These 3 blogs detail 3 revelations that truly wrecked me this summer. God healed me from a festering past that I didn’t know was still festering. He released me from 7 years of self loathing and regrets. He taught me that I need people as much as I need Him. He taught me lessons I never imagined I would learn, and he freed me in ways I never expected to be free.
Lately God has been bringing me through a lot of emotional realizations. The first realization was that I have been engaging in some pretty serious self-loathing throughout the years. At first I thought I only hated parts of myself. Specifically I hated how dependable I am because I often feel used by other people because of it. So I have been asking God the last few weeks what other parts of myself I have tried to separate from myself, and two weeks ago, he told me.
It was at team time one night. We were doing “private corporate worship.” This means that we all get out our iPhones/iPods and listen to worship music separately, together. I personally believe that God’s beauty can be found in any kind of beautiful music, so I often find myself worshipping to Bassnectar or Daft Punk, but that night I decided to stick with strictly “Christian” artists. That meant listening to Red, Skillet, Demon Hunter, and Grits. Old music that I got in high school. And as I listened to the old music, the music that my friend Carter and I cut our aural teeth on, memories from high school bubbled back up.
High school was a very dark time for me. I was very severely depressed from my sophomore year through senior year, and onward through college, though it was less severe. I will talk more about that in another post, but for now let’s stick to the present. So that night of worship I was listening to Skillet’s album “Comatose.” It is a great album and it helped me through a lot of hard times in my life. It has a lot of great songs, like “Comatose” which talks about how we need God to wake up from a coma of going through the motions. Or like “Whispers in the Dark” a song that is very dear to my heart. That song is about how God pursues us even when we lie to him about ourselves, and how He is just waiting for us to turn to Him so that He can comfort us. Then came the heavy hitter “Falling Inside the Black.” The title says it all. It talks about falling inside the black, falling back into the despair, falling back into the hopelessness. And the memories that came with that song brought tears to my eyes.
Recently when I have given my testimony I gloss over my depression. I recently went to a counselor and after we finished our set of sessions I felt pretty good. So I proclaimed myself cured and went on with my life. Forgetting the black. Forgetting the despair. Forgetting all the hundreds of night lying in my bed drowning in a pool of horrible hopelessness. Forgetting all the times I told myself no one loved me. Forgetting all the times I told myself I was worthless and only God could ever love me. All it took was a single song to bring it all flooding back. God answered my question. “What parts of myself do I hate, what parts of myself have I exiled.” He answered with, “Daniel….it’s not a question of what parts you hate, it’s what parts don’t you hate? Don’t you remember all the years you told yourself you were worthless? Don’t you remember all the tears and all the despair? You do not hate a part of yourself, you hate all of yourself.” That was a rough moment.
The moment that followed was quite strange. Next he said, “I want you to apologize to me.” I was flabbergasted. Apologize? For what? For hating myself? Why should I apologize for feelings I have about myself in the privacy of my head? John 3:16 is the answer. Jesus loved me so much that he died for me. If I say the man he died for is worthless, am I not defaming the sacrifice of Christ? I did not apologize that night. I was still sad and angry and confused and flustered. But I apologized the next morning and this is what I said.
I’m sorry. For my disbelief. For my lack of faith. For mocking. For defaming. For degrading. For insulting. For loathing. For hating. For lying. For pretending. For fighting. For attempting to murder. This man of God. I’m sorry for regretting. This man in the mirror. I’m sorry for restraining. This warrior of the Lord. I’m sorry for all the years. I’m sorry for all the tears. I’m sorry for exiling. Myself.
He accepted my apology, and then continued to wreck me about my depression and free me from a past I didn’t know I was enslaved to.
No More Regrets
Two weeks ago God showed me that I have been hating myself for at least seven years. I hated a lot of parts of my life when I was going through them, but then God showed me that my self-loathing wasn’t just in the past, it was still happening. Not that I still hate every part of myself. It’s a rare night now that I give into the despair and speak the word worthless over and over and over again. But I still hate myself. To be specific, my past self.
After a lot of people give their testimonies they say, “But you know if I could do it all over again I would, mistakes and all.” In my mind I always secretly sneered at those words. How could they not regret their mistakes? If I could go back I certainly would not make those same mistakes. I wouldn’t throw myself into those relationships that burned me. I wouldn’t ignore and exile the people who hurt me in an attempt to hurt them back. I wouldn’t keep my depression to myself. I would right my wrongs. And I thought that was ok.
However, God recently told me that regrets are not ok. Regrets can masquerade as good intentions and apologies. You can say you don’t regret something, but if you still wish you could go back and change it, it’s secretly a regret. And God is not in the business of regrets.
I didn’t know it, but those regrets were feeding my addiction to self-loathing and eating me from the inside out. Those regrets meant that I still hated myself. Those regrets meant that I did not like the man God had made me. If I would go back and change my experiences, both good and bad, it would mean changing the person I am today. Changing the man of God He has made me to be. And God has shown me that He did not make any mistakes in creating me at birth or creating the me who is sitting here typing. I am who he wants me to be.
I realized this one night as I was talking to a girl on my team who hides her regrets by pretending she’s always happy. She likes to mask her pain by having fun and spending time with fun people. Because if she doesn’t mask the pain, she looks back on her past, and hates who she is. I prayed over her that night about how God made her who she is and she doesn’t have to regret her past because He was in it, just as He is in her now. And God told me that those words were for me too. I wrote a poem about the experience, which I will not share with you. If you have any regrets, I pray that you can give them to God. You don’t have to carry them any longer.
We sit in the dark, just as we have so many times before. The night invites us to think and feel. No moon shines tonight and the black sky calls us to fill the endless void with words. Alone, we fill it with refried regret and songs of sadness. But tonight we are not alone. Me, addicted to despair, in love with hating myself, longing for the kiss of death. Her, addicted to band aids with smiley faces on them, she has covered her eyes with them, afraid to see, knowing she’ll hate what she sees. But we are not alone together. Demons surround us. Slavering with hunger, drooling at the prospect of two more meals. They creep up behind us, their red eyes tinting the night sanguine. They whisper into our ears. To me, “Come back to us, you know you like it. You can’t leave us. You’ll never escape.” To her, “Ignore it, don’t look. It’s too dirty. Thinking about it won’t help. You’re too filthy.” They flick out their claws, ready to tear us apart at the first signs of weakness. But we are not alone, together, with the demons. There is a third party in attendance. His hands cover our ears. His arms hold our shivering bodies. And he speaks, “I made you. I love you. I was there in your past. I made you who you are. I love the person you are, and I have already traded the world for you. So no more hate/ No more fear of the past. No more regrets.” At his words the demons scream and vanish. The cloudy sky clears, and He holds us as we cry. Now the words we speak into the void will change. “I am not afraid of the past. I am loved. I am redeemed. I have no more regrets.” The redeemer has bought us and paid in full. His mercies are new each day. I have no more regrets.
People Need People
In another post I talked a bit about my depression. Well, it’s time to talk a bit more about it. In high school I was severely depressed from my sophomore year onward. In college I have been less severely depressed. Let me give you an idea of what “severe” and “less severe” means. In high school starting from maybe halfway through sophomore year to the end of senior year suicide was not a monthly thought for me, it was a daily or hourly thought. I would dream of ways to end my life. Ways that would leave as little mess as possible. Ways that I could disappear completely, vanish into the void like a light mist under the hot Alabama sun. I always tell people that God saved my life, and I mean it. God saved me from myself in high school. I cannot tell you how many nights I sat in bed with a knife in my hands, trying to work up the courage to cut myself out of this world. Thanks be to God I never tried. I could tell you about the night in college when I tried to tie a noose with my computer cord, but thanks to God, I never quite worked up the courage to tie the final knot. Let me assure you, I am an efficient and thorough person, if I had made an attempt, there would only have been one. God’s love saved me all those years. He was the only reason I stuck around. I bought into the lie that no one loved me, that everyone was faking it, but I could not buy the lie that God did not love me.
In high school severe meant laying in my bed every other night, drowning in a pool of despair and my own tears. It meant curling up in the fetal position around the stabbing ball of loneliness in my stomach. It meant sobbing the word worthless through the tears until I at last fell asleep. Less severe in college meant that this happened only once a month or every two weeks.
I could tell you a thousand stories of how deep the depression was, and how close I came to the edge night after night, and maybe someday I will. But in high school I never told anyone. I can remember telling only a few people about my depression in high school, and when I told them I dressed it up in a nice little package. I said, “I’ve been pretty depressed lately. Not about anything specific. Just pretty sad.” I never said, “God is literally the only thing between a knife and my throat right now.” Even in college I talked about my depression as if it was a thing of the past. As if I still didn’t have those nights where I looked at the pretty glint of the light on a knife blade. As if it was over and done.
This past semester I went to a counselor for my depression. I told him something had happened and I had started planning my suicide. He said that was bad and then we talked about things and in 7 weeks he said I was alright. I never told him how deep my self-esteem issues run. I never told him that I had only started to be glad I was alive at all in the past year and a half. I falsely proclaimed myself cured and painted over the still rotting wood with a happy bright yellow color.
Through all the years I always hoped that someone would notice. That someone would push back the curtains of “I’m alright.” But no one ever did. I had gotten an early start in hiding my emotions in middle school. In high school I perfected the straight face. We would have “no laughing” contests, where two people stare at each other until one laughs. I never lost once. All I had to do was set my mind on the hopelessness in my heart and I could not bear to smile. I have become a master of hiding myself. I can put on a smile at the drop of a hat. I can perfectly send out the “I don’t want to talk about it” vibe. I can deflect and defer any question. The only one who has ever pursued me enough to break through the myriad of masks, is God.
So for years I lived with just him. People say it’s hard to rely on God. It’s not. Not if he’s the only thing that’s kept you from killing yourself for the past seven years. Not if you wake up morning after morning with all your energy drained from despair and you have to pray for the strength to simply get out of bed. For years I’ve been living with God. But it hasn’t been immeasurably more, it’s been a starvation diet. God gives me enough strength to do his will for the day. Like here, he gives me energy to do my work, play with the kids, and pursue my teammates, but no more. He leaves me nothing extra, nothing left for myself. This is the way I have been living for years.
Last week God finally brought that to an end. I had been feeling used by my team here. God has revealed in me a talent of writing poems, so I have been writing poems for everyone, but no one has written anything back. I give people snacks every day, but no one shares their food with me. I pray for people all the time, but no one prays for me. And the dam finally broke last week. God told me I had to tell my team about it, and I had to share a poem I had written with them. The poem is below
Grasping at Straws
I draw in a nice, cool, breathe of water.
Bolts of lightning illuminate the ocean. Glinting off the toothy smiles of the sharks that surround me. There is a gleam in their eyes. The assurance of victory, as they wait for me to stop struggling.
Water blasts into my ears. Pouring in the screams of all the other lost souls who have drowned in this ocean. Filling my head, begging me to join them.
My throat burns with bile and salt water as the ocean forces itself on me. It batters my body with crashing waves. Beating me into submission.
My arms and legs burn. Bones creak and sinews scream as I fight for the surface. My right arm stretches out of the maelstrom, grasping for anything. Hail is the only thing that deigns to touch my hand.
I am drowning. Sinking in a sea of despair. I try to lift my countenance to the furious sky, but my eyes burn with sea water. I try to cry out to the raging heavens, but my vomit gags me. So I pray the only prayer I know.
Save me. Two words I had cried out to God so many times throughout the years, but never to anyone else. And last week God told me it’s time to cry out to those who love you. I had to pray that prayer to my team. I have been tired and burned out for half of this trip, but instead of asking my team for help, I only asked God. Some say that all you need is God, and this is true. However, God is not just inside you, He is in other people as well, and in nature, and art, and so many other things. God is not limited to the inside of our own heads. So God showed me that people need people. If I need help, I need to cry out for it. I waited all those years in my arrogance for people to see what I was deliberately hiding from them. If I had simply let them see what they needed to see, they would have helped. This is a new thing for me. I knew I needed Christian community, and I knew I needed vulnerability, but I didn’t know I needed vulnerable Christian community. We need to be open with each other about our faults as well as our strengths. We need to show what we lack along with what we have excess of. This is something that will be hard for me. It’s still hard for me to ask for help when I need it. It will be hard to go home and have to change relationships because I need help from people that I have only ever poured into. But I know that the God in them will rise up to help the man in me. I have never had much faith in people, but I have faith in God, and I guess I can learn to trust the God in other people as well as the one in my head.