Darkness & Light

442-2-1226780166

In an unprecedented move, I am going to take keystrokes to blogspace twice in one day. Fairly soon after completing my previous post, I had a conversation with a friend about why some of us fall into depression and despair over the fallen state of the world, even though there are many of people working to set the world to rights. During our conversation, we discussed the idea of stars in the night sky. How for many people, the light of the stars is not overcome by the darkness of the night sky and, in fact, makes the night beautiful. Yet for some, the darkness drowns out the pinpoints of light, rendering to us a world draped in ominous shadows and oppressive darkness.

swamp-of-sadness

The thing is, people like me want to see positive progress in the world. But it’s easy for us to look and see the darkness like a massive swamp, sucking all of the moments of light into its murky depths. We know there’s light out there, but it seems so small and weak compared to the darkness. We long for the victory of light, but the power of darkness drives us to despair of that victory. We become discouraged. We lose hope. Some of us keep ploughing on out of a sense of duty, or because we’re afraid of the effect we’ll have on those around us if we give up on everything. And some of do give up and lose hope completely. It’s all too easy to be pushed dangerously close to that breaking point.

tumblr_n8toiolzzy1rgj9aqo1_500

Soon after the conversation with my friend, I happened across a picture online that contained a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In it, Samwise Gamgee tries to encourage Frodo Baggins thus:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.

Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

This is a quote that I keep returning to, because of how often I need it as a reminder. For me, the darkness both inside and out often threatens to extinguish the light. I often am left holding on to the weakest of sparks, trying my best not to let it go out. At times like those, it’s hard to be reassured that the dawn is coming. It’s hard to keep pushing forward in the hopes that the adventure will end in victory and not in defeat and death.

burning_rose_by_ldragomir593-d52zkbk

I am more fortunate than many, though. For us, it is not enough to be told to hope. Hope is nigh impossible for those of us who doubt the strength of the light. It is not enough to be told to hang onto the light. Sometimes we’re afraid to even admit that our light is almost gone. We long for company, for support, for help in replenishing our fire, yet we cannot bear to ask for that assistance. And I think that is something that those who have not faced our doubts sometimes struggle to understand. It is not enough to answer our questions as you would want them to be answered. We often seek for a deeper assurance, a more compelling reason to have confidence, than most do. We are searching for the strength to stand in the dark, and it does not come easily.

Down the Rabbit Hole

JewelIt’s 1 AM, and I have a 9.30 AM class. By all rights, I should be asleep right now, regaining my strength for the morning. So why am I instead sitting here in front of a dimmed computer screen, quietly but desperately hammering keys on my laptop keyboard in an attempt to write something coherent?

It’s the start of a new school year. The university has filled up with students, both young, wide-eyed, enthusiastic freshmen and sophomores bustling back and forth from class to chapel to lunch to class, and older, more experienced, jaded juniors and seniors sauntering across campus from one required location to the next. I’m an extrovert by nature, which means that all of this human energy should be propelling me forward with abundant drive. So why did I collapse into my chair earlier this evening, unable to do any of the tasks that really need to get done, lacking the energy and willpower to get back up and set things to rights?

It’s not hard for me to find friends to talk to right now. Some of my oldest and most confidential of friends are only a couple clicks and keystrokes away from my fingertips. Many of my current set of on-campus friends are busy but still willing to take a few hours on short notice to talk about important, deep issues. And I’ve made a couple new friends among the new freshman class already, friends I know I can be open with. So why do I feel lonely and walled in away from everyone right now?

There are so many questions I could ask to point out the discrepancies between what should be and what is right now. My energy is gone. My drive is unreliable. My ability to sleep is wrecked. My ability to connect with others is constantly flickering between ON and OFF. I can’t sleep and I can’t stay awake. I can’t stop thinking about certain topics, even though they are the topics I hate most. I can’t stop pushing myself forward, and I can’t hold up under my own pressure. In short, right now I am even more a bundle of contradictions than usual.

I have many friends who will recognize exactly what I am talking about. Friends whom I have been given the grace to be there for in their hours of pain and uncertainty. In hours of prayer and tears and wrestling with God.

Anyone who knows me well, or who has been following this blog, knows that I have been, from the beginning, deeply averse to accepting or admitting that I am struggling with depression. There is still a part of me that rebels against the idea. But the evidence has been growing, and I cannot ignore it any longer. As my vision of the world around me becomes more and more distorted by thoughts and feelings I cannot control, I am retaining enough clarity to finally admit that the world is no longer clear to me.

So what am I going to do? Primarily, I am going to fight to give my trials into God’s care and to not give up on continuing to pursue Him. A friend recently reminded me that as long as I maintain my focus on God, and not on myself, I will be able to continue pushing through and to continue being there for the people I care most about.

And I’m going to trust my friends to provide a safety net for me when I inexorably stumble and fall down. I don’t have any illusions deceiving me into thinking that the road ahead will be easy. I’ve seen depression at work. I know the ugly things it does to people. And I know that there will come days when I feel like I’m at the bottom, only to have, the next day, the bottom shift and fall out from underneath me and send me downwards yet again. But I have friends who are committed to being there for me in the way that I have been able to be there for them before.

