I have typed this first paragraph several times now. I keep trying to work up a metaphor for the pain and bitterness that I carried around with me. A metaphor depicting the way that I hid this the best that I could from the people around me and how I would ignore the sore spot in my soul.
There is no metaphor that I can think of to describe this.
I would ask really good questions when I was around other people and I would tell stories and get involved with their life and their projects without ever really letting anybody else get into mine. I would share my story and my life and I would be “transparent” at the drop of a hat. The trouble is that transparency got me nowhere and I wonder if the fruit produced in the lives of others because of my “transparency” was short lived or actually fruit at all. Just like when my math teacher would work problems on her transparency sheet and the work was projected on the wall, I would keep my problem on the transparency sheet and broadcast it to an audience. They can interact with the problem as though it were projected on a wall, but I was behind the glass. I did not mean to be, I never thought about that, I did not recognize it as it happened. I just now am able to see what was going on.
I have often tried to figure out just when I started to hate myself. I never considered the idea that, should I figure out when and why I started to hate me, that I could spend some time thinking about it and praying about it and see if Jesus would redeem that part of my life. That never crossed my mind. I just wanted to understand me a little bit better.
I got a chance to go to Colorado last summer and met with a really sharp guy from Australia. This guy is really good at helping people get to the root of some of their pain. During my time with him, he had me do some ridiculous things like making a memory timeline. I had to write every memory I could think of down on a timeline, then we talked about them!
One of the memories I had occurred when I was about 10.
My brother was a really wild and rowdy kid. He is a couple years younger than I am and was a lot more aggressive than I was. He would chase me from one end of the house to the other end of the house when were toddlers. He thought it was great fun!
Life was hard for my family at this point in time. We had just moved from Missouri to Louisiana and did not have a home. Somehow my dad was able to arrange for us to live in a house way out in the country. Because we lived so far out, and my dad’s work schedule was not a 9-5, we did not see my dad much during the week. He worked hard and commuted a long way. My mom was left with the task of managing my brother and I on her own during the week.
My brother seemed to be in a serious “boundary testing” phase of his life too. He would pick at me and pick at me incessantly until I would complain to my mom and she would intervene. After one of these episodes she explained to me that my brother was going to keep pestering me until I stood up to him. She may not have said it, but I understood that what she meant was that I needed to fight my brother in order to put him in his place.
I was a good student. I was a sweet kid. I know I had a “little black cloud” that followed me around and I would get moody or upset, but all in all I remember being a really sweet child.
One day while waiting for the bus, my brother was being a pain. He was shoving me and pushing me and I kept taking it. As the bus came into view, he grabbed my backpack and threw it in the ditch. There was several inches of water in this ditch and so I ran to get my backpack before my school work was soaked. As I got near the bag, he shoved me in. I grabbed my bag and jumped out of the ditch while the bus rolled to a stop. It never crossed my mind that I had an option to go inside and get cleaned up. I simply got on the bus and went to school.
That afternoon my brother was still at it. I ran to my mom and started complaining about what he was doing. She picked up my little sister who was really young and told me not to break anything in the kitchen. She then went into another room and closed the door.
Commence Thunder Dome
I was petrified. I had wrestled and fought with my brother before, but somehow I always knew that there were limits. That if I got out of hand or he got out of hand, somebody was going to step in. Not this time. He started in on me and I remember grabbing a broom. The next memory I have is standing over him while he laid in a fetal position crying silently. I had a broom in my hand and was shaking.
I have remembered this fight for a long time. I can see it in my head, I can smell that damp kitchen, I can see the sobs coming from my brother and I can still feel the terror that I saw in his eyes as he laid there trying to protect himself from me.
This is what I did not realize until last year.
I loved my brother. I deeply loved my brother. I cared about him. I wanted to protect him. I was often called bossy because I would tell him what to do, but my heart was trying to guard him.
I would get worked up when he would get in trouble. I hated seeing him hurt and I did not like the people who caused the pain.
And here I was, standing over him, having just completed delivering the beat down of beat downs.
But it was not so simple as that. It was not simply that I hurt my brother and so I was mad at me. I hurt my brother believing that what I was doing was the right thing to do. I had been coached to engage in this manner in order to teach him a lesson and restore order in the house. What I had done in my young perspective was noble and appropriate. I was in the right. I had done the honorable thing.
But I felt so horrible seeing him like that. This is where the root of cancerous self loathing seems to have really developed good roots. I started to feel that I was incapable of doing what was good or what was right. For me to do what is noble, what is right, I would be left feeling like this. If I really were a good boy, then I would not feel so despicable for doing what was good. The only reason for me to feel this way after doing something good and noble is because I was a horribly bad and ignoble boy. No matter how good I behaved or how much people praised me, I knew deep inside that I was an agent of pain and destruction. Those were not the words that would go through my head. What I would hear often is that all I am capable of is hurting other people, letting people down, and ruining things around me.
