1 Corinthians 13

burning roseEveryone has a deep, indwelling need for something. For some, it might be finding companionship. For some, it might be seeking purpose. For some, it might be desiring calling. For some, it might be wanting healing. Whatever it is, each and every person on this earth has a need that they may or may not know about.

Sometimes we feel like we can easily help fulfill that need, by simply being a friend who helps out and checks on someone every now and then. But sometimes it’s harder–sometimes seemingly impossible–to do anything that seems to come anywhere close to helping.

In those times, it’s often easy to simply say, “God is all you need.” “Let go and let God.” “Just make God your everything.” “God will take care of it.” Words that, while ultimately the true solutions to every problem we might face, are sometimes little more than a quick cop-out way to avoid having to join in the crusade to fight the exhausting fight. I’ve had those words said to me at times when what I really needed at that moment was someone to come alongside me and be there to constantly push me forward and strengthen me. God has worked all of those situations out according to His will, of course, but I can’t help thinking that those words, however well meant they may have been, were not the best solution to my problems. To be honest, I never want to hear someone say those words to me again, though I’m sure they will be spoken to me many a time in the future.

If those statements about God being all we need are ultimately true, why do I complain? I complain because I believe God calls us to be a body for a reason. If God were truly everything we needed, and if it were that easy to depend on Him for everything, then there would be no reason for God to require corporate worship and fellowship from us. If God were the only thing we ever needed, then John Donne’s quote of “No man is an island” would be utterly false. For me, the reason God placed us together and calls us to cooperate and act together is that He made us so we need each other as well as Him. Genesis 2, I think, points towards this, for if God was all Adam needed, then there was no reason for Eve to have been created. As humans, we are supposed to interact with each other and be there for each other, however little we may feel like it at the time. Because God made us that way.

The obvious counter to this claim of mine is that God did all of this because it’s “for His glory.” Yes, that’s partly true. But I think it’s only a small part of the truth–an infinite truth definitely, but proportionately a small part of that infinity. Telling those who are struggling “God is all you need” doesn’t help if they desperately need someone to be there physically for them. It is easy enough to cry out to God, but it is sometimes hard to hear His response, and sometimes He chooses not to respond directly at all, instead leaving it up to time or to people to give us His answer. God didn’t have to make mankind into two (Adam and Eve) to multiply and occupy the whole earth. He didn’t have to let us choose the Fall and start a process of redemption that would lead to the death (and resurrection) of God Himself. God never has to do any of the complex guiding and interventions that He does in our lives. He would be infinitely glorified just from the creation of perfect Adam into perfect Earth unbared to evil and destruction. Saying that “God’s doing it for His glory” when people are undergoing trials isn’t glorifying God if we don’t follow the example He set and step in to aid each other.

So next time you feel like saying, “Just let go and let God,” or “God is all you need,” to someone who is struggling inside, stop and think. Is it really what he or she needs to hear right now? Or is what needs to be said the words “Let me fight this alongside you–let me help you deal with this”? Don’t just offer a Christian-flavored platitude and walk away. Be willing to offer yourself wholly for the crusade that God is calling each and every one of us to fight in–and be ready to leap into someone’s struggles and to get your spiritual hands bloodied fighting Satan in the name of Almighty God.

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Negating the Negative

One of the anecdotes my mother occasionally tells is of the time I once clearly showed my ability to sense and demonstrate visual patterns to a high degree. According to her, she found one day that I had drawn all over the corner of one of her favorite tablecloths. As she looked at it, however, she realized that what I had done was neither the deliberate vandalistic tendencies of a young child, nor the random innocent scribbles of a toddler. What I had drawn was a sample of the pattern that was embedded in the printing of the tablecloth. One that to most seemed random, but to my eyes already had a clear organization. (Needless to say, I’m sure I was still punished for rendering publicly unusable a perfectly good tablecloth.)

I have always been good with patterns. Mainly ones I can see or observe in the physical, tangible realm. I have weirded out one friend and caused several others to laugh deprecatingly when I impulsively point out a particular pattern that maybe seemed so mundane or so unnoticeable that it was a wonder to them that I ever saw it. The point remains, though, that my minds easily makes connections and associations that others sometimes struggle to see at all.

Part of the way that my mind does this is by observing negative space. For those unfamiliar with art (which I only have a passable knowledge of myself), negative space is the space around an object. A chair is positive space; the air in a hollow box placed around the chair is the negative space. An apple drawn floating in midair in a still life is positive space; the white paper around the strangely levitating apple is the negative space. In short, where others see the objects and interpret them by what they do see, I see the space around the objects and interpret them by what I don’t see.

Sadly–and here’s the connection to what I’m actually wanting to talk about in this post–this way of seeing things often extends to my perception of myself. Whenever I look at myself, either literally or figuratively, I struggle with seeing only the negative aspects of my personality and the negative possibilities of what I am capable of doing. I spent a whole year constantly pushing myself away from a couple of friends, one of whom I was personally interested in, as they began dating, simply because I was afraid I would create a tense, ugly situation (just like one I had been subjected to being in the presence of for four months beforehand) if I did not completely remove myself from the picture.

Which is why I need my friends to so often correct my self-image and why I occasionally ask them to tell me what good they see in me. Not due to a prideful desire to hear myself praised directly, but because I so often begin to forget the good parts of myself if I’m not reminded of why my friends don’t find me simply an irritating little git that they’d rather not have around. I only ended the self-imposed separation from those two friends after a much-needed but long-delayed conversation with one of them led to me revealing the reason for my “disappearance.” That friend (somewhat shocked by my explanation) told me in no uncertain terms that the untoward situation I feared I would create was exactly the kind of situation I was most likely to stop before it got too far, based on what that friend had seen of my personal morals. Had I not had that correction of my self-image, I would most likely be having a much harder year, not to mention separating myself ever farther from those friends.

