I think sometimes we all think that our journey is unique and isolated. That we are the only ones facing the giants that stare at us in the dark of night. That we are lone soldiers fighting our battles in valleys hidden from view to the rest of humanity. That no one else is wrestling the thoughts that pound through our heads day and night.
We don’t share our story with the people around us because it looks like they have it all together, and who wants to admit that we don’t? What if we share and get that confused look of pity that translates to what in the world is wrong with you?
I’ve long been a private person that hesitates to share more than basic information unless I’m best friends with someone. But this last weekend God brought some people into my life that made me take a step back and reevaluate the power of vulnerability and community.
I was attending a friend’s wedding and since I had driven there, my car quickly became a shuttle for friends who had flown in. Friday night I hopped in the driver’s seat to take a couple friends back to the house we were staying at. I was a little immersed in my own thoughts until somehow the conversation turned to what we believe and the way God has been leading us. One of our group opened up and shared completely honestly the darkness they had been through, the moments they questioned if life was worth living, and the way they had found Jesus’ heart through that journey. The road blurred in front of me as I listened, because I was hearing my own story in theirs. And from someone who I had thought just moments before could never relate to the things I’d been through.
Our little group sat in my car and talked for hours into the night after we pulled up at the house. And for countless hours in the days after that over the wedding weekend. It was like a dam had been broken and we couldn’t stop talking about the stories God had carried us through and the way we were finding Him all over again.
One of those nights as we talked, it was like this realization hit us that if we have been through so much and would never have guessed that the others in our group had been struggling too, the rest of our generation is probably going through their own versions of the same struggles.
The stars shone bright above me as we talked about how to let God take our hands and connect them with the rest of our generation. Honestly, I’ve been in no hurry to share some of the things God has led me through because it’s scary and personal and theres always going to be haters. But as I looked up at the stars in the sky it was like I saw the hurting hearts of so many in my generation and I was struck by the reality that every day the sky looses a few stars who take their own life in desperation.
And yet in a generation where it’s far too often every man for himself, who cares when a star falls from the sky?
And so I’ll take the risk of being misunderstood and share a little of the story He is walking me through, because if it can encourage just one heart and let them know they are not alone, it’s worth it.
I grew up knowing who Jesus was and somehow even from a young age I treasured my relationship with Him. But in my little head, it was mostly about what I could do to gain His pleasure. I spent hours as a little kid agonizing over apologizing to everyone for anything I had done wrong. I sought God with my whole heart but it was more out of fear than out of love.
Fast forward to when I was 17. During a week that I’ll never forget out in nature with family and friends, He somehow got through to me that He really really loved me for the girl I was right then and there. That I was His little princess and that my imperfect little heart was what He wanted more than anything in the world. I’d known that theoretically but somehow the reality of it blew me away that week and changed my life and the way I approached Him. It was the start of a beautiful journey. but the fear wasn’t gone. I still spent countless hours stressing over if I was doing enough to stay close to Him.
And then somewhere down the road, I came to my valley of the shadow of death. (I obviously can’t share the circumstances that led there because it wouldn’t be fair to those who stories intersect with mine.) I was loosing so much that I loved and in the middle of the pain I couldn’t get rid of this anger in my heart at the Jesus who had been my best friend. I tried to talk to Him about the depths I was walking through but at that point my theology was such that I thought that He might be causing some of the darkness I was going through and I couldn’t get my brain around how my best friend could hurt me that much.
As I became more and more overwhelmed, I started to loose sight of the God I had met more fully when I was 17. Instead, I started internalizing the views of the others who were loudest in my ears. I listened to the opinions of all the other voices around me until I couldn’t tell what was truth and what was not. Internally I swung from what I’d been learning about who God was and the value of my connection with Him, and the voices telling me I couldn’t trust that, and I lost my footing.
I’d always said that if I couldn’t have Jesus, I didn’t want to live. And now that I wasn’t sure who He was, I started questioning the value of my life. I drove the road to town to pick up groceries and my desperation was so deep that all I wanted to do was swing the van into the lane of oncoming traffic.
The months went by and the situations that sent me spinning just kept spiraling downhill, and as they did, so did my confusion and depression. I’d sought to fight the darkness for months, but there came a point where something in me snapped and couldn’t fight like I had before. When I wasn’t desperately trying to ignore the struggle in the hopes it would go away, I was wishing there was a way I could end the pain.
