You have shown me mercy when I was looking for despair.
Please forgive me for the long delay. I have a pretty good size list of excuses, including the ever classic, “I don’t have internet access,” but I don’t think I’ll bother you with those. Life is busy and I was learning how to breathe again. For the moment at least, I think I’ve caught my breath. I have written some new poetry and things, but today at least needs to be a personal entry, and a long one at that. I want to share what’s been happening with me, get everybody caught up, so to speak.
It’s difficult to know where to begin. I think it’s pretty common knowledge that I went through a particularly stressful semester this fall, but I don’t think that was the root of the issue. It was a little bit more complicated and a little bit more philosophical, so please forgive me while I go there a bit.
I guess I’ll tell a straight story, so I’m going to back waaay up: six years ago I moved to North Carolina (is that far back enough for you?). It was basically one giant big long bad experience. It would sound like a pity party if I told you about it. Basically, God sent me here, halfway across the country, and I’ve yet to get a clear answer why. Every time I thought I was heading in a direction, I ended up going somewhere else completely. I wrote a short story about it, called “A Day’s Journey,” where the key phase was “Lord, You lead like a drunken man,” because that is what it has felt like, one giant misadventure. If the Lord had not been on my side (let Israel now say), if the Lord had not been on my side, the raging waters would have swept me away. I would have given up and tried something else. But one thing I was convinced of was that this was where I was supposed to be.
Enter college (Queens University now), one giant liberal experience. Let me just say that it is not for the weak in faith for those of a conservative upbringing to go to a liberal school, or probably vice-versa. I go there and I’m surrounded by what seems like every possible point of view but one I agree with. It has probably been a very good educational experience. Not one I would deliberately force on anyone, but an effective growing time nonetheless. It wasn’t so much that I was surrounded by Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Democrats, and Athiests. That part I could deal with. You just pick the set of beliefs that you believe is true and then stick to your guns until you’re convinced otherwise. The people who got to me where the ones who could listen to two people arguing about whether heaven exists and turn to me and say that both positions were probably completely right, without batting an eye. Relativism is scary, because under that mindset, the only position that can always be wrong is the one that believes in some kind of consistent truth.
Nevertheless, it was into this whirlwind that I was dropped, started looking for a church, and started trying to relate to a huge group of people who, instead of believing in nothing, or in something that was demonstrably incorrect, believed in everything. I was prepared to share my faith with hadn’t heard, or defend myself against any active disbelievers. But what was I supposed to do with a bunch of people who say “Oh, I believe you,” and then go merrily along living according to some other set of principles that are “equally valid”? Do you know what group of people I found consistently were willing to reduce their beliefs to first principles and argue consistently according to them? Athiests. I don’t mean agnostics, a group of people who don’t really know what they believe, but the don’t believe in God, usually because of some terrible thing that happened that God should not have allowed, or even agnostics who are really atheists, but unwilling to admit it in a rabidly religious world. I mean a set of people who honestly believe that there is no God, no originator of the universe at all, who can explain their beliefs in a clear, logical, consistent fashion, and manage to live decent, moral, upstanding lives in accordance to clear ethical principles that happen to lack any absolute enforcer telling them to obey. Frankly, give me a true atheist any day than all that other mush. And that was my problem.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (10:25). I hadn’t deliberately “forsaken the assembly” but I had allowed myself to become isolated. Our school does have a Campus Crusade group and a regular chapel service, and I did have a church to attend, but the CC meetings, like many student-led religious services, always struck me as particularly shallow, like Christianity lite or something. And as I got more bogged down in school, a lot of these meetings began to seem to me to be more of a waste of valuable time than anything else. Social interaction wasn’t productive. Never mind the fact that to relieve stress I instead spent several hours a day playing video games, because, see, video games aren’t people, so I can’t offend them if I just cut them off in the middle of something. Only, I didn’t cut them off. I played until my stress level went down or I became so exhausted that I had to go to bed, whichever came first. But the Bible doesn’t say to forsake not the playing of video games, it says to forsake not the assembling together. Video games are simply ineffective in relieving the real problem. Not that they aren’t a delightful amusement, but they are not the best medicine for frustration (which leads to worry, which leads to anxiety, which leads to fear and doubt). We need to come together to “stir up love and good works,” and I would add faith and hope because there always come dry times in people’s lives where it’s just hard to get our minds clear enough to experience the living God. He may be showing up, but we’re too dense to recognize him, too distracted to cherish the memory long after the experience. In that time, we need community to lift us up and constantly remind us of the things we ought to remember: that He is real, and that he is there for us. He remembers that we are but dust, but sometimes we like to forget and pretend that we are self-sufficient.
