Posted On April 21, 2010
If you’ve read my posts before, you know that normally my “thoughts” are where I’ve recorded things that God has shown me through drawing my attention to things in everyday life. This time will be a bit different though.
The first months of twenty ten saw difficulty like I have never experienced before. However, at the same time, I have been able to see God at work like never before. As a result of what I went through, I want to tell others what has happened; I’ll explain more as to the reasons why here in a little bit.
I’m going to be very open and honest with you about some very difficult things that have happened, and I’m also going to type out for you some of my journal entries, which normally very few people ever get to see because they are immensely personal and transparent. I ask that in light of that, you would please treat the information I’m about to tell you with the same respect as you would want from me if our roles were reversed.
To start off with, 2009 was a year of continual storms. I won’t go into detail in this note because it would simply take too long. I never really healed from what happened last year though; rather, I did what I have been trained to, both as a guy, as an American, and from experience – I stuffed the pain, confusion, and hurt deep down inside, hoping that if I ignored what had happened long enough, it would just go away. After all, time heals all wounds, right? Actually, I guess I did more than just stuff my feelings, I outright denied them.
Things just never seemed right after everything that happened. Especially my relationship with God. The way I described things in my journal involved words like “shallow” and “surface level.” It just seemed like I couldn’t find a way to go deeper or move forward, and I didn’t understand why. I tried a bunch of different things. I tried reading more books. I tried reading the Bible more. I even changed the route that I was taking to work, heading out onto the interstate instead of cutting through town, so that I could have an extra 40 minutes of prayer time every day. Nothing seemed to help.
On top of that, my friends faded away. We didn’t end our friendships, or even go through difficult times in them. They just became busy, and increasingly absent in my life. Even with repeated attempts to spend time with them, I found myself increasingly isolated. My being a youth leader at church took a turn for the worse and our times together became ineffective. At one point the kids just started ignoring that I was even there and would just hold their own conversations the entire time.
My mom was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital because of fluid around her heart. My dad tore his rotator cuff at work and had to have surgery. My truck started making weird noises. So did my water heater. My freezer started leaking water, so did my kitchen faucet. My kitchen got invaded by ants that weren’t phased by any kind of trap. My computers at work started acting up, as did the computers at church that I’m in charge of. My finances became increasingly tight, and expenses kept mounting. It seemed like everything was falling apart.
It seemed like my relationship with God was just slowly drifting away. My prayer times seemed pointless, as if my prayers were just bouncing off of the ceiling. I was begging and pleading with God to give me some sort of wisdom and insight into what was happening, but He never answered. My life was slowly unraveling before my eyes, with no apparent reason, no answers, and no response from God.
I became disheartened, and wanted to just give up on God like it seemed He had given up on me. I didn’t really care anymore. It seemed like my life was oscillating – almost like being bipolar or something like that. One day I would be very down and depressed, the next day I would be better. Then back down again. Sometimes the oscillations would happen in the same day. I wondered if I was going crazy or something. But at the same time, I didn’t care. About anything. I couldn’t feel anything anymore. I had even given up trying to just “shine it along.” I was giving up. I couldn’t keep going anymore. As one last-ditch effort, I emailed some of my closest friends and cried out for help. I concluded that email with this:
The end result though, is it is absolutely sucking the life out of my relationship with God; it’s becoming more difficult for me to pray, for me to read my Bible, and to journal, and my heart isn’t in most things anymore. I am growing numb.
This became even more apparent in a shocking way to me this past Wednesday. I’m taking a class at church on Weds. evenings, and one of the examples that we were given was about how our perspectives can affect our interpretation of things (specifically, how men interpret things differently than women.) The author printed the phrase “GODISNOWHERE” in the book. My mind immediately read “God is nowhere.” The author commented about how most of the time a Christian would read “God is now here,” while an atheist would probably read “God is nowhere.” Which sent chills down my spine.
Guys, I’m really struggling. After everything that happened last year, and all the stuff that’s happening this year, I am fighting for my faith. And growing weaker. And it’s very discouraging. The enemy is succeeding in trying to isolate me from my brothers and sisters, and is slowly hacking away at me, and it really sucks. And while some days I’m given strength and am able to fight on, other days I feel too weak to fight anymore. Most of the time people wouldn’t really be so blunt with things, but I’ve learned that sometimes I need to be: I am crying out for help, because I am losing this battle.
The following day, my journal entry spoke of the pain in my soul:
I can’t do this anymore. My life and my faith are in shambles. My world doesn’t make sense anymore. I’m still trying to fight, but I have no strength left. Still, I keep fighting instead of giving up.
I feel very isolated & very alone; things just seem so hopeless. My relationship with God is virtually nonexistent.
After receiving my email, my friend John called me to encourage me. He said that I should read and memorize Isaiah 44:22, and use that to fight off the attacks of satan. I decided to read the surrounding scripture to get some context, and verse 21b struck me in a way I’ll never forget. “I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you.” It is the only verse I have ever been able to memorize by reading one time; it is as if God had breathed a small breath onto the dying embers of my soul.
My closest friend, Brian, called me Wednesday just as I was getting ready to leave work for the day. He told me that he was concerned, and that it seemed like what I was going through was not just a typical struggle with my faith and that he thought something much deeper was going on. We talked for about 20 minutes before he had to take off. I’ll defer to my journal entry for that evening for you now. (This will come into play later in my note as well.)
As I was walking out to my truck, I was just thinking – you know, I’ve come to this point how many times now? I go through some crisis, then have a realization about what caused it. So things get better. For a while. Then another crisis, followed by another realization. And so on. But what causes that cycle? Apparently I’m just addressing the symptoms of the underlying problem, not the problem itself. Kinda like taking Tylenol to take care of the metal spike stuck in your foot.
I got to thinking about what caused this last one – confusion about what God’s Will was. Which was caused by questions about God’s plan for my life. Which was instigated by a conversation with one of my high school classmates. So that got me to thinking about the pattern that I’d mentioned.
So that made me try to dig deeper. I remembered how when I was growing up, I was the kid everyone picked on. When I was in kindergarten, I remember having a number of friends. And I talked a lot – so much that I got my name written on the board. I’ve seen pictures of myself at that age, and I wasn’t fat. In the first grade, some of my classmates started picking on me, calling me fat, and all that. That’s when I started turning inward, and I grew quiet and shy. As they called me fat, I ate more. I became what they said basically. But more importantly, I remembered how they would use me – they would treat me nice when they wanted something, then when they were done with me they’d drop me again. It’s a cycle that I’d face all through college actually, and even into today. Relationships based on performance.
I’m wondering if it’s that conditioning – the conditioned expectation of a lifetime of experience – that tells me that my performance determines my worth to others. And thus, by association to experiences with many others along the way, that my performance determines what my worth should be to myself, and likewise to God.
I kind of wonder if that’s why I struggle with doing everything for everyone so much – an internal hope that by doing what they want, they’ll like me. An idea that’s reinforced by the fact that so many people only talk to me when they want something.
It kind of makes sense. I mean, I hold myself to such a high degree of perfection with things I work on. Like in my house, I can tell you every mistake I’ve made on every project I’ve worked on.
I wonder if things are compounded by the fact that it seems like God brings a lot of people into my life for a short period of time, to serve a certain purpose (for me to encourage them or whatever,) and then they leave again. Short-term relationships for a specific purpose.
It seems like I fight for a lot of my friendships, where it’s me pursuing others. Like me traveling up to Chicago all the time, working to set up what are almost like appointments just to get to hang out with my friends.
I wonder if that’s why I’m not really competitive, why I don’t really care about sports and the like – because the sports and competitions are judged by the performance of the participants and I don’t need any more of that.
I wonder if that’s why whenever I slip up in life, I feel like God is disappointed in me, that I’m afraid He’s done with me. I wonder if the reason that I feel this way is because I associate His word with the same level of trustworthiness that I’ve experienced with so many people in the past – sure, they say that they care about me and all that today, but in days or weeks or months they turn their backs on me. How long will it be before God does the same thing?
Tonight during Bible study, I got to wondering if it boils down to the root issue of a man’s need for respect – kinda like what Dr. Eggerichs talks about. Like, by my classmates treating me as they did, that they were implicitly stating, “I don’t respect you, I never have and never will.” And if that’s how it feels like other people react to me as well, and even God – basically, like if I don’t meet their expectations, I lose their respect.
So yeah, much to think about & figure out I guess. And who knows how much deeper it may go – this may be just another level on the way to the bottom of it all, I dunno.
I emailed my thoughts from the day to Brian, and he responded by asking if I would be interested in him walking me through a process that would guide me in unearthing the roots of what I’d already started to dig up. I of course said yes.
The process has been a challenging one, but very freeing.
The first thing that Brian had me do was to block out several hours to dedicate to prayer and journaling and making a life timeline – to document all of the defining memories that God brought to mind – stuff from as early as I can remember up until the current day that made a significant impression on my memory, whether good or bad. He also had me reflect on my family growing up – characteristics of personalities, spoken/unspoken rules, how I viewed my role in my family growing up, etc. Basically, to take what I’d written in the journal entry I typed out above and build out from there.
He then had me think and pray about these events and identify the blessing and/or pain associated with them.
