Written by Isabel Crisostomo, Philippines
I was sitting in the bathroom, struggling to breathe, tears flowing down my cheeks. “You are not good enough,” my thoughts whispered. “Yes, I am not good enough for anything,” I responded. I let out a shout of frustration, then banged my fist against the wall, crying even harder.
I am an international student enrolled in a school in South Korea. I was supposed to go back to campus in March 2020 for my senior year after spending the winter break with family in the Philippines, but travel restrictions forced me to stay home. That meant having to cancel all my plans, which included research projects, internships, and leadership roles in organisations.
I spent the earlier part of lockdown frantically looking for new opportunities to replace the ones I had to cancel. As days passed by and nothing came up, I fell deeper into anxiety and self-pity. I started believing that I had no worth, no value, no future.
For months, I would wake up feeling hopeless and paralysed by worry, to the point that I would spend hours crying in my bed. I became irritable towards my family and even threw tantrums at times. I was jealous of friends who managed to get back to campus before the lockdown and resume their usual activities.
For a long time, I had thought that I was being a good student by getting involved in all of these co-curriculars. I did not realise that I had unconsciously formed my identity around academic achievements, which became my greatest source of joy and security. And when these were withheld from me, I felt incomplete.
Learning to Find My Value in God
I have always wanted to be a medical doctor. I thought that the surest way to reach this goal was to have a long list of accomplishments, which would boost my chances of getting into medical schools.
But as I busied myself with all sorts of activities, my own relationship with God suffered. Even though I was actively serving in church, my personal walk with Him was compromised. I spent lesser and lesser time meditating on His Word. I said half-hearted prayers. I used all my idle moments to look for more work opportunities, plan my next career steps, and daydream about my future.
I justified all this by telling myself that I needed to be successful to glorify God and be a good witness to others. While success and achievements in themselves are not bad, and God does call us to do our best and glorify Him in everything that we do (Ecclesiastes 9:10; 1 Corinthians 10:31), these things should not end up taking over God’s place in our lives.
One day, I was worrying about my studies and career decisions again, but I was feeling more down and defeated than usual. I felt rejected because nobody seemed to understand what I was really going through, and I wasn’t receiving the kind of support I thought I would be getting from those I reached out to for help. But I knew that God would not reject me, so I turned to Him in prayer. Even before I could utter a word, I felt God gently say: “Find Your value in Me.” And so I confessed that I had fallen into idolatry, and I asked Him for forgiveness.
God used these setbacks to reveal the true state of my heart. Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I only realised that I had made my accomplishments an idol because I had no peace when God allowed them to be taken from me.
But that wasn’t the end of it. A few days after I prayed, I threw myself back into worry. While I began spending more time reading the Bible and praying, at the back of my mind I was still stubbornly holding onto my desire for accomplishments. After proclaiming God’s promises, I would get overwhelmed by my circumstances and lose focus of Him again.
One day, my anxiety got so bad that I was rushed to the emergency room because my chest felt heavy and I found it difficult to breathe. Thankfully, the doctors resolved the issue quickly and I was sent home in a matter of hours. But that was a brutal wake-up call for me.
Psalm 23 offers a wonderful picture of rest and satisfaction: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:1-3). Looking at myself, I saw that my health was at its worst—physically, mentally, and emotionally—because I had abandoned the true Shepherd. I had been led astray.
Thank God He found me where I was. After months of living in a vicious cycle of self-pity and anxiety, I finally surrendered my idol and chose to keep my eyes on my Shepherd.
Child Of The King
In the past few months, I’ve been reminded of how God is King of all creation and a loving Father, and how He has our best interests at heart (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).
The enemy had used my idol to distract me from God and the wonderful blessings I have in Him. I am thankful that He has replaced the “You are not good enough” in my mind with His comforting words—“You are My child”. When I made the decision to rest in my identity as His daughter, I saw how His love overflowed in my life.
Even though I had not been prioritising God for a long time, He still tended to all my wounds from the past months. Not only did God bring me spiritual healing, He restored my physical health as well. He lifted my depressive state and replaced my bouts of anxiety with a peace “that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
As I marvel in the presence of my Heavenly Father, I am able to wake up each day filled with hope. I am now able to find joy in moments shared with family, and God has shown me new ways to serve them. I’ve begun to make more meaningful conversations with friends.
In September 2020, six months after the lockdown started, God graciously gave me new opportunities online. I continue to face many uncertainties in my studies. Many times I am tempted to take control and worry, but God would always remind me again: “You are My child”. Even if He does not open up any more opportunities for me, or the career I have planned out for myself fails, I know I have worth, value, and a future in Him.
Putting God Above All
Whenever I am tempted to place accomplishments above God again, I’m reminded that denying our idols is not a one-time thing—it is a daily surrender. We have to be intentional in putting God first, God above all, every day.
It is difficult, but we have all the help that we need: God has blessed us with the Holy Spirit to guide us (John 14:15-17), the Bible to teach us (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and the church to encourage and keep us accountable (1 Thessalonians 5:11; James 5:16). If we have fallen into idolatry, He is faithful to forgive (1 John 1:9). In Christ, our troubles do not have a final hold on us (John 16:33).
Putting God first is for our good. But more importantly, we put Him first because He deserves our highest praise. I pray that we will sing along with all of God’s children: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness!” (Psalm 29:2)