Am I ready? No. I don’t think anyone ever really is ready for depression. But at least I’m not unprepared. God has set both me and my friends up for some great things, and my journey through these next few years will be someday a story worth telling, in this short period of life perhaps and definitely in the eternity we have waiting ahead of us.

No Other Way

This week, the pastor of the church I go to chose to preach on the subject of the Great Commission and how we apply it in our own lives. As part of his introduction to the topic, he listed some of the many questions that Jesus asked the apostles, disciples, and people as He interacted with them: “What do you seek?” “What do you want from Me?” And especially, “Who do you say I am?”

As I thought about some of those incisive questions, I found my mind drawn to the question Jesus asks His disciples at one point in His ministry:

So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,
and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.

(John 6.67-69, ESV)

The more I pondered Peter’s response, the more I came to realize that that response is also mine. While I can sometimes appear a bit apathetic and occasionally even doubtful about certain doctrines or the strength of certain areas of my faith, when all the external aspects are stripped away I cling desperately to Christ alone as the Holy Saviour.

Because without Him being who He says He is, there is no point for me to continue trying. Without the moral compass that He has laid down, I would be adrift in the ethical morass that defines this world. Without the assurance of significance and discreteness that He provides, I would be fully vulnerable and constantly fighting the existential doubts that still frequently attempt to pull me down. Without the hope and vision that He provides, I would be dead from despair and apathy. Without the grace and inner regeneration that He is working in me, I would be a burnt-out husk, incapable of social interaction and compassion.

To me, the reality of Jesus, and the reality of His being Who He says He is, is paramount to my continued existence. In a very crucial way, He defines my motivation for continuing on and not giving up. For not allowing myself to cease to exist. For being willing to make sacrifices for those I care for and to help take the blows that life aims at them. If I ever choose to reject the reality of my God and Savior, then I am dead. Not just in the sense of spiritual death. A day in which I turn away from God with the uttermost core of my being is a day on which I will cease to continue living physically as well. Because if I reject Him, I will have nothing left, for there is nothing outside of Him that is worth living for.

A lot of people talk about there being many different ways to get to God. Personally, I don’t believe that such a thing is possible. I am a person who likes as many options as I can get. But I cannot accept that there are options in approaching God . . . because to accept that is to say that God is not unique (Deuteronomy 5, John 3). To say that morals do not matter (Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 10). To say that our existence, our choices, and our destinies are not significant to Him (Psalm 139, Romans 8). To say that it does not matter whether we hold others in equal esteem with ourselves (Matthew 7, John 15). If these are not truths we hold to, what is there left to hold on to in life?

There is no other way. There is no other way. There is only one way, one way that I cling to, because it is the only way that promises me life. There is nowhere else for me to turn.

Vincent Van Gogh

[Writing a sonnet for Shakespeare Festival Week has set me on a temporary sonnet-writing spree . . . here is one that began forming as a result of dealing with a bout of minor depression yesterday.]

Vincent Van Gogh

I walk each day through hallways in my mind,
And see the darkness twist and coil around
The many rooms in which my thoughts are bound;
By dusky mists them tied up do I find.

My deepest doubts before me swim and swirl
While fears and demons prey upon my soul;
As ’round my ankles now the smoke doth curl,
I start to feel oblivion’s cold pull.

But as through these deep shadow’d halls I go,
No sign of this can I let others see;
None of this nightmare shall anyone know:
A light of hope to them I must still be.

Thus out of pain must I joy resurrect;
And love from hurt and apathy protect.

Sunny Days and Long Thoughts

Today should be one of the best days of the week. It’s Wednesday, sunny, and not too cold despite this being Colorado. We’ve been making progress on our coding project and are more or less on schedule to finish it by end of week, including spending today as a kind of “vacation” day. Everything seems to be going well.

So why, as I’m starting to draft this entry, am I sitting on a log outside trying not to cry? Trying not to feel completely discouraged? Trying to ignore the feeling like I’m standing on a thin surface that’s about to crumble and fall apart underneath me?

Because all of my fears, doubts, and burdens are suddenly bearing down on me. Without anything to keep my attention, my thoughts are free to go spinning in whatever direction they desire, and right now that’s where they choose to dwell.

Many of my friends know how overwhelmingly busy I tend to be. Every time I seemingly overload myself, I always say I’ll take on less next time. But I never do. It’s because being swamped with activity is my way of running away from things. From thoughts that will noisily fill up the silence. From memories that will bring pain and regret into the present.

It’s easy to say that I should just hand my troubles to God. Even I tell myself that. But for me, at least, there is a major disconnect between saying it and actually being able to do it. I struggle to give to Him my burdens of loneliness, of failure, of anxiety, of shame, of sexuality, of pride, of self-hatred, of selfishness . . . all of my burdens that He is more than ready to take, but that I am unready to give Him.

That is why I will continue to keep moving, to keep running. Because if I stop, everything will come crashing on top of me like it did today. I don’t want that to happen. It hurts when it does. So I’ll keep making myself push forward, until I can’t do it anymore . . . or until I finally learn how to give it all to God unreservedly.