I don’t know how long ago it was. Probably 2010. That was a big year for me. Not a good year. It was the catalyst for a lot of change. Not good change . . . I think I need to stop and return to this in a bit.
There are many of us that are prone to brokenness. I am not necessarily talking about this subject in a good biblical sense. Some people handle it well, but a lot of us remain confused, always waiting for the the next disaster. There is a deep mire in this world in which so many of us get caught. We are sad and grope for some light to shine through the darkness.
Personally, I attempt to deny my sadness as just being an itinerate foe that will leave soon. However, it never does. My wife and kids can see it in me. I try to hid it, but this unwanted friend has already made his presence known in a thousand different ways. There has been so much advice, so many interventions, but no one really knows what to do with me. They are often worried. I’m tired and find very little joy in my life. The most productive thing I do around the house is worry. I can’t find the peace that I preach.
Don’t get me wrong. Though my belief has suffered some terrible trials; and, this wrestling match with God has left me beaten and bruised. I know Whom I have believed. Yes, from time to time I have a bout with doubt, but it normally does not last. I am just sad. And everyone knows it.
Let me back up.
I think I remember when it started. It was not evident what I was doing, but it was a conscious willful choice. For years I had been strong (or so I thought). For years my faith did not flinch. I was so hurt and confused by my sister’s suicide, but I did not know it. Being so intimately acquainted with her issues and depression in the years before her death was more than I could handle (though I was not consciously aware of it). Standing strong and moving back home after my mother’s aneurysm damaged me (though I was not conscious of it). Watching my father waste away due to his sadness bruised my heart (though I refused to let myself recognize that fact). This is especially true because of my hope that I was going to bring Christ into his life through intentionally investing so much thought, time, emotions, and prayer. This hope (as far as I know) was never realized. Then he died.
Sometime in 2010, I became flaccid in my soul. What I mean is that I began to think I had some entitlements before God. I told God, “Hey, I am so tired. Can I take a break? I am not going to do anything very wrong, I just think that I deserve to have the opportunity to back off.” Progressively, I became spiritually lazy. Then I broke into a sudden depression that made me understand what Angie went though before the bullet went through her. I thought that the depression would leave, and I would learn my lesson. You know, so I could relate to others. Well, the depression has never really left. I know better how to deal with it, but it is still there. More and more, I backed out of things. You know . . . the entitlements I had. But these entitlements were slowly turning me into someone else.
I love God. However, He and I have a complicated relationship. My greatest prayer is that He shapes me into someone who glorifies Him and I continue to have hope for this from time to time. But, as I backed out of involvement in church (entitlement), became lazy (entitlement), quit working on my marriage (entitlement), picked up the smoking habit again (entitlement), and stopped investing so much in my kids life (entitlement), these actions only served to hurt my soul more deeply, and placed hope further and further out of reach. It was as if there is/was a part of my mind that needed to rebel and give God the middle finger for putting me through so much. “You are going to do this to me, huh? Well, how about I do this to You?”
Who I am today is someone who needs to hope again. I realized this as I was, of all things, watching the latest X-Men. You know, when Professor Xavier goes back in time and talks to his younger disenchanted self? He says, “We need you to hope again.” It struck me at that moment that this was me. I needed to hope again.
The Bible has so much to say about sadness. Even the kind of melancholy that does not leave. Christ says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). As best I can tell, Christ is not speaking about a transient mourning that comes and goes. He is speaking about those who progressively mourn. He is talking about those who have sadness that does not leave. Unfortunately, there are those who will forever be sad. And when we know what it is like to be sad—I mean really sad—it breaks our hearts. I hate sadness more than any other reality. I hate it in me and I hate it in others. But I know that God hates it more than I do. Christ was so tender to the brokenhearted. He was a man of sorrows. He was very sad, very often. The comfort that comes to sad people frequently comes in this life. The Psalmist says in Psalm 90:15 “Make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.” I am so glad that I have recently became reacquainted with this verse. It tells me that there is nothing wrong in me hoping for a great restoration. However, I do live with the reality that we live in a fallen world. Other shoes are sure to drop all the time. And this may be the case in my life.
I am learning to hope again. But if the sadness does not leave, I must look ahead rather than looking behind. Paul admits his imperfection, then tells us what he does: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended it, but this one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Phil. 3:13). The things that are in our past can destroy us. Entitlements sound good, but they are only a guardian of evil that forever binds us to the reason for the entitlements. We have all been hurt. It is so easy to put the past in front of us rather than behind us. We just stare at all we have been through and dwell on how things fell apart. But this is a fallen world. The only way for us to make it is to forget what lies behind. We must stop staring at our pain.
My greatest prayer is for you and me to hope again. And I know we will, one way or another. Until then, let us allow no entitlements and lower our fists away from heaven. God knows our sorrows. This is why he must make all things new. But it is not until the resurrection that he will wipe our tears out of our eyes. Until then, let us have hope in his love.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]