So there I was, by degrees distressed, discouraged, and despairing and for the most part isolated, which prepared me for the next step: deception. I think it’s Rick Joyner who says that when people are thirsty enough, they will drink poison, just to get a liquid down their throats. That’s probably about where I was. I pretty much define myself by worship. It’s what I was made for. I was born only to worship Him. I believe that. But when you can’t get ahold of Him to save your life—what am I supposed to do without a purpose for my life? So I began slowly slipping into a kind of practical atheism because it was the only other totally consistent worldview that I knew of that didn’t require the one thing that I was missing: the presence of a living God.
Now, I’m not stupid. I didn’t go around confessing my atheism. Atheism is internally consistent, thanks to Darwin and Nietzsche and a whole host of others who have managed to facilitate people running from the one thing they need most. People have an incredible ability to be logical and thorough when they wish to. So Hinduism is internally consistent as well as a geo-centric view of the universe, but they are sometimes inconsistent with what we perceive when we gaze into the heavens. Athiesm may be internally consistent, but it is not consistent with my experience. I can point to specific improbable prophecies in scripture and show you how they were fulfilled hundreds and thousands of years later. I can tell you of times that I myself have prophesied and spoken accurately into people’s lives with no natural knowledge of their situation, and I can tell you of the things that God has spoken into my life, that resonate so profoundly within me that I don’t believe I could help but accomplish them. Nevertheless, in the process of being miserable, my mind began making plausible excuses for the way I was behaving. We are furry little mammals, pretending to be gods, making order everywhere. In one sense I was moving toward atheism, failing to seek the Lord, living my life almost as if He didn’t exist. In another sense, I was by default worshiping the great god Nintendo: we always worship something.
Now this is the hard part: Repentance. It’s easy to talk about sinning because, hey, everybody sins, and there’s nothing new under the sun, so I can just talk about it in really general terms with these nice theological diagrams that talk about the steps that Satan leads us down. But when you talk about repentance, you have to own up to it: It was my sin. I was screwing up my life. It was somebody else who caught me going the wrong way and got me to turn around. There goes my pride. Maybe if I was Catholic. Then I could cheat a little: I could go to one church for confessional and to another for mass. But in my life at least, I’m like an unruly dog being housetrained. I have to get caught with my business out in the open, dragged to the scene of the crime, have my nose rubbed in it and then get bopped on the head before the idea of changing my habits crosses my mind. (You can see now why maybe it’s a good idea for me not to have a dog…) Steve Thompson once compared repentance to getting in your car planning to go to New York and getting on the highway headed straight for Florida. You go a couple of miles and pass a friend who knows you were headed for New York. He sees you and immediately starts trying to wave you down. After 10 minutes of honking at you, he finally gets you to pull over and tells you that you’re headed straight for Florida. There’s no need to get all emotional about it. You were just going the wrong way. Get back in your car and turn around. But that’s only partially true. Anyone who thinks they even remotely have a sense of direction would be absolutely mortified that they were going the wrong way, and that they had to be pulled over to learn about it.
That person who pulled me over was my mom, and I thank her for it. I wasn’t happy, but I am grateful. I went home for Christmas break with 2 papers still left to write. All the research was done, all the texts selected, and I knew the basic direction of the papers. All that was left was to make an outline and write the darn things. After about 2 weeks, I had finished one. I would do everything imaginable to avoid working on those papers. All in front of a computer, mind you. I spent three weeks total in front of a computer, working on a measley 2 papers. Mind you, the total length of those papers was just a little longer than this confessional, which I wrote in one night. Somewhere in there, though, my mom and I had a conversation. Eh, let’s call it a fight. I don’t remember exactly how it all went, but she basically wanted to know how I thought sitting in front of a computer, freaking out about work I wasn’t doing was supposed to coincide with getting it out of the way and finally relaxing. I guess my arguments weren’t very convincing (and yes, I did try to defend my behavior), because at the end of one of my lackadaisical defeatist statements, she said something along the lines of, “well if that’s the way you think, you’re not who I thought you were.” And I just broke. I made some sort of blithe comment and went to another room and had me a good cry. I’m sure it freaked her out. In fact I know it freaked her out because she came in there asking me what she said that had hurt my feelings and trying to make me feel better. There was no way to explain to her that what she said didn’t really have anything to do with what was going on inside me. I just sort of got a Holy Spirit download of where I was at and what I was doing and why it was all messed up. All the things I explained at the beginning of this article just suddenly fell into place and I got this huge revelation of all those things that sound so blasé until you actually get a revelation of them: That God loves me, and that he’s there for me and that I need him to survive. It just sort of went on and on and on. And here’s my poor mom. I think I did manage to get out the part about it being so spiritually dry there for me, but nothing to explain why I was all weepy for the next hour or so.
Don’t tell anybody this, but I really do appreciate my mom. If there’s something wrong, she’s going to do whatever is necessary to find out what it is and fix it, no matter what the cost to herself. I can pretty much guarantee that I was an unpleasant person, especially when a certain person started trying to fix the problem. But if she can’t do it with a surgeon’s knife, she’s willing to go in there with a mallet, even if there’s a pretty good chance the patient will grab the mallet and use it back. So, yeah. I really appreciate my mom, and everything she’s gone through for me (and from me). Just don’t tell her, okay?
It was sort of a huge reality check, my little encounter. Who I am, what I’m here for, that sort of thing. And since then, for the first time in a long time, I’ve felt like I’ve really been able to worship. I mean, really worship, where it doesn’t depend on the songs and the circumstance, where you could worship to the tune of Old Macdonald in a Communist re-education camp. Because He is real, He is here, and when you have Him, you have everything. For the first time in a long time, it’s not about the form or the other people: it’s about Him and me. The rest of you people can go play cards in the back for all I care. I’m ready to worship. In every circumstance, I’m ready to worship.
Of course, I say that now, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I can’t put much faith in myself. Left to myself it would be a progression from catastrophe to catastrophe instead of from glory to glory. As far as it is up to me, I could be back in the same slough of despond tomorrow, but I have hope in Someone who will guide me if I will only acknowledge Him.
Incidentally, He’s still leading me like a drunken man. Even with that big experience, it’s still a process. I’m now moved into my nice new apartment, three miles from school, taking only 13 credits, and I am having the hardest time keeping up and looking for a job and finishing moving in. Mostly it’s the fact that I don’t want to do much thinking after a three hour jog/run/bike ride. But sometimes it’s the same frustration about being able to get started in the morning. Also, Valerie and I decided that, while MorningStar is good for many things, intimacy and gentleness are not their strong points. Some of us aren’t used to jumping and dancing and rock and roll music for church, let alone all this about prophecy and miraculous healing. So we found a very nice Baptist church about halfway between my apartment and MorningStar to go to on Sunday while we still go to the crazy church on Friday nights. It’s a very good church, probably the best I’ve been to in Charlotte for maintaining that holistic community feel. My only concern is that I haven’t been a Baptist in about 15 years. I’m scared to that I might talk in tongues or pray for somebody in the wrong way and offend the entire congregation en masse. They’re a small church. They don’t need that. However, they are a small church. Big enough to have programs, and small enough to need volunteers. One of my biggest problems at MorningStar is that, no matter how hard they try not to make the whole thing a show, they’ve just got more volunteers than they know what to do with. You have to start your own ministry just to make yourself feel useful. But at Woodlawn Baptist… well, we’ve already signed up for the choir and I’m looking to figure out how to get involved with the youth, and would to God that somebody knows somebody who help me find a job!
Blessings on all of you