Not long ago I got to sit down with an old friend just a week or so before her wedding. There’s something refreshing about those friends who will skip the fluffy, small talk and cut right to the chase. She asked me why I haven’t been writing. The funny thing is that she hasn’t been the only one who has asked me that. It’s always encouraging, yet a little annoying, when God demands to be heard and starts tapping into your friends—old and new. Fantastic.
I told her simply that it has been a grungy season for me. I’ve felt more distant this past year than any before, I’ve been entertaining doubt, and quite frankly, I can’t remember the last time I felt that God had taught me anything at all, much less anything I could share. I’m a mess. I thought that was something I would outgrow, but 26 looks just as messy if not messier than 25.
She told me to write about just that; and that would be my wedding present to her.
Well, here’s to you, sister.
My year was difficult because my vision was distorted. I’m nearsighted– both literally and metaphorically—meaning I can see things right in front of my face, but things farther away than that are pretty fuzzy. On a day-in, day-out basis I typically see what I look toward and everything else sort of blurs around it. From a literal standpoint, this is why I wear glasses—crisis averted.From a metaphorical standpoint, this was my Achilles heel this year.
I developed this terrible habit of only seeing the things that were wrong. So much so that I was unable to see all the lovely things that were right. Rather than look for the positive things, I honed in on the negative. It’s like looking at a Where’s Waldo book—you know what you are looking for and you start to notice only the things with red and white stripes. So it was with all the things going wrong. I adopted a new cynical sense of humor and there was no turning back. The wrongs were the only things I could see. No surprise, then, that this disease of negativity plagued every area of my life: my attitude at work, my behavior toward my friends, my relationships with my family; literally nothing was spared from this contagion. I found myself scoffing at sayings like, ‘choose joy’ and inspirational quotes on Pinterest. I rolled my eyes at the Christian self-help books and blogs and articles that said God would ‘get me through this season.’ Frankly, I started questioning if he really was good. Then if the gospel really was for everyone. Then if he was real, or any of this was real. I didn’t come up for air.
This was not my first dance with doubt; I have known it often and well over the years. However, when I have doubted in the past I’ve been so eager to find the answers that it has served as a sort of work out regiment for my mind; it’s uncomfortable, but it makes my faith stronger. But this time I was apathetic to finding any answers; and apathy was kerosene on an already growing fire.
So what do you do when you’re royally unenthused with it all? Not just personal growth, but positive community, church, really all happy things in general.
It’s one thing to be in the ‘valley low’ and all you have is God, and he pulls you out of the pit, and he’s your rescuer, and you can’t stop singing praises, and the body joins around you to help you up. But that’s not where I was. This was a strange, self-afflicted state of melancholy. I was all sorts of disgruntled and jaded, and I adopted a charming, ‘I don’t need your help’ attitude.
I don’t know if this is the right approach for said situation, but here’s what I would advise if you find yourself in a prolonged funk like mine:
Keep moving forward. It’s not always a run or even a brisk walk; shoot, if you’re like me—it can get down to an inchworm, army crawl, or just a mere flutter of the eye lashes. Regardless of how you feel, or whatever you temporarily believe, keep moving forward.
And return to those sobering truths…
– One thing I love about God, right now the thing I love most about God, is that his mark is permanent. Try as I might, I can’t un-experience the Lord. As Isaiah said when he met the Lord for the first time, “Woe to me, I am ruined” (Is. 6: 5, NIV) I love and hate this all at once. He is irrevocable. The seal of the spirit, no matter how outlandishly unbelievable it sounds (and I know it sounds crazy), will not be undone by any amount of denial or disregard from my end. To ignore it is in vain; a certain death sentence. I would go mad before I could ignore it.
– Not only that, but his Lordship is entirely independent of my recognition of it. Again, his reign is in no way contingent of my acknowledgement of it. Sorry boutcha’ Ayn Rand, but in this instance perception is not reality. I don’t just get to decide one day that ‘I’m done with this whole ‘God thing’’. What does that fix anyway? Ignoring the ‘problem’ doesn’t solve it.
Enough of my talk, the passage that most nearly relates to my plight is in John 11 when Jesus heard that Lazarus had died. He asked the people where they laid him and when he went to see him it said, “Jesus wept” (11:35). Please note that there are two very different responses to Jesus’ action: “So the Jews said, ‘see how he loved him!’ But some of then said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’” (11:36-37).
Same scenario; two very different interpretive responses.
The former recognizes what is, and then infers: Jesus is weeping. He must have loved the man that died.
The latter recognizes what is lacking: Why didn’t he stop this from happening?
The former is considerate; the latter is accusatory.
This essentially summarizes all of the above in addition to my year. I was able to see God in the dispensations, but rather than looking to find him in the midst of my circumstance, I chose to accuse him for letting it happen. By ‘it’ I mean everything; something as personal and petty as me getting stuck in traffic on Mopac, ranging all the way to matters as broad and complex as the Holocaust (I teach it for an entire quarter; can’t imagine why that was on my mind). Like the second group of Jews in the passage, I want God to do things my way… because my finite mind conjures up the most logical solutions to what I would identify as a problem, obviously. I found myself demanding to know why, looking only at myself and my situation, rather than looking up long enough to notice that he had never left.
He doesn’t leave us. And, call me a realist, but it’s not always some nauseatingly emphatic experience. I find reading about emotionally-laced highs and lows can deter me away from him rather than allure me toward him. Do I enjoy it sometimes? Sure. But I more so want to learn and share how to do the day-in, day-out surrender—despite and in spite of whatever I may be feeling at the time; I can’t hold out for the peaks and the valleys. He meets us on the middle ground, too.
Since I am nearsighted, and cannot see what this upcoming year may hold, and since you, sweet friend, are nearsighted as well, let’s be proactive about looking for the lovelies. They’re there, just like he is there, some days we just need to look a little harder to see it.
May this new season be one of recognizing and celebrating the little things, and learning to laugh along the way.
Here’s to laughin’