The next step was for me to reflect on the pain in my life, and to identify the themes – good and bad, disappointment, loss, insecurity, humiliation, reconciliation, love, repentance, etc., and to identify the transcendence moments – times where I could see God intervening, moving, revealing Himself, etc. He had me look for “little ‘t’ truths” and “little ‘s’ solutions” (the little ‘t’ truths were ‘truths’ I’d learned through life experiences, such as the ‘fact’ that I was only valued when I did something for someone, thus the little ‘s’ solution for that was that I did everything for everyone.) He then had me compare that with the “big ‘T’ Truths” and “big ‘S’ Solutions” presented by God’s Word (eg, that God loves us unconditionally, no matter how good or how bad we are, He will never love us any less or any more.) And then to fight the little ‘t’ truths and little ‘s’ solutions with big ‘T’ Truths and bit ‘S’ Solutions whenever we’d come up against them in day-to-day life.
Finally, he had me deliberately meditate on my life before God – to spend time in solitude listening for Him to speak to me and lead me through this. This has been an ongoing process – I’ll come up to something in my life that makes me wonder “why do I react xyz in this situation every time I encounter it?” So I will sit down and write out what’s going on, then comment that I’m going to spend some time before God about it. I’ll pray specifically about what’s happening, and ask God for wisdom about what’s happening, why it happens, and what the root cause is. Then I’ll sit there still and quiet before God, straining to hear His leading through the Holy Spirit. And each time this has happened, the Holy Spirit has whispered a word, idea, situation, etc. to my heart and led my thoughts in the extrapolation of that. Sometimes this process is fairly quick; other times it happens over the course of several days.
Throughout this process, he also has had me reading the book “Emotionally healthy spirituality” by Peter Scazzero (http://tinyurl.com/y8pnz79). At first I was really skeptical about what difference a book could make, because I’d tried reading so many as a part of my struggles. But after the first chapter, I could see so much of myself and my situation in what the author had written that I couldn’t put the book down. Reading that book, and the process that Brian has been walking me through, has been transforming my life, and giving me hope for the first time in a very long time. If it says anything, I wrote in the book, underlining stuff, making notes, etc. In the book itself. And I never, ever write in books. Ever.
The author deals with a number of topics, including the proper method for dealing with feelings (and accepting that feelings and emotions are an important and valid part of our lives,) understanding the stages of growing in our relationship with Christ, the impact that our families, friends, classmates, coworkers, culture, situations in life, and others have on our emotional development, reactions, thought patterns, etc.
The chapter that really hit me was chapter six, “Journey through the wall.” I think that what I went through this past year, is what Scazzero and others refer to as “the wall.” I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of the book, as it was very instrumental to my healing through “the wall.”
My friend Brian (as well as Scazzero and others) refer to The Wall as a “Dark night of the soul.” And indeed, from what you read of my journal entries and comments above, it was very much a dark night of my soul. The struggles and pain I experienced in 2009 were indeed dark and difficult. But the struggles of my faith were nothing compared to what happened at the end of the year and earlier this year.
Over the last few months, God has been continually showing me more and more of who I am, how I think, why I think that way, why I react the ways I do, things from my past that have shaped me, etc. I don’t know how long it will be before I’ll be able to comfortably say that I’m through “the wall”, but as of this moment in time I think I’m getting close. But I do know that God is leading me through it, and He has been/is giving me some tremendous victories and insights. A few Saturdays ago when I was working at the soup kitchen in town like I do most Saturdays, in the middle of the day I just stopped for a second and realized something seemed very different – I felt like I had grown up, like I’d matured or something.
Just as my friend Brian has been walking me through this, I want to help my brothers and sisters through this as well. I believe that if Brian hadn’t been able to recognize the signs and lead me through this process, I would have either walked away from my faith as a result of the wall, or become so shallow that I might as well have walked away from it. I had no idea of such a thing, and had never heard it discussed in church before. But having gone through it, I can see how many of my friends have experienced the same thing to differing degrees of intensity. I’m posting this on my website so that when it happens in other people’s lives, they’ll know what’s going on and what to do.
I know how much pain I have gone through this year, and how incredibly difficult things have been. I know how hopeless I’ve felt, how distraught and disheartened and abandoned. I can tell you that right now, at this moment, I am freer than I ever have been before in my memorable life, and it is a wonderful thing.
If you have any questions, comments, etc., please don’t hesitate to let me know – just shoot me a quick note on the “Contact Us” page, or if you know me, just holler at me. If you are going through this now, please also know that you aren’t the only one to go through this, and that you aren’t going through it alone. I know how dark and difficult the process is. But being on my way to the other side, I can also tell you how glad I am that God led me to it, and is leading me through it.
I wish you nothing but the best now, and in the future.
Your brother in Christ,