As I thought about that memory I started to realize that in that moment, watching my brother lay there in pain, something changed deep within me. I lost a part of my innocence and started to believe deep inside that I was worthless. The rest of my life I would hear my own voice in my own head telling me that no matter what I did, my best contribution to my family would be for me to cease existing within it.
None of this was my parents fault. This wasn’t my fault. Kids are great observers and horrible interpreters. This was simply the result of me being in and reacting to a situation that was not so bueno.
And for the record. I no longer hate myself!
I’ll write about that part later.`l
And one more thing… to my brother…
I am very sorry for beating you with a broomstick.
family, fear, hate, kids, suicide
I had to take another look into this Jesus dilemma. It was my understanding of Him and what He wants that got me into this predicament.
In the years that I have been labored for His Kingdom, I had seen some really fantastic things happen in the lives of other people. I have seen a man who was abused for years by his dad call him and forgive him. I have seen a girl who was trapped in an abusive relationship find the means, the courage, and the strength in order to put an end to the abuse and abandon the relationship. I have seen young men and women work through major insecurities in their life and move on to fulfilling careers and relationships. I have seen men who were deeply wounded and responded with anger to everything become peaceful examples of calmness and joy in the midst of strife.
And that is where my problem began.
I have carried deep wounds because of past experiences. One of the easiest to talk about (easy in terms of it being a concise story, not in terms of it being emotionally easy to rehash) is a medevac I was involved with in Ramadi. I saw how my predisposition to an angry manner was exacerbated by combat and produced an uncontrollable simmering rage. As the Jesus I knew healed me, the anger was taken away, but was not replaced with peace, joy, or any such emotion. It was as though the storm had gone but the clouds persisted. I just knew that as I kept doing the things I was doing, Jesus would develop this joy, this peace within me.
It did not happen.
Then one evening while dealing with my kids, I had a flash of rage like I had not experienced in more than a year. After the blinding outburst was over, I felt as though I was not healed at all. That I had swallowed my emotions to a point of numbness, but that Jesus had not healed me at all. If I had been healed, then where did this outburst come from?
I did what I usually do in these times, I evaluated scripture and my situation to determine what happened and what needed to happen next. The Bible seemed to indicate that Jesus loves me and wants me to be healed. I felt like it was pretty clear… I was yet unhealed.
So what is Jesus’ problem?
Is He not as powerful as the Bible says? If He wants me to be healed and I am not producing the fruit that is congruent with a healed life, then He obviously cannot carry out His desires. If He is incapable of carrying out His desires, then He is not all powerful.
Is He a liar? If He says He wants me to be healed, and He is powerful enough to carry out His desire, yet I am not healed, then He must be a liar.
Am I effectively blocking what Jesus wants for me? This could have been an option, but I felt pretty certain that I had maintained my discipline and walked according to the principles of the Bible. I had given an honest, earnest attempt to comply with what I read in the Bible, I saw fruit being produced in the lives of the people who were taking my advice, and I could feel things change in my head and heart… but I was still left with this wounded heart.
Since I had come back to a belief in the Bible and the God of the Bible, this was something that had to be reconciled.
As I spiralled out of control, I remembered a verse from the Bible in which Jesus says to Peter,
“Satan has asked to sift you like wheat, but I have chosen to pray for you, and when you return, strengthen your brothers.”
This was an easy verse for me to dismiss. I have seen so many Christians who start to fall apart and they run to this verse claiming that they are just being sifted. While this may be true, I have found several of them who have not opened their Bible in months, other than when sitting in a Church, and have not prayed in just as long or longer. They abandon the spiritual disciplines in their lives and then try to use this verse to explain why they feel the way they do. This has happened enough times around me that this verse lost its power, and it became more and more impotent as it became more and more cliche. Several weeks into this struggle I got to thinking about this verse again.
And then I saw a Jesus I had never seen…
The cliche part of the verse is that Satan sifts believers.
Let me make something clear. I do not think any verse of the Bible is impotent or cliche. I find that some verses are used in a very cliche manner and are often taken out of context in order either to make a Christian feel better about something in their life or to support a particular argument. Neither of these are appropriate.
The part of the verse that hit me like a brand to an unsuspecting bull was Jesus’ response. Let me put this in my own words for a minute…
“Peter… Satan wants to beat you up… I have decided to let him. I’m not abandoning you, I will be right here through the whole ordeal, but I am going to allow you to feel the pain in the fight. You will survive and when the fight is over I want you to encourage your brothers. Be ready, Peter… life in this moment is going to be rough.”
Who in the world is this Jesus and where has He been hiding? Jesus is a savior, a healer, a righteous judge, a man who got angry and flipped tables in the temple. Jesus, as far as I knew, was not an MMA coach training a young fighter, sending him into the ring against a brute of an opponent, simply to strengthen his understanding of the battle and then use him to motivate and encourage the other fighters. This Jesus is a tactician. This Jesus is a warrior.
