As I sit here and ponder, as I can feel that darkness creep into my heart yet again, I can’t help but think that, though I have tasted it here and there, the depression I have consistently had to manage this time of year has been fairly innocuous. Sure, I have missed a few days of work here and there but I have not fought tooth and nail in my head to talk myself into getting out of bed nearly as often nor have I white-knuckle gripped the control over myself to make sure every bit and piece of my emotional state was in line. What’s different this year?
Almost three years ago when I started classes at NCC I remember a voice in my head tell me that I needed to let go. Let go of what? Well, control of course. I am one of the worst control freaks I know but I think I do it backwards. Rather than trying to control everything external I try and control myself. Sometimes that looks like me swallowing my anger or my sadness whether or not it’s justified. Other times it means I remove myself from all social situations and just concentrate on keeping myself in check and doing things to keep my mind off the fact that I do, indeed, have some things to think through. These coping mechanisms just helped tighten the grip of this control I attempted to have because if I lost control I was not being the man that God wanted me to be. By doing all these things I thought I was being righteous and good in his eyes.
What a colossal, steaming pile of shit.
I came to this realization after a few talks with both my therapist and my friend who is also my pastor. All of that control just created padlocks and chains that constricted tight around my very soul until it could no longer bear the stress. If anger is a consuming fire and depression is anger turned inwards then I was swallowing napalm on a regular basis and the ache in my gut and chest became overwhelming. But for the sake of control I pushed through the end of the last semester and collapsed completely. Whether the actions that followed were done with purpose or if it was incidental I don’t know but I unearthed some things about myself.
Though this may seem obvious I was completely miserable being this tight-laced, overly controlled and self righteous prig. There was no delight in the law I had etched in my head as the path to holiness and nearness with Christ. I didn’t even feel near to the people around me. I realized that most of the anger I had been swallowing was anger at myself for not saying or doing things that I wanted to do for the sake of the people around me and what they might think or how it may affect their comfort level or whatever excuse I wrote down for myself and filed away so that I didn’t have to be real.
So, I asked myself, “How would it feel to have to be real?”. Because in my heart I knew these actions, these lies disguised as truths that I had been telling myself about who I was and how I was supposed to act and interact were slowly poisoning me and eventually they would harden what gentleness and mercy I had left in me after all these years. I didn’t want that. So, I began to ponder my ways and rethink the things I had been thinking all this time and by the grace of God I was able to come to the conclusion.
Fuck it all. Truly.
In my quest for seeking the most right and God honoring path I had become a slave to the law. Yes, I had taken the yoke on that no man was ever meant to bear because, in the end it leads to death and it is our God’s strongest desire that we seek him and, in the process, live. It is a hard reality to face that one has not yet lived at the age of 25 but I swallowed it and immediately spat it back out realizing that changes must be made now if I am to survive the coming semester and the rest of my life without wanting to eat a bullet or to lock myself in my room like I’ve done for years because my brain tells me I’m an alien for wanting to express myself in all things because that’s just who I am. Or that I shouldn’t love for the sake of love without selfish gain because that’s what I do better than anything else just because most people have forgotten or never learned what that looks like.
I grew so tired of being the one to swallow who I really was for the sake of others that I finally just decided to burn it all down and be the one thing I know for certain I was created to do and that was to be me. The me that I was before I decided to lay down in this cross-shaped coffin and bury myself in the cemetery of self-righteous souls like the rest of the people around me seemed to be so comfortable doing. I have resolved that I cannot and will not do that anymore.
I was talking to my best friend about it, one of the few friends I still have that knew me before NCC and I told him what had been going on my head. I told him I was bringing back the me he knew before I started. He smiled, we high fived and I realized that perhaps that’s what had been missing from this equation. I think there’s this lie that Christians tell themselves that says I must filter myself and I must bind myself by this invisible code that tells me what I should and shouldn’t do. Am I saying that you should forsake what you believe and just do whatever you want? Not at all. But what I am saying is that if your heart is truly set on Christ then you shouldn’t have these trepidations about who you are. It is not as if he does not guide you, shape you, mold you through your experiences. No one who follows Christ does so in a vacuum and so it is important to remember that while our mistakes are many and we may feel like we we are broken beyond repair (I know i do) that we still have grace.
What has this meant for me? Like most things, I dove into this idea at the deep end which yielded stronger results than I was anticipating so I may have come off a little rough and uncaring. The truth is a powerful thing and it staggers some people including me. So, I unloaded on a couple of people but was also very clear about the fact that a part of me that hadn’t really been used in three years was resurfacing. I don’t know if anyone notices a difference but in my heart and soul I feel as if I am slowly learning to breathe again. It’s a tough lesson to learn but as B. Dolan says “It’s good to be hard but it’s harder to be honest.” I feel as though I unintentionally hardened my heart and as begun to melt. Once I granted myself the freedom to immerse myself in the experience I quickly remembered how to love it.
I grant that a lot of this is abstract and maybe I’m the only one going through something like this. I don’t think that’s the case based on conversations I’ve had with my friends but perhaps, if you’re reading this, you’re not ready to vomit that garbage you’ve been swallowing. That’s ok. The truth is painful. I pray there comes a time when you’ve had enough of living in your law box and are ready to step out into a far greater freedom than you or I can imagine.
I believe that God created us the way he did for a purpose. The emotions, the reactions, the love and the hate, the dichotomies and our ability to lie to ourselves consistently and constantly are there as striking points for the hammer. With each strike a part of our old self dies and it has precious little to do with the things that we do. More often than not those things we try to do are not for him but for our own selfish gain or, in my case, or misperception of who he is. Once I realized that I lost all hope in ever being able to change without the guidance of Christ in my life it was as if someone had calmed every nerve in my body and the only thing left was me.
Don’t you know you’re only as strong a Christian as you are when you’re alone in the dark?
“And then, something happened. I let go. Lost in oblivion. Dark and silent and complete. I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom.” — Fight Club