Monday, February 23, 2015

Mind the Gap: Loneliness and the Christian Life

There I was traveling London, waiting for the underground metro, when a hurried stream of people came flooding out from it's doors. I heard the phrase "Mind the Gap" echo as I took a few steps forward. It was a reminder to watch out for the small amount of space between the platform and door of the metro.

When I consider loneliness, I think of the phrase "Mind the Gap." It makes me think about the risk involved with getting into relationships. It's easier to try and go at life alone than invest time in people. It hurts less. It takes less effort. 

Over the past few months I have experienced loneliness like never before. Going from a small private high school where you see the same people every day to college where you study, eat, sleep, and hang out with your best friends all day every day--it has been quite the adjustment. 

Challenge #1: Commuting. Going to a school consisting of 75% of commuters was a struggle. People were interested in getting through class and getting off campus as fast as possible. Not only was I a transfer and hardly knew anyone, but also a commuter. I was not living on campus, I was not there on the weekends, and I was constantly bouncing between classes and work without much of a social life.

Challenge #2: Being a Christian. My value system is completely different from the people around me. I was so used to being in a Christian bubble, that the world was a slap in the face and hard to handle.

Challenge #3: Living at home. Everyone was gone. So many of my close friends were now away at college. Friends lived close by were just as busy as I was. Life continued for the people at my old college, while I felt completely isolated from everyone I had just gotten close with over the past year. 

College is supposed to be the time you feel the least lonely, right? Not for everyone.

Many people struggle with loneliness and it is almost unnoticeable. It does not matter if you are shy, outgoing, popular, or on the outskirts of society-we crave human relationships. It is how God made us. But even more than we crave human relationships, we have a deep felt need for God. Augustine, a major figure in church history wrote in his work Confessions: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." Just as Blaise Pascal penned the notion of the "God-shaped heart", we need to recognize that our souls are made for a relationship with the Creator. You and I cannot turn to the world for the satisfaction we desire because it only comes from God.

However, we also need relationships with each other, but they can be messy, exhausting, time consuming, and heart-breaking. Why would we want to engage in these kinds of relationships if they are so difficult anyways? Because they are worth it. Community is worth the risk. But sometimes, no matter how many relationships we might have in our lives we can still feel lonely. 

A. W. Tozer puts things into perspective when he writes: "His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else." Our loneliness should urge us to seek deep relationship with God. However, it does not mean that the feelings of loneliness will go away. We will always have a sense of incompleteness because our relationships with people are broken because of sin. 

Loneliness is a tool that can be used in the hands of God. A. W. Tozer continues to write in The Saint Must Walk Alone that there are beautiful lessons to be learned through these dark times. The first he talks about is how sometimes the "spiritual climate" around us is not the same as that in other's lives. Therefore, sometimes we do not feel open enough to speak with others. If this is you today I would encourage you to seek Christian community with someone that understands what you are going through. 

However, the other way that loneliness can shape your life is how it can either make or break you. It can either harden or soften your heart. Tozer writes, "His loneliness makes him sympathetic to the approach of the broken-hearted and the fallen and the sin-bruised." Does loneliness make you spite humanity or love it all the more? Because it should make you love it more. It should make you recognize how broken we are and how much we are in need of a Savior.

To be honest loneliness has made me fearful. It makes me hold on tighter to my loved ones, which can be bad. It makes me cry, a lot. It makes me crave the comfort of familiar surroundings and does not push me to create new relationships with others. It has made me feel discouraged. When someone walks out or walks away I don't think my companionship is enough. However, I am striving to forget to "mind the gap" and forget the loneliness I feel. Instead, I am praying that God will replace a heart like His that is beating deeply for others just as it grows in love for Him. I look forward to a day when there is no more loneliness or hurt in relationships and where sin does not easily entangle my friendship with others.

How will loneliness shape you today?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

He is Still Faithful

Have you ever lost your breath before? Maybe during a sporting event you were kicked in the gut with a ball and for a few split seconds you could not catch your breath.

It was December when I had my first panic attack. Finals were just rolling around. I was watching a movie with my boyfriend and thinking about the long list of tests I had to study for. The task seemed daunting. All of a sudden I could not catch my breath. This continued for quite a while until I could calm myself down. But those moments were filled with panic as I gasped for breath. It happened again the very next day.

The first week of spring semester came at the end of January and my breathing problems and chest pain were back with a vengeance. It was time to take action.

But even more than breathing problems, I was experiencing overwhelming feelings of sadness and despair in the past three months. I have always undergone feelings of anxiety and sadness. It’s like it is part of my DNA since I am a perfectionist. Loneliness would creep up on me from time to time. Senior year I had been experiencing suicidal thoughts and sought help through counseling, which helped me deal with the feelings that I had been experiencing. Many of my feelings of hopelessness came in the wintertime when there is less sunlight and fun activities to take part in. But usually the sadness would be crowded out by my excitement for lacrosse season, which would then take up all of my time. I would not have time to focus on the sad thoughts.

However, these sad feelings crept into my mind and heart and would not leave. It started in November. I was lonely, commuting, and feeling stuck in a rut, in a place I did not want to be, but God had called me to. I started feeling increasingly tired. My bubbly personality was replaced by someone that wanted to lay in bed and not make plans with other people. Interacting with others, which once gave me energy, now took extra effort.

I have always been a crier, but now I was crying excessively. If my boyfriend and I got into a disagreement or he said one thing that I took the wrong way, I could not control my feelings of sadness. I felt out of control of my emotions.

And for a time, the suicidal thoughts crept back into my mind every time I would get into my car. Suicide is a scary subject, details that part of me wants to hold back. But if we are not honest about these thoughts, how can we expose them to the light? For me, suicide was not about hurting myself and I never thought of actually going through with it. However, it stemmed from feelings of loneliness, wondering if anyone would even miss me if I were gone.

All of these factors brought me to the doctor’s office two weeks ago. After a few tests and reiteration from a counselor, I faced the reality that I have depression. The news shattered my world and my loved ones hearts. How does one react to that sort of news?

Questions flooded my mind. How could this happen?

It took days to process. Many tears were shed. I started on medication, which has helped my breathing and uncontrollable emotions. I could not have made it without the unending support from my loved ones during that time, especially my mom, who knew exactly what I needed to hear.

But a ray of sunshine, guided me through those first days of shock: Jesus. One of the questions that the doctor had asked me before my diagnosis was how often I feel hopeless. In my mind I knew that I felt it often and the feelings overwhelmed me on bad days, but a still, quiet voice would remind me that I am not alone. I have hope in Christ. It has been unshaken during this season. It has been my anchor.

Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” I can feel the truth these words hold in the core of my being today.

I do not know if I will have depression for the rest of my life. I do not know if I will always need medication. Tomorrow might be a great day or a terrible day for all I know. The one thing I know for certain is that my Savior is faithful through this valley in my life. He comforts me. He holds me while I cry. He gives me strength when I am weary. He holds my hand as I walk in a fog of depression. He wraps his loving arms around me through the comfort of good friends. He brings life to my bones as I read His Word. And if this season is here to teach me and grow me in a new aspect of my walk with Him, it will be how desperately I need my Savior.

So pray with me for the people that have mental illnesses. Instead of judgment or skepticism or doubt, I encourage you to wrap your arms around them. Send them an encouraging text. Because there are an increasing number of cases of mental illness in our country and it is serious. It affects every aspect of your life-emotional, physical, spiritual, and social. It is not pretty and can sometimes go unnoticed to those around them. But it is possible to be a Christian and experience depression. I hope you will join me in becoming educated and aware and fighting this sickness.

I admit, I don’t feel qualified to speak about these struggles, but I feel my Savior beckoning me to write.  Others are stuck in this darkness with me. Writing and exposing truth on depression is one way that God can use me to start shedding light in this darkness. Helping me pass a flashlight to someone next to me, so they can see the way. And so I can start clawing my way out of this pit filled with the lies and sadness the Enemy has sprung upon me. The hope of Christ penetrates this darkness with light.

Join me in this journey.