This Sunday, I attended church for the first time in, honestly, a couple months. I’ve been going to chapel and to Sunday evening worship, but I hadn’t actually made it to a church service in a while until then. It was not the East Texas church near my university that I “normally” go to, but instead a church in Colorado Springs. I was there with the members of my Spring Break missions trip team.
Two things stand out to me from that service. The first was that, during the singing portion of the service, I could hear a relatively young girl standing behind me and singing with all her heart. As I listened to her pouring her entire heart into the words she sang, I was deeply moved, realizing that she almost certainly has a type of deep faith that I have yet to achieve. Having grown up primarily in churches where doctrine and liturgy, rather than free-style praise, were the primary channels of worship, my faith has always been channeled through the filter of thought and logic. Mine is the lesson of having the faith of a child, not the lesson of having the wisdom of a serpent.
The other thing that stood out to me was the pastor’s sermon topic. Although I ended up frequently being distracted by reading the texts surrounding the Scripture passages he was preaching from, I definitely caught the principal point. The passages were from Ephesians 6 and Exodus 13 and 14, and the question he was asking was, “What prevents you from pursuing the dreams God has given you, and why do you let those things prevent you?”
Hearing the sermon was truthfully rather painful. Over the years, my dreams have slowly died one by one, and I have yet to discover what it is that God has given me to do (or if He has even yet done so). Maybe I just haven’t been listening carefully enough to see something that is painfully obvious to everyone around me. Maybe He hasn’t been telling me, biding His time until He has prepared me for whatever it is. All I know right now, though, is that I have no compelling dreams that keep me going.
This might cause one to question why I keep going at all. A few months ago, I was asking myself that same question. It was finding the answer that led me to draw the picture above. Basically, there are three reasons that I fight to keep myself from just letting go of everything and allowing my life to grind to a halt. First, because I have made commitments of various kinds, whether academic or moral, all of which need to be honored (in my mind, at least, this is how I see them, though some would say that they are not truly “commitments”). Second, because my family and my friends would be deeply hurt if I allowed myself to disappear into myself. And third, because I believe I have been told by God that I am not to let go. These reasons are represented by the three chains holding up the tree in the drawing. Should they break (as they have occasionally come close to doing in recent months), I do not know if I would be able to continue on, even with all the loving friends I have.
When I say “let go,” I don’t just mean disappearing socially into an introverted shell of depression and lack of motivation. One of the things God showed me recently (in the last couple of weeks, in fact, during a period in which a couple of unexpected snow days shut down my college almost completely) is that I have long been oppressed by a particularly malicious spirit of suicide. What makes it so specially malicious is the fact that there have only been a few times in my life when I have been actively dealing with suicidal thoughts. Most of the other times are ones that I only realized with God’s help upon looking back were encounters with suicidal activities that masked themselves as seemingly harmless youthful curiosity–how long can I hold my breath, especially past the point at which most people would admit defeat? What is it like being unable to breathe at all? What is it like drowning, or bleeding out, or dealing with toxins? These are some of the things that I often spent a lot of time thinking about when younger, and a few of them I actually tried–specifically, the ones having to do with holding my breath. Looking back, it is rather scary seeing how benign those thoughts seemed to me back then, and I can only attribute my lack of concern about them to spiritual blindness and/or oppression.
Now that I am older, and more spiritually aware, the attacks are no longer as subtle and seemingly benign. I have had clearly suicidal thoughts twice in the last three years, and the second time was prevented from ever acting on them by the presence of close friends who cared deeply about me and caught the warning signals. I was, however, reminded of all of those thoughts again yesterday evening, while swimming at a pool during a group dinner event at the house of a friend of our mission trip’s hosts. I have never been that good at swimming (and especially at floating or treading water), and while in the water I began thinking some of the same thoughts I had once had–only to catch myself and realize what was going through my mind. It was a shock and a sobering reminder that I am quite literally dependent every day on the love and mercy and grace of God to keep me anchored in reality and in life. Without His protective and strengthening work in my life, every single one of those metaphorical chains would by now have snapped and I might not even be here to write this.
I am extremely grateful that God has placed an injunction against suicide or social withdrawal on my heart. It is one of the things that keeps me putting one foot in front of the other, every day, even when I want to just stop and fall down where I am. It is what keeps me here with my friends, sometimes opening up to them about the things I struggle with and think about. It is what allows me to fall in love with songs like Stand in the Rain and Demons–both being songs that speak deeply to me. There is much that I do not speak about because it hurts too much, or because it is something I am afraid to reveal, or because I am trying desperately not to hurt others. But God’s command to me is what allows me to help other friends who are also struggling. Because I can never give up. Because I can never give in. Because even if I can’t be a warrior or a hero, I can at least try to be a healer. Because I’ve been given the gift of seeing how life is a mixture of good things and bad things, and how much it hurts sometimes. Because I’ve made a promise after being given a promise, and I’m going to stick to it because I believe God’s going to stick to His.
Will I ever be given a dream or a vision to follow? Maybe not. Maybe I’ll live the rest of my life feeling like I’m pushing through the fog only to find that God was leading me safely through a minefield I might not have entered at all had He not kept me dependent on Him. I’m sure there will be many times when I get deeply discouraged and the things that hold me up come close to failing. But He’s been there for me so far, and I don’t think He’s ever going to let me fall all the way. So I’m going to keep doing the only thing I can do–have faith and follow Him into the dark.