While I knew that this was true of Him, this truth did not make its way into my heart.
Could this be? Had I just endured this garbage in my life so that Jesus could reveal another aspect of who He is to me?
Scripture proved to be true. Jesus was powerful enough to heal me. I had not blocked His power in my life. He had not lied… He did want to heal me, but He wanted me to get into a fight first.
I had misunderstood His desire for me.
But why? Why on earth would He allow me to create such caustic damage to His Kingdom in the process?
And why would He choose to sustain my life?
despair, fear, hopeless, joy, loss, pain, suicide
I stood on the edge of a pristine beach. My heart was broken within me. All the hope I had ever known had just been flushed from my soul. While other people rested at the waters edge upon the warm, sugary sand, I stood lost in a numbing, bitter pain. As the confusion faded and I began to realize clearly the position I was in, my pain became anger. Anger became Rage.
And I decided the best choice I had was to burn the jungle to the ground.
I have been a Christian for a long time. I have taught lessons, led studies, and hosted discussions. I have given advice and counselled those who were looking for help. I have read and studied so much and memorized entire books of the Bible. I have spent entire backpacking trips focussed on prayer.
And I have collapsed to a point of suicidal hopelessness when it was all said and done.
The only analogy that I could come up with during this dark night of the soul was about me walking through a jungle all my life. Surviving as best as I could. I had been told at one point that on the other side of this massive jungle there is a magnificent city. Paradise. Rest. Gumbo and cold beer. As I encountered other folks cutting through the vines and brush, I would tell them about this restful paradise. I would encourage them to keep pressing into the jungle. I would help them sharpen their machetes and coach them as they started swinging again. I was making my way to the clear meadow with warm sunshine and a bath, and I was encouraging and leading others to the same.
Can you imagine the way I felt when, all of a sudden, I could see the edge of the jungle. I picked up my pace and feverishly hacked and slashed through the vines to get to the clearing. As I got closer and closer the sound of water grew louder and louder. Like a bowling ball striking the pins, I came bursting out of the jungle and onto the beach.
There was no city.
The very thing which I had set as my life’s goal had been washed away. I had been deceived. My life had no purpose. I could not keep doing what I was doing because I had come out of the jungle. Go back in? Not hardly!! That place is full of hard work to survive and I knew there was no point in pressing on. There was nothing for me to press on towards.
I had never even heard of the beach and swimming was not a skill ever discussed in the jungle. What I needed to do was communicate to everybody else that they were living a lie. A sham. The most effective way to do that is to light a match and watch the whole thing go up in smoke.
So I did.
I would go for a run each day during work and I would cross busy roads without ever looking for traffic. I would chant over and over again that my life was worthless and death would be better. I did not care if I got hit by a car. Getting hit by a car would have been an improvement.
I told my wife to take our kids and move back in with her parents. I told her it would be better for them to not be near me. I explained to her that I was about to put an end to life as I knew it and that she really did not want to be there for that.
I told the group of people who met in my house for a Bible Study that I was a sinking ship. I could not tell them with any confidence that God existed. I was sensitive to the fact that they cared about their beliefs and I did not want to cause them such turmoil and pain. I encouraged them to leave, seek spiritual guidance elsewhere, and stay as far from me as possible. I was full of poison.
I was hit by the bumper of no car.
My wife refused to take my kids and leave.
The men and women who had trusted me to teach and lead them in their faith risked their sanity and remained faithful to me.
So I was stuck. Sitting on a beach. I lit my match, I started a small fire, I warned the people to take a step back, and they just sat and watched.
Then the fire went out.
And I just sat…
Since there was nothing else to do but sit, I started to think. Thinking can be dangerous. My dad told me years ago that a mind is a terrible thing. (We did not have many deep conversations growing up, but that one was a life changer for me.)
What if the goal of my life was wrong? What if I had misunderstood who I was or been misled in the early years of my travels? What if my entire perspective were wrong?
So I sat still and started rethinking my paradigm.
I could not be an atheist because of some of the things I had already heard and seen. Just like there are some things in the world that are hard for a Christian to explain, and things within the Bible that are hard to reconcile with other things in the Bible, so also are there some things in the world that are hard for Atheists to explain, some things in life that are hard to reconcile to a belief without God. So I maintained faith in a higher power.
I have read and studied a wide variety of religious writings which lead me to believe in a monotheistic God. After getting to that point, it was easy for me to reaffirm my belief in the God of the Bible.
But this left me with a dilemma…
I believed this before and it led me to a beach instead of a city.
In order for this Jesus to be real, and for me to have been let down as I had been, then perhaps the Jesus that exists is not the Jesus that I knew. Is it possible to be a Christian, pray to Jesus, read His word, and still not really know him? Or to know Him but miss a really significant part of who He is?
despair, hopeless, joy, purpose, suicide, value