Let me just make a long and rather personal story short… this last week and half of my family’s life has been a whirlwind. We’ve been battling with a fellow Shortie over the ins and outs of this rather elusive thing we call “mental health.” I don’t know that we are all in the position to be super candid about it yet. Perhaps, another time. But it’s been rough. And we’re not out of the woods yet.
Sadness isn’t the word. Sadness is one-dimensional, lending itself to the notion that something simply went bad rather than good. A more complex emotion is a better one– hopeless, helpless, anxious– to describe how all 6 (or really 8) of us have felt at some point in the last several days. It’s so much easier when you personally hurt on your own accord. It’s a completely different story when you watch someone you love deeply hurt. And that hopeless feeling gets compounded when you finally recognize that you literally cannot help them. It’s the worst. Absolutely, it’s the worst.
When I look at how we got to where we are now, a few things become evident to me. When I say “we,” I mean my family… or maybe even the Church… or maybe even the country. I don’t know what I mean if I’m honest when I say “we,” but humor me. When I look at how we got to where we are now, several things have been distilled out in the last couple of weeks.
For starters, it has become evident to me that living for the world is an abysmal waste of time. As a Christian, I would have affirmed this on an intellectual level. No doubt about it. It’s one of the core concepts of Christianity– “in the world but not of it.” I think of verses like 1 John 2:15-17:
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life[c]—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever
But think of this thing just from a popular culture perspective. Multiple sports and events got canceled. College Football is a shell of its former self. The NBA spent 3 months not playing. The MLB is playing a fraction of the games it normally does. Concerts were canceled. Camps were postponed. Even the Masters got moved. Anything we had to look forward to got changed, moved, postponed, ended, or turned digital. And can we just be honest… everything doesn’t have to be digital. If you were living for entertainment, my question is what did you do for 4 months when there was no entertainment? Did you watch Korean Baseball? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
It’s also become evident to me that people are not inherently good. One again, this is a concept that I would have affirmed on an intellectual level as a believer. I think of Romans 3:10, a hyperlink to Psalm 14:
10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;
There are scores of people ignoring policies, calling each other names over voting, charging one another with racism, blaming groups whole-sale for national issues. If you live in a world where “[you] think deep down, people really are good,” I would follow that up with recommending virtually any history textbook ever. There is not a shred of evidence in human history that people are inherently good. And the last 6 months have only sought to highlight that truth. We can’t go 2 weeks in 2020 without a major national disruption, with sin at the very forefront of said disruption. For every cute family story that comes on Oprah, there is another riot, another argument, another bad press conference, another #CancelSoAndSo trend. It’s never-ending.
Something else that has come to fruition is the notion that, you can’t even live for yourself in 2020. There is only a select few people in the entire country that have made it out of the heat of the COVID Era unscathed. I think of my little sister. Emma is in some of the most pivotal years and experiences in her life. In just a few months, several relationships came to an end, she got sent home, locked in the house by Governor Cooper, got her camps canceled, lost almost all progress in school, and became totally isolated from all the things she really enjoyed doing and being a part of. The things that made Emma were torn away. The same thing happened to me. It happened to my dad. It happened to us all. Even the things we just knew would work out for us on a personal level… they were taken from us. It was unbelievable. It is currently unbelievable. I tweeted the other day, “Motion to suspend the metric of ’20/20 Vision’ because it is 2020, and zero people saw this coming.” I was being facetious, but that’s so true. There were all these positive messages at the beginning of COVID to “pick up a new hobby and focus on yourself.” Virtually impossible. Didn’t happen. I know very few people personally who are much better today than they were in February.
The final thing that I have realized in light of this time in my life is simple.
The best part of Christianity is how bad it hurts.
When you become a believer, it’s a lot bigger than “believing in Jesus” and “going to church.” Yet again, this was something I would have intellectually affirmed before this time in my life. But then what happened when we literally couldn’t go to church? Or all of our social interaction become a stupid and completely useless Zoom call? When you become a believer, there is the idea that you grow more and more into the character of Christ– “walk as he walked,” John concludes in his first letter. But the one thing that we always tend to almost gloss over– and we certainly have glossed over in light of COVID– is that Jesus hurt in order to fulfill his purpose on Earth. See, what we want to do is highlight how strong Jesus was, how we loved the sinners, how he fed the 5000, how he stuck it to the Pharisees.
No one wants to have the conversation that it is not inherently the will of God for pain to cease. Several things can be true at once. God hurts when you hurt because he created you and he loves you. God doesn’t need you to “feel great” in order for him to be God and for you to be blessed. The idea that God 10000% desires for no one to be sick, everyone to feel great, and all problems to cease is a figment of the imagination. God’s creative ideal– Eden– was void of all sin and pain… true. But guess what? This isn’t Eden. More importantly, this is the exact opposite of Eden. And everything that happens to us, around, because of us, in spite of us, and even despite us is in a world eaten up by sin yet under the providential and sovereign hand of God– a Calvinists’ two favorite words.
This year has stripped away everything even the “believer” could have found personal happiness and sustenance in. The conclusion? The world isn’t where your happiness and sustenance comes from. Period. End sentence. And we all say, “I know… in the world and not of it.” But we don’t think that could apply to us until it actually does. You don’t think mental health is an issue until your whole family is in Raleigh while someone you love is in a mental health rehabilitation facility for thoughts of self-harm. You think wearing the mask is going to save you from COVID until you realize the number of people who have died from COVID wearing masks is rather large. You think the government is “cracking down on my right to go to church” until you realize that churches were founded in homes in the first century with 10-20 people. You think you can’t find anything to watch when College Football gets canceled until the church you are a “member” of decides to livestream– and suddenly, you’re busy.
The last few months have hurt. I’ve watched a lot of stuff I was hoping for get nixed. I’ve been stressed out to the max. I’ve watched people lose jobs and dreams. None of us have escaped the tremendous amount of stress and loss this year has brought. None of us. Yet, so many of us would affirm that God would never want this for us. Maybe. But clearly he’s watching it happen to us. So then you must ask the question of “why?”
Because that it literally the best part.
The Gospels– Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John– are great books. The stories and words of Jesus are awesome, edifying, inspirational, and so many things. But without a doubt, the number one best part of all of the Gospels is that moment when the Son of Man, who stepped out of the comfort of Heaven and into the pig sty of humanity, took nails in his hands and feet. He left the heights of the Heavens to be killed by microscopic sinners on a rocky hill in the backwater of the Roman Empire. What is perhaps the most excruciating death experience in human history was willingly taken on by the actual sovereign and perfect Creator of the universe. My heart is moved to both immense humility and immense pain at the thought of God thinking I was worthy enough for that– I wasn’t. And you weren’t either.
The best part of Christianity is how bad it hurts. It’s painful to watch these things we loved and cared about being ripped from our skin, from our hearts, from our schedules. It hurts so bad to watch those we love go through pain. But no one would care about Saturday if Monday through Friday was a breeze. No one would care about playing the game if they hadn’t practiced for hours before. No one would give a flying flip about the grace and provision of God if everything was provided for. This world isn’t designed to be your final home. The body that falls apart is your last model. The brain that brings on those thoughts of self-harm and hopelessness isn’t the renewed mind of Eden. This is all temporary. And seeing as it’s all temporary, it’s not worth your investment.
To those of you struggling with mental health, tell someone. Reach out. Find the resources. So many people you know have gone through the same thing.
To those of you struggling with identity, put your identity on the one who knows you to the very number of cells– His name is Jesus.
To those of you wondering why this all hurts so bad, remember there is no pain without sacrifice. There is no blood without the nails. And there is no salvation without the Blood.
Embrace the hurt.