There were days that through the encouragement of people I loved I was able to see who Jesus really was a little clearer and I gained a little bravery to take some of the steps towards healing that I needed to take, but it was one step forward and then something would knock me five steps back, and I’d be too weak to get back up again.
It was at this point that the thoughts of suicide started becoming overwhelming. I had my degree in christian counseling and I knew how unhealthy this was. I didn’t really want to die, but if Jesus wasn’t the God I’d fallen in love with but instead the narsisistic God I was hearing about, I didn’t think I could handle life.
Each time the suicidal thoughts came, they were stronger. I knew well enough that if something didn’t change, eventually I’d give in.
I remember well the last weekend I fought them. Every day over that weekend the urge had been gaining in intensity, and as I lay in my bed the fourth night with the urge pounding in my head, all I could think about was driving to the nearest Walgreens and purchasing my ticket out of all this pain. And yet, that very day Jesus had shown me a glimpse of His face right when it would have been easiest to have ended it all and with the little strength I had left, I knew I couldn’t give up now. That night it took taking my coat with the car keys in the pocket and putting it in my friend’s room so as to avoid temptation. For hours that night I listened to my favorite chapters in Isaiah to keep me sane.
It’s been said that every night eventually turns to morning and it’s true. It didn’t happen in any one moment. It was a million acts of Grace over months, but He started to provide a way out and the courage to walk it. With every step I took and every door He opened, my strength grew and I started to see Him again.
But it wasn’t like He and I were best friends again and that haunted me. Sure, I wasn’t battling with suicide but it was like the whole world still had this fog over it.
That’s when, after months of encouragement from a friend, I decided to go to a pastor friend who I deeply respected and start Bible studies about the character of God.
I started to realize that my Jesus is the most selfless being in the entire universe. That it’s not about works... not about how well I follow Him, but how He lived for me while He was here on earth. That He wasn’t the cause of any of my pain, but that He was breaking even more than I was through those months. I started to see the cracks in some of the world views I had accepted, and how Scripture protects from every human extreme we so easily fall into.
The darkness that had been so deep as I lost sight of who He was started turning into glory as I was finding Him all over again, and this time so much more clearly than ever before. Because this Jesus I am finding is not out to control me. He is the opposite of so many things we see in the church today. He isn’t here to judge me for the clothes I wear or if listen to music that is not just hymns. He isn't here to bash me with quotes or verses and use those as the reason I needed to change. There is absolutely no force or coercion or manipulation in the way He treats me. And the more I study my Bible, the more I see that His ways are diametrically opposed to all of that.
He is simply selfless love. The gospel I am finding makes sense of so many questions that have been awakened in my mind in the darkness. Instead of condoning human injustice it shows me where all selfishness really comes from. I’m seeing that the warped piety that lives out selfishness under a cloak of religion is the exact opposite of my Jesus.
And somehow in the process, I'm learning to trust Him again. I see the months of darkness through completely different lenses and instead of shouting at the sky for Him leading me through so much pain, I stop and see how He has been my chief supporter and protector in those months.
He’s winning my heart back and making me fall in love with Him all over again in so many ways I never could have imagined at 17.
The battles aren’t all over. I still fight depression sometimes. I still question who He is when circumstances arise that challenge my view of His love. But then again, who said we’d get to live down here in a sin filled planet without fighting those battles? I’m not really sure they go away until we go home.
But as I realized in a deeper way than ever this last weekend, we’re not alone. Not for one moment. we have a Jesus who is full of so much more compassion than I ever dared to dream. And somewhere in the vast sky of stars is someone else fighting the very same battle. And maybe they’re closer than we ever dared to dream.
I don’t know the battle you’re going through. Maybe depression. Abuse. Anxiety. Distorted view of God. I just know that you are not alone. Your story is not isolated.
You are a star shining in a dark sky, and we need you. The whole expanse of the sky would look different if you were missing. Right now you may see nothing more than darkness, but I promise you, there is a whole galaxy of stars around you who are fighting the dark too.
And above us all is a God holding the whole thing in His hand and shedding tears over our brokenness.
I look up at the sky at night and I have one prayer for our generation right now...
Jesus, hold each star. Don’t let one fall from the sky. Don’t let us loose one.