and I made the decision to accept the Lord’s leading in closing Manifest, I wrote:

“I am waiting for the incoming train of inevitability, rumbling towards me, perhaps to kill me, perhaps to pass me by, perhaps to derail as it reaches me and crush me in the carnage of forces I cannot control or stop from reaching me.”

After the public announcement was made, I wrote:

“I try thinking about what’s happened and what remains, mulling the details over and over, as though perhaps this time through, I’ll find something, anything—an insight or justification or truth or strength to face the future or box up the past, to put enough of the shattered pieces together that it kind of, sort of, might feel like something I can work with tomorrow, the next day, and the next… Sometimes I dare to pick up a shard, turning it over carefully to consider in my trembling hands, wary that it, too, might draw more of my blood. I cannot give any more. My soul leaks its essence from countless open wounds, leaving my heart weak from the strain of trying to maintain some kind of internal stasis.”

Just the other day, I found myself feeling utterly alone as I went about my daily tasks—grocery shopping, some basic chores:

“I felt dangerously small, insignificant, forgotten… as though the unfathomable hugeness of the world might swallow me up like a fleck of plankton, or inadvertently crush me while it turned to speak to someone else.”

I share these painful confessions with you for two reasons.

First, you have probably felt something similar at some point in your life. Maybe if I share this, you won’t feel so alone in your journey.

Second, I want to point out the power of expressing what we’re feeling as clearly as possible. Notice the visceral metaphors I employed in my venting. If you’re a creative, you can use your creative power to give your emotions a voice, a shape, a kind of body. Why? Once you name and express them, four important things are made possible:

  • Venting releases some internal pressure.
  • Our feelings take on a kind of life outside us. Our emotions feel all-consuming, but they are not all-defining.
  • Naming is power, so we can now consider our feelings with some objectivity.
  • Most importantly, we can offer our imagery to God, and use it to talk to Him about what we’re feeling.

Remember what I wrote about feeling alone? I felt dangerously small, insignificant, forgotten… as though the unfathomable hugeness of the world might swallow me up like a fleck of plankton, or inadvertently crush me while it turned to speak to someone else. Whew! But when I offered this imagery to God, He revealed a beautiful, unexpected picture to me. If you’re a believer in Jesus and you’ve been struggling with feeling insignificant, invisible, alone, or rejected lately, these words are for you, too. If you’re not a believer in Jesus, let’s talk:

In my mind’s eye, I clearly saw myself as I imagined myself that day, a tiny speck moving about anonymously through grocery stores, driving alone along the road. But this time above me, I saw God the Father, watching me excitedly, gathering angels to His side. “That’s him,” He said, grinning proudly. “That’s Brad. That’s my son. I love him so much and I’m so proud of him.” As angels gathered to see, He pointed me out again. “There. See? That’s him. Right there. That’s him.”

Why is this powerful? Well, as the onion-layers have been stripped away, revealing my core angst, I’ve come to see my central struggle since my life bottomed-out is this: Do I still matter? That’s a big, important question. And because I took the time to articulate precisely what I was feeling, painting a picture with vivid metaphors, the Holy Spirit used that to reveal the heart of the Father to me in life-changing ways.

After this revelation a few days ago, I’ve felt so much life returning to me—energy, creativity, peace, joy. A long (and sometimes dark) road of recovery may still lie ahead, shrouded in mystery—but I’m so thankful for the breaking dawn of Christ’s faithful light along the way.

How do you use creativity to navigate pain and chaos? Did this post encourage you? Comment below, and share this post with others.