This year’s diocesan conference takes the theme Living it out – Being a Christian in today’s world and aims to inspire us to shape our lives as 24/7 Christians, rather than simply being “Christian” for the hour we attend church on a Sunday morning. The keynote speaker at this year’s conference is someone who’s doing just that but has been on a difficult journey to get there. Teulu Asaph went along to meet Elli Johnson, a Liverpool based writer, blogger and former theatre director.
With three children, a husband, a full-time career and a diary chock-full of regular church commitments, life was beyond busy for Elli. “I came to Liverpool from Bristol at the age of 11 as God told my Dad to move here to start a church”, said Elli. “We started the church in the front room of our house. It’s now one of the largest churches in Liverpool.”
It was in this church that Elli was busy running home groups, mentoring new Christians and taking an active part in regular Sunday services. At the same time, she was feeling increasingly anxious and then, what she later learnt were panic attacks, started. In her blog she writes: “When my third child was a few months old I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I had probably been anxious for 5 years by then… I hadn’t realised what was going on and had assumed I was weak and needed to pull myself together, everyone else seemed to be able to cope – so why couldn’t I?”
“But it turns out I wasn’t weak, I was ill. There is a difference. A huge difference.”
It’s this journey which kicked started a change in life style, a review of all things and inspired the sub-title of her blog Learning how to Live.
“My concept of God was someone who expected a lot from me and who was constantly disappointed with me. I wasn’t passionate enough, not successful enough and all this played into my illness. I wasn’t healed because I hadn’t prayed enough, fasted long enough; I clearly wasn’t good enough to be healed and had to keep trying harder. And all this simply made me more ill.”
“Eventually, I realised I had to surrender everything to God and give everything up. “God doesn’t require anything from me and it’s a relief to know I don’t have to keep trying!”
Elli is learning how to live life again with God. Her relationship with God no longer looks like “a list of boxes to tick” to ensure she’s done everything.
“Now I hear God’s voice and trust myself to be created in the image of God. If I’m trusting myself, I’m trusting God.”
And, it’s this she takes into all aspects of her life. “We take Grace for granted in the Western Church. There is no middle ground; surrender is the only way.”
Elli will be revealing more of her journey at the Diocese Conference and encouraging us all to live out our lives as God calls us to do.
You can find Elli’s blog at hippo chronicles and her first book with a working title of A to Z of Anxiety – a Memoir in 26 parts – will be out later this year.