Sometimes having this ability to see the negative aspects of myself is beneficial, as it allows me to see where I really do have problems if I am willing to step back and be honest with myself. However, it does make life painful for me sometimes, if I get into a vicious cycle of doubting or denigrating myself and refusing to believe that I am capable of anything significantly good. It also sometimes make me hesitant to accept compliments (either directly given to me, or indirectly given through introduction to someone else), since at those times I truly don’t believe I deserve such compliments.

The other way this ability is annoying is that I sometimes that I wish my friends would not introduce me to others (at least when I am present) mainly as someone who is “good at math.” In my mind, being good at math is OK, and I know I’ve been given a talent at being mathematical. But when people hear first that I’m good at math, it doesn’t tell anything about how good of a friend I am, or how much I desire to help others, or other similar qualities that I feel are more important than being “good at math.” Of course, my friends mean it in good faith, but I have to admit that sometimes it hurts that the first thing that tends to come to mind is that I’m a math whiz.

Bottom line? I need my friends so that I can fight my tendency to see only the negative and never the positive. It’s too easy for me to see the darkness inside me and not the speck of light at the center of myself that God’s trying to get my attention with. Without my friends, I’d be lost and lonely, always flailing in the dark, probably depressed and possibly suicidal. My friends are what keep me whole, what keep me sane, and what keep me positive. They are the ones who negate my negativity–which as any math major knows, is the same as confirming my positives.

Depression and the Scariness of Suppressed Emotions

Tonight I played a new FTP (free-to-play) game that I downloaded from Steam based on a Facebook friend recommending it. It’s not a happy game, nor is it meant to be entertaining.

It’s a “game” (more properly, an “interactive fiction”) that tells the story of someone struggling with depression. According to the game, the social decisions I made that seemed most natural to me would take me through “depression,” “deep depression,” and “very deep depression.”

More importantly, though, the game (called Depression Quest) once again reminded me of some things about myself that I find it all to easy to forget: how quick I am to try to hide my own struggles from friends, how slow and reluctant I am to open up and be honest even to myself, and how much I’m pulling myself down by deliberately marginalizing those problems.

Yesterday also provided another shock for me. I finally had a much-needed conversation with a very close friend over some personal issues. What scared me was that I found myself trembling from emotions that I had repressed and kept pent up for over 4 months without completely realizing it. Not bouncing or wiggling from emotion. Full on trembling and shaking that was accompanied by a very real sense of the blood pounding in my head and unintended tears streaming down my face. I have never had my emotions manifest themselves in that way. I have cried from despair and sadness before, but the rage, bitterness, and loneliness I had been subconsciously bottling up for a long time was new. Looking back, I’m still amazed that I did not experience anything worse than some higher-than-usual blood pressure and a bit of light-headedness during that time, seeing as I was releasing some pretty powerful emotions.

The lesson I was given there was that I need to learn to be more open about my struggles. I’m sure most of you have heard me say similar things multiple times before. But I think the last couple days have really opened my eyes to the effect that such concealment has on me both physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Emotionally, I am deeply scarring myself by trying to suppress feelings that need to be let out, purged, and washed away. Spiritually, I am barring myself from the healing that God can give me through honesty and friends’ ministries to me. Socially, I am isolating myself by being hermetic and secretive, rather than straightforward and open. And physically, I am completely stressing myself out, quite probably leading to some of the health issues I’ve been dealing with lately.

Do I think I’m dealing with depression? Honestly, I don’t. A lot of the descriptions of the way that the “depressed me” in the game would think, act, and speak matched me closely, but I don’t feel it was enough to give me reason to think I am depressed. I do, however, know that I definitely need help, and that I need to start letting myself be open and vulnerable. And that’s hard for me, for a couple reasons.

First, some of the things I’ve dealt with/am dealing with are hard for me to talk to others about due to the very nature of those issues. Things that, from my point of view, could fundamentally change how my friends relate to me and interact with me, and I’ve (up till now, at least) been afraid of rocking the boat of my many tenuous connections with others. At this point, though, as my friend told me, those people in my close friends group are beginning to regroup after having been scattered to the four winds this summer, and a lot of dynamics between friends will be up for improvement–or destruction, as the case may be.

Second, I have almost a phobia towards the possibility of becoming a major burden on my friends. So many of them have been dealing with a lot themselves recently, and as a result I feel reluctant to do what essentially I see as saying, “Hey there! You’ve been carrying a lot that you won’t let me/that I can’t help you with, so here’s more to carry!” The thought of becoming a burden, an annoyance, etc. has scared me off way too often from mentioning things that really are affecting me, instead typically causing me to deflect the conversation with a simple “I’m fine” followed by a complete change of topic.

I’m sure both of these things will sound foolish to most of you (and I can probably name those of my friends who would probably be struggling to keep from laughing deprecatingly at me at this point). To be honest, it is a case of heart vs. head. I know the logic (both ethical and moral) of the situation, but I cannot help acting as my heart directs me. Just like yesterday, in my talk with my friend–I explained to him that I knew I shouldn’t be feeling those ways, but yet I did and my head had no control over my heart on that issue. Please just be patient with me and understand that I still in many ways do not truly know myself, and have struggled in the past with letting myself become open to external scrutiny. I have a lot to work through, and it’ll take a while for me to get it all out.