Darkness & Light

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Why I Will Live


Ever since I woke up this morning and remembered last night, the day has felt like a nightmare. A slowly degenerating nightmare that I expect every second to wake up from, to find that what I heard was just made up in my mind and that you are okay and alive, still out there for my second chance at being a friend.

But I don’t wake up that second time that I so deeply desire. The thoughts keep swirling around in my head. It’s my fault. I should have talked to him. Maybe I was the one who had the key. Why? Why did it have to happen? What did I miss out on? I can’t break the cycle. I can’t stop feeling the guilt.

We never talked after that year we were working together. It’s not like we even talked then. You wrote your stuff. I wrote mine. We came to the same meetings, talked to the same people who gave us tasks. And then our paths divided, but I found you on Facebook. And never said anything to you.

A year later, I heard that you weren’t doing okay anymore. That people had seen you change and become a person very different from the glimpse I’d seen of you. But I ignored what I’d heard. I didn’t care. I didn’t stop to ask you how you were doing. Out of the many friends I did stop to keep up with, you were one of the few I didn’t but that I could have.

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I forgot about you for the years after that. All that time that you were sinking and searching. The years that people tried to reach out to you, but somehow never quite got there. The years that I began to go through some of the same struggles and questions. The years that we could have talked and tried to encourage each other. The years you were alone.

Could I have said something that would have changed it all? Something that could have given you a lifeline to hang onto in the midst of the pain and the nothingness? Something to anchor you into the love of God that is still present in this world, even as the Archenemy tried to consume you and nullify you? Did I fail you?

I can’t stop asking. I can’t stop feeling like there was something I should have done. I can’t stop missing you more and more, even though I never knew you. I can’t stop wishing that you weren’t the one to head the list of “friends of mine who sleep and, perchance, who dream.” I can’t stop dreaming that maybe, just maybe, somehow I’ll find you and we’ll battle our way through our regrets and our failures in the Afterlife, just like in Angel Beats. I can’t stop mourning your passing, even though there are many who would say we weren’t close enough for me to need to grieve so much.

I always knew that going out in this way would be like releasing an explosive. What I didn’t know was that it is more like experiencing a nuclear bomb than experiencing a hand grenade. You wounded me by leaving like that. You left a hole in someone who shouldn’t have been touched, someone who shouldn’t feel your passing so deeply. But I do.

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And that’s why I have to live on. No matter how much I hate my life, no matter how much pain and unfairness and doubt and despair conspire together to torture me, I’m going to keep on going. For you. I’ll fight for you, for me, and for those like you and me who are desperately seeking the answers to questions we don’t even know fully how to ask. I’ll fight to find the answers you weren’t able to find. I’ll live the life you weren’t given, count the infinity of numbers you weren’t allotted. It’s the least I can do after failing you like that.

And it’s the least I can do to honor your memory. I’m not going to remember you as someone who simply gave up. I’m going to remember you as someone who tried to push on until there was nothing left to push on with. As someone who tried to bear more weight than he could handle, and in the end was crushed by it. I’m going to remember you as someone strong, not as someone weak.

It’s not just my life anymore. It’s your life too. And the lives of everyone else in our position. I’ll fight to try and make it so that no one around me, no one whose life I am allowed to touch and whose life touches mine, will ever have to despair again like you did. It’s why I will live. Because you didn’t.

I miss you, Ben. Goodnight, my friend.

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.

Reflection

A common theme in movies, TV shows, and fiction stories today is the concept of being true to oneself, or of being whoever or whatever one desires to be. Everywhere one looks, one can see it–from kids’ movies (Brave and Tangled, anyone?) to popular series (Divergent, e.g.) to blogs and self-help books all over the country. This idea has become so universal that it has even infiltrated the Church on occasion–the so-called “prosperity gospel” being one example. It pervades our culture and impels people toward political activism, due to their desires to legalize and normalize whatever minority they might lie in.

It also distracts from the true form of community.

So deeply has this concept become embedded in society that it has begun to cripple the Church and, consequently, society in general. When one’s focus is on being “unique” and “genuine,” it is easy to lose sight of what one is called to be: a servant.

Not a powerful leader. Not an impressive pioneer. Not a trend-setting visionary.

A humble servant. That is the call of the Christian. It is the act of being not the conquering king everyone expects, but the lowly foot-washer that everyone needs. It is the act of not asking how high in the Kingdom one may rise, but of instinctively climbing down to the deepest bottom in order to help raise others up out of the darkness. It is the act not of preserving oneself to “prepare for later,” but of giving one’s all in the pursuit of the good of the Kingdom.

Sometimes life doesn’t go the way we dream it will go. Sometimes our desires and dreams must die one by one, sacrificed on the altar of sanctifying faith. Sometimes our views of who we are and what we could be must be denied in submission to our God-given identity and path. Sometimes that which we would choose for ourselves and that which God has chosen for us are the complete opposites . . . and every time, it is God’s will that must come first.

Lately, I have been having to very deeply question my personal views of what I see as my identity. To ask myself whether I see myself in the way the world desires to see me and the way I desire to see myself, or whether I instead see myself as who I am in God. If I choose the first way, then I can be many things, whoever I desire to be . . . but at the price of living a life with any sincerity and true meaning. If I choose the latter way, then I may also be many things, but they will be dictated by God’s will . . . and provide me a life well worth the living. It may be a hard life; it may be a life of pain; it may be a life in which I am constantly being called to sacrifice a significant aspect of myself in order to continue pursuing God’s will. But it is the path I have chosen to walk, and a life I am choosing to lead.

Being a servant isn’t easy. But then again . . . easy isn’t for Christians. The true Gospel doesn’t promise a life of prosperity and ease. It doesn’t promise that we will be allowed to openly embrace parts of ourselves that the world might encourage us to embrace. It doesn’t promise that we will be given any of our hearts’ desires. What it does promise us, though, is the mercy and love of God poured out liberally upon us. What it does promise us is lives that, even if we didn’t live them the ways we wanted to, we lived them in the ways we needed to. And in the long run, we will have lived and served the Kingdom in greater ways than we could ever imagine if we were to blindly pursue our dreams.

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.