Maybe I Never Knew

I am coming up on the 10 year anniversary of the start of this blog. I started it after a breakup while I was working in the highest paying job I’ve ever had on a natural gas pipeline project in Northeast PA. I was processing my sense of home, sense of meaningful work, sense of calling, sense of family and if I’m honest a kind of second loss of innocence.

To say I was disillusioned would be accurate. Despite, the disillusionment, there would have been a lot of things I would have said I knew. I knew who I loved, I knew I wanted ministry to be my vocation, I knew I wanted to write and learn more about the things of God. I knew I wanted to create a sense of home. Slowly but surely and it is hard to say whether it was more slow than sure, I began to learn that I was less sure about what I knew. I’ve become somewhat familiar with that cycle.

Limitless Wave - Road To The Unknown - YouTube

I’ve also become familiar with confusion and the internalization of others uncertainty and how damaging we can allow it to be. How easy and tempting it is to let other’s insecurity and poor witness influence our mind through the wounds of our heart. The feeling of not knowing how to cope with being judged or ignored by people who call themselves Christians even if it is in their immaturity, is exhausting.

I am tempted to hide or at least retreat inward in hopes of finding a genuine version of myself that is not prone to being subject to false judgment or neglect. They don’t know what they do.

Maybe most people don’t know what they are doing or how they are doing in the pain they inflict. I have found most people don’t think about any long term consequences of their short term actions. What I’ve also found is most people have no interest in making restitution for their actions yet want the forgiveness. Some take it a step further and feel entitlement to be absolved of any earthly consequence even if it means the termination of unity.

We’d rather be rid of people than reconcile, which if we wanted to, could make the case for mental murder. When in reality, reconciliation and closeness and to be known is what we were created for and if we are being honest, yearn for. We’d rather keep up pretensions of being nice, put together people than admit to ourselves and others that we harbor hatred and lack compassion yet want intimacy and connection.

Which brings me to another thing I’m not sure I know. Do I know God? Do I feel like what I’ve read or lived is still true in my experience living in the “christian” south? Maybe, instead, God lacks compassion and harbors hatred. Maybe in a desire to prove a point or to prove his omnipotence, He subjects us to suffering and disappointment and enjoys doing it. This would be a hard turn from Orthodox Christianity and what it claims is true of God, that He is good, that He is love (as if love cannot coexist with hatred, rejection, and harm… see crucifixion) and that He has made a way for all rather than some (cue universalism question). I could articulate the Way and why it has to be this way because of the fallen nature of humanity and why I and you need a Savior. I even feel a tangible presence of what I believe to be God in my life, that He speaks through life and Scripture if in fact He is present.

What I begin to doubt is whether I know the same God that other Christians claim to know. Some individual’s claims about the Jesus they know, and the out-workings of their life are exploitive, in pursuit of isolation and disunity, nit-picky and narrow. If the way is narrow, it is because it is through only one person Christ, not because of a rigid picture of perfection that we must live. Yet Jesus in Matthew 5:48 tells us to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect (an impossible command). Why does he do this? Likely, so we would cast off the restraints of trusting in ourselves and desperately cling to trusting in Him who can save and does save.

But do I know this? Does it change the way I live and relate to the Church and the world? Do I also forgive with such consistent, yet painful abandon that I take on wounds rather than revenge and subject them to the healing of Christ in hopes that we would all be healed rather than continue to carry and cause hurt.

I think I try; I think I know, yet I also know my try and effort is not what does the work. Christ does and God knows that is enough.

I Was Drowning Until I Wasn’t

Last weekend I had a terrifying experience with panic and water. I decided to swim a good distance out into the ocean where I thought there was a sandbar. I saw 4 kids pretty far out and I assumed they were standing on a sandbar. They were coming back in and I was swimming out past them and the water kept getting deeper. I would push myself down to see how deep it was and when I got to about 9 feet, I concluded there might not actually be a sandbar in the direction I was swimming.

Here was my problem, I was already exhausted. Normally, when I am in the ocean I have a board and fins so I can swim fast and I can float easily. This time I had neither and was very far from shore. My other problem was I began to panic so reality was distorted. My arms were burning my heart was racing and I was contemplating screaming for my life to my friends on shore. But honestly I was so far out I felt like they would not get to me in time.

I’m writing this so I didn’t drown. I kept swimming while praying and thinking about how this would be a terrible way to go. Occasionally I would check to see if I could touch the bottom. My depth perception also did not seem to allow me to believe I was getting any closer to shore. So I swam and treaded and panicked some more wondering if I was being carried further out. But then as I swam and swam I put my foot under and about a foot lower than my body was the ground and I realized I had made progress towards shore.

So I swam a little more and hyper ventillated while I stood on solid ground with my head above water. No waves, no wind just water and ground and my terrified mind.

I know someone who drowned once. It was a surreal terrifying tragic experience. It was surreal because I felt the Lord had woken me up one morning during college to urgently pray from Psalm 18 that He lifts me out of deep waters not knowing why. I got a call later that morning from my friend Gabe which I missed and the Lord told me to intercede so I prayed until I got a hold of him. As it would turn out, on a canoe trip one of their friends whom I did not know so well drowned in the cold water after the canoe tipped over. Gabe, my friend Anthony and his brother, all of which I knew for most of my childhood survived. We had planned to canoe to this island and camp there. I remember I was planning to join them when we talked about it when I was home on break.

Drowning is scary to think about. Nobody drowns without a fight. But also we don’t drown unless we are in over our heads.

The last two years have felt like this. I feel I am in over my head barely catching my breath. Teaching has felt like this, church has felt like this, relationships have felt like this, life and death has felt like this. Though I feel I have developed endurance. In some cruel and sick way, I feel like I can get used to feeling like I’m drowning, like I’m barely breathing at all times. Sometimes I foolishly believe that it will feel like a leisurely swim, Like I will be able to just enjoy myself on the water. Literally that has happened. I have enjoyed time on the water with my board.

Metaphorically, I feel like the water has lured me in time and time again, and the water itself can seem pretty calm and serene, but it gets deep or all of a sudden I feel like somebody has loaded me down with a ton of weight and said “hold this while you’re barely keeping yourself above the surface.”

And then panic sets in, every sunday at 3 pm, I feel anxiety. Every time I feel rejection from the same places, every time I hope things will get better. In addition, every lame aphorism or cheap optimism that suggests I should fake it until things get better or until I change has proved a vain help.

And the truth is, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there is a better alternative. I don’t even know what brings healing. It honestly often feels like the best that can be done is to accept that these broken things might never be fixed. Where is the God who lifts me out of deep waters?

Would you lift me? Please, I’m not trying to stay in this place where I cannot breathe anymore. I need a wide place, an open pasture, a place where my body and mind and soul can find a rest that woud be lasting, like a month to breathe, to work yes, but also rest, to love and be loved. To delight in something good.

I don’t want to drown or even fear the threat of drowning. I want a tangible hope and peace and joy that doesn’t come with feeling choked by thorns and thistles or pain and sorrow or emotional and mental trauma.

I want to be led beside still waters rather than in deep water with my head sunk, gasping for air.

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.”