So…I was really hoping I could come back to you a month later with some huge spiritual experience and an “I’m out of the woods” story. I don’t have one.
Instead it has been baby steps forward, only to stumble back again. Some days I’m fine, some days all I want to do is lay down and cry because it just doesn’t make sense to me.
Darkness has been so evident lately and I’m so scared of falling into it instead of God. I know it’s really not my battle because I'm not strong enough to fight against it…but I don’t really know how to surrender it to God, either. I'm not really sure how to trust someone I can’t see, feel or hear but I want to.
I want to hate the darkness and be free from it. I want to be okay again and stop falling into fear, doubt, depression and darkness. It feels like an endless cycle and I’m even scared of getting out of it because then what happens if I fall again?
I’m so tired of fighting. I just don’t want to feel like i’m constantly fighting to believe & against the darkness. It’s so scary…I don’t want to fall.
You write about how God brought you out of the darkness…how? Was it sudden, or more of a gradual thing?
Fear wrote that last email for you. Fear legitimately pushed you off balance, kicked you out of the computer seat, and wrote that last message. It clicked send. It patted itself on the back for striking once again. It curled back up into its usual position, waiting to pounce on whatever next step you tried to take to get out of the woods. That’s the way fear operates— it preys on your action steps while writing songs about your failures.
I know fear wrote the email because I lived for a really long time letting fear dictate my daily actions. Fear drove conversations. Fear made me retreat. Fear allowed me to say “yes” and “no” to things. Fear drew a thick chalk circle all around me and announced into the tight space, “This is your comfort zone. Good luck leaving it.”
There’s a few things to know about your fear.
I think that’s the fear way you start to tackle and dismantle something: you figure out what you’re actually up against.
First off, your fear is terribly unoriginal. Yes, you feel alone in it. But that’s just a tactic of the fear. Fear wants you to believe you are the only one. It’s isolating. It’s like coming across a Taylor Swift song you really like, listening to it on your own for a solid ten years because you think no one else will get it the way you do, and then figuring out that everyone else knows the words too. Your fear— the one that feels so catered to you— is actually lurking in the hearts of a million, billion other people. It’s a ballad and we know all the words to it. You’re not alone. You’re not off on some island. You’re not solo on this pilgrimage. We know all the words, J.
Secondly, your fear is a jealous lover. It wants you to sleep alone with it at night. It’s greedy. Your fear doesn’t want to share you. It doesn’t want you to go out there and talk to the others. It doesn’t want you to have hard conversations, and solid dinner parties, and community that refuses to leave your side. Fear wrote you a story a long time ago and it doesn't want you to outgrow the plot line.
And though you know you deserve better than a lover who controls your every move, you still stay. You stay because no matter how jealous fear can be, it wants you. And we like to be wanted. You stay because, after all these years, fear has become comfortable and rhythmic in your life. It’s become reliable. You know its motions. You know how it will shut you down. You have stood in the face of fear so many times and it has tried to tell you who you are and you have believed it.
Lastly, your fear— while I’ve just talked a lot of smack about it— is necessary. Fear is basically synonymous with Russell Crowe in Les Miserables– he was always meant to be a character, sure, but someone let him sing too much.
Don’t look back and think, “I wish I hadn’t let fear beat me up so badly.” You needed the bruises. You needed the battering. In that, you figured out that there had to be something more. Only when the fear is smothering and we can’t sleep at night, only when the fear has taken from us over and over again, can we even dare to imagine that something might be better than this. Fear is the birthplace of courage. Fear can be a catalyst towards God.
I’ll say it again: Fear can be a catalyst towards God.
And as you push closer towards God, you will realize that he isn’t fear. A life shrouded in fear does not come from God. Quite the opposite: he is love. And love— when you allow yourself to get close enough to it— will not resemble fear. Just like you gave fear the permission to grow, you have to give love that same chance.
Because love? Well love is ten times a better builder than fear ever could be. The structures are strong. The foundations are solid. The shelter is reliable. When you speak out love instead of fear, people actually get brave. They get hungry for victory. They transform and it's wild. I used to only write about fear on this blog. I liked the idea of love but I didn't actually know it. So any attempts to write about it were noble but fleeting.
Letting God be love, instead of fear, has made every difference to the way I stand and walk today.
The date is November 17.
Tomorrow is the 18th. November 18. And I can’t begin to describe to you how that date on the calendar is such a benchmark for my life and the person I’ve become in the last year.
It will probably be a normal day. I’ll do some work. I’ll buy some groceries. I’ll visit a coffee shop and people are never going to know or see that November 18 is such a huge day for me. I’ll be celebrating inside though because November 18 is forever a day to remember that the darkness didn't win.
My friends and my family know what happened on that day, how my life flipped upside in the worst way possible and how the charade I was putting on for everyone took its final bow. Whatever was left, that’s what I had to work with.
It was a lot of fear. Paralyzing and crippling fear. It was doubt. It was worry. It was a stealthy attack. It was one step forward and two steps back again as I plunged deeper and deeper into myself. I could not use my brain. I could not eat. When the darkness was the heaviest, I didn’t eat for 12 hours at a time. I would get these brief moments of perspective, a chance to breathe, at the end of each day. I would cry in my mother’s arms— yes, at the age of 26— that I didn’t want to have to go back to sleep because I was afraid to start all over again the next morning.
Still, I would take the sleeping pills and go to sleep. I would wake up to the darkness waiting at the foot of my bed. And we would start the wrestling all over again.
I chose to wrestle with the darkness morning after morning. I was determined to find its roots and expose its tricks. I was enamored with the darkness. Now, looking back, I see that I was wrestling with the wrong thing. Why wrestle with the darkness when you can wrestle with God? Him and I, we were the real problem. I had prayed an honest prayer to really know him and have him show up for me. He honored the prayer, my act fell apart, and I was unwilling to meet him in that. I was unwilling to come out of hiding and say, “Here is who I really him. Here is the reality. Here is what I can’t stand any longer. I don’t think you are who you say you are. I’ve made you too small and I’m the one who does not believe.”
When the darkness pushes us into ourselves, there we figure out what we truly believe about God.
The God in my brain was flimsy and lukewarm. He was jealous and wrathful. He was angry with me and disappointed constantly. I was always falling short to the God in my brain.
The bible writes a lot about idols. Did you ever think that the wrong image of God— the one you constructed— could be an idol too? We could spend our whole lives falsely worshipping the God we built in our brains just to keep us from humbly opening our bibles. Opening your bible is an act of humility. It’s laying down your lies in order to seek a truth that could go on without you.
Open your bible, J.
Open your bible. Keep opening it. When you feel like it and when you don’t. When you want to and when Netflix sounds a lot more appealing. The bible is rich and fatty and good for you and still the culture tells us the bible is like lettuce. It’s not flashy. It’s not proud. But it is the living, breathing word of God. If you want to hear him speak, it’s a whole book of him just talking to you.
Meet him. For ten minutes or an hour. As corny as it is to make this comparison, it's like dating someone who is obsessed with you from date one. They've been waiting for you. From the start, they want you so badly. And you, J, are guarded and careful and unsure. But you've heard good things. And other people seem to like him. But still, you aren't sure. So would you plunge right in? No, probably not. Would you trust him immediately? No, probably not. And yet this weird sort of longing exists inside of you to be loved carefully, to have someone come along and scale your walls. That longing has always been there. So you creep closer and what do you do? You resolve to know the person. To understand them. To hear their side of the story instead of always screaming out your own. Your own story is not going to teach you about someone else's. To know someone else is to shut up and listen.
You would do all these things for another human, J, so what about God? What if he is one who is obsessed with you? What if he is the one who has been waiting for you? What if he is the one who wants you so badly and yet you're still unsure? What if it is his name that keeps coming up in conversations and makes you long for something more? Resolve to know him. Understand him. Read him. Hear his side of the story instead of always screaming out your own.
Open your bible and realize that as long as we try to fight for God or analyze him or measure him, we miss the point. We gear up like diligent soldiers ready to go after the heart of God and he just pauses the whole story and says: this isn’t about you. Wait. Look closer. This is how I fought for you. And how I won for you. Take heart in that, child. You want to fight but I already won.
You asked how God brought me out of the darkness— was it sudden or was it gradual?
It wasn’t sudden, J. It was seriously gradual. It was hard. It still is hard. And there are still days when I want to pick the world over God, but I know what I left behind. It was sitting with the bible when I didn't want to. It was writing down scriptures, though they didn't thrill me, until they seeped into my heart and did some sort of transformation I cannot take credit for. It was like taking medicine-- though I didn't want it, it promised to heal me.
I remember talking with a guy from church who I look up to and asking him what I should do, because I was tired of fighting and I just wanted to be out of the dark.
"Bread of life, babe," he said to me, patting me on the back. "Bread of life."
I remember I hated that answer. It was just him telling me to go back to the bible and back to the bible and back to the bible. Why did I hate it? Because still, God was whispering through that advice, "To love me fully is to lose what you thought actually mattered. And even as you let the things go, you're still going to want them to matter more than me."
It's going to be long, J. It's going to be slow. It's going to be bread and life though.
Following God is not a romantic comedy. It’s not funny and capable of playing out within two hours of your time. It’s a lifelong dedication. It’s, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “ a long obedience in the same direction.” It’s the start of new habits and the killing of old. God isn’t the one you meet in the drive-thru, he wants to meet you at the table and teach you how to make real meals.
I went to church when I didn't want to. I opened up to others when I didn't want to. I opened the bible and started with John, then Matthew, then Mark, then Luke. I looked for clues of who God was in these stories, not who I was supposed to become. Turns out, he's bigger than my hopes to be a better person. Still, he is bigger than my fear and my ego combined.
So I guess that life long dedication begins with you deciding you will stay and let God meet you in a world that will tell you the key to getting out of the darkness is to run. Don’t run from it, J. There’s light ahead. And there’s love. And there’s real relationship. And hard conversations that break down the craziest of crazy, high walls.
You could be a new person if you’d just let someone scale your walls for once.
You could come to the table instead of hiding in the woods. You could finally, finally eat.