pain

I Don't Care by Michael Nichols

Once upon a time, I found Jesus. More accurately, He found me. After spending a really long time not knowing how much I need Him, I finally saw myself for who I was, and I called out to Him in response to His call to me. That was almost seven years ago. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that I didn't love, not truly. I knew that in order to love, I needed to accept His. I needed to really believe He loved me. So I did. My whole paradigm changed that day.

That doesn't mean anything else changed. I was already on a trajectory away from Him. I was on a road I didn't belong on. As an excellent Wavorly song says, "Turning around was never so hard til I found us far apart." At that point, I was really far away, heading further, and had no idea which way to turn. Imagine yourself lost on a dark night with a broken light and a broken compass, and nothing but two ears and a voice guiding you home. Even better: imagine yourself in the Millennium Falcon, crashing toward Starkiller Base, unable to pull up, not knowing the defector storm trooper was a janitor and new nothing about blowing the place up.

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I had no idea what was in store. I really didn't. I knew things would be difficult, but I had no clue of the depth of it. I don't remember being as bombarded with temptations and heartaches as when I started following Christ. Yet I don't know that I've seen more personal growth happen in me than when I started following Christ.

I'm not going to blather on about all the things that happened between 2009 and 2013. If you've read my blog before, you know. If you want to know, read it.

In one respect, I'm glad for how far I've come, but it hasn't been without cost. That cost has been my ability to care.

I don't care.

Those are three words no one wants to hear. "I don't care" is giving up. On what? Anything.

Have you been told that before? It hurts, doesn't it? Knowing that you're not seen, not heard, invisible, inconsequential.

I hate that about me, which is great because that means all hope is not lost. But right now, that's a problem. The whole reason I decided to follow Jesus was so I could love, not so I could withhold love in apathy.

I'm not sure entirely how I figured it out, but I suddenly noticed lately how much of what has been happening in my life indicates that I don't really care.

The stagnancy of my romantic relationships?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My lack of reading scriptures or praying in a meaningful way?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My isolation from people I claim to care for?

Because I didn't care about anything but my own problems.

My inability to focus long enough to do successful studio takes?

Because I didn't care about them as much as I care about the things distracting me.

My inability to loosen up?

Because I don't care enough about living healthily enough to stop obsessing over the things I want.

My jealousy?

Because I don't care about much else than what I want.

Why I don't try hard enough to change any of this?

Because I don't care to keep failing or hurting, which is, by default, keeping anything good from coming of anything I'm going through.

I don't want to run away from my issues, but I also don't want to run into a worse place. Another song, by Linkin Park this time, says, "Sometimes I think of letting go and never looking back, and never moving forward so there'd never be a past."

Relatable? Too much.

Good way to live? Not ever.

The irony of the whole thing is that we tend to stop caring because of the weight that caring becomes. But to stop caring means your heart has to stop working, and if your heart stops working, you really can't go anywhere. You collapse. You stay where you are. You die.

When you stop caring, you are dead. And it definitely feels the part. At least pain lets you know you're alive, even though it means you're fighting to stay that way. When joy happens, you know you're alive and free.

That's what I think is so powerful about the "joy of salvation" that people talk about. Not only are you alive, not only are you free, but you are now set on a path of becoming more like Christ until His coming, when everything corruptible in us will be replaced with something incorruptible, and we enter eternal life and eternal freedom, where all darkness ends and the light only grows, extending into every corner of creation. It's unstoppable. It's unstoppable good, unstoppable beauty, unstoppable life.

That's something that's actually worth caring about. When we lose sight of that, it's not hard to stop caring about things, especially the more we know about evil and hurt.

I guess that's what I've been missing. With something lasting to care about, whatever else is valuable to us, whatever else brings joy, although temporary, finally gains its true meaning. We finally have a reason to care about it.

A reason to care about him.

About her.

About anyone, anything.

But without context to something eternal, how can anything temporary have meaning?

"Our light affliction, which only lasts for a moment, is working toward an eternal glory that far outweighs anything else. That's why we look not on the things that can be seen, but the things that cannot be seen. Why? Because the things we can see are temporary, but the things we cannot see are eternal." --Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 paraphrase mine)

The Irony of Sad Songs by Michael Nichols

For those of you who don't know, I'm making a record in 2016. I'm really excited. I've spent the past two months recording some basic demos for 14+ songs while I wait for responses from potential session musicians and make plans for the crowdfunding campaign. Since my vocal coach got a hold of me in the beginning, what was once just a passive and casual outlet that was little more than a mimicry of my favorite bands at the time has become something much more.

I've been on one of the longest journeys of my life since the middle of 2009 when my walk with Christ really got underway. But things got especially bad in the beginning of 2011. A lot of the song that are on this record were either written about that time, during that time, or because of that time.

One song in particular has been difficult to write, but was one of the first ones I wrote after probably the most significant event, the one that started the 2011-present time period. I'm not just talking about the song was mechanically hard to write. I'm saying it took everything out of me. I poured out more pain into that song than I've ever poured into any other song.

It's called "Closure (If You're Hearing This)." The whole premise of the song is that after a falling-out, it's really easy to just leave things unsaid in the same place that we leave the people who've hurt us... Okay,  should say that the whole emotional premise of it is that. But the story is bigger.


I believe that we will all stand judged before the Lord one day, and that everything that is hidden will be revealed. So, say that I left things unsaid. If I did, eventually, that truth will be revealed, no matter how hard I tried to hide it. Things left unsaid will be said. That is just when it's the Lord doing it.

It starts out very sober. Single piano hits that hold for a measure at a slow tempo. Lyrics that are very objective, factual, stating the likelihood that she would never hear these words until we were both dead and in God's hands. The "chorus" sees a change in the chord progression, still with the same single hits, same tension, but now posing a question: "Was I wrong to react the way I did? Was I capable of more hate for those who hurt me than I'd previously believed?"

Then the mood changes. The undercurrent of legato cellos, the pulsating beat of the piano, gently, yet tensely. I say how enamored I was to begin with, and how devastated I was at the fact that I was abandoned because of my feelings for her. As the second chorus begins, I solidify with certainty that my pushing her away was the only way to protect what was left of my sanity and self-esteem.

But as the bridge begins, the piano notes ascend, a slower pulse with more suspense, acknowledging that my distress, turned to hate, had turned me into something I never wanted to be. Made to feel despised, I despised everything.

As the bridge begins to build, I exclaim that I felt helpless, without an alternative. I never wanted to push her away or let her go, and that if doing so hurt her, I was sorry, without regard to my own personal feelings.

The ending is a sober plea for things to return to the way they were. The tension lessens, and the tempo slows at the very end. The music itself ends with a bit of optimism, a lot of longing, and no resolution.


 

I began the song in late 2011-early 2012. Even if the story behind the song had not seen two friends reconciled, I'd still have kept the song. I was allowed to feel that pain in order for God's strength to show through an inherently weak man.

As I've begun wrapping up the orchestration to this song, the pain hasn't fully subsided. Memories fade, but never completely. Even healed scars are still visible.

I've found a sweet solace, though.

Sometimes, it's good to think about the past and feel the pain of it so we can remember why it stayed there.

Imagine what it would be like to bury someone alive, who couldn't die. A scene from Heroes comes to mind, in which Hiro Nakamura digs up the grave of Adam Monroe, a man whose superhuman ability to regenerate allowed him to revive on his own upon exhumation. That's what happens when we bury our experiences. It's not really a memory that we've buried: it's us. You can't bury a memory without burying the pieces of your heart that bear its weight.

I think that's what makes sad songs so sweet, ironically. They allow us to open up the ground above us and let in new air, allow the healing of the soul to begin. The tension, the suspense, the animosity, resonates with the parts of us that feel the same way.

But it's not that we listen to songs about pain in order to perpetuate it. It's like magnetism. We use magnets in compasses to tell which direction we're going, because the earth is also magnetic. How else can you find people who are in pain? How can you expect to reach people who are in darkness, yet refuse to acknowledge darkness, refuse to bring light into the dark? It won't just magically show up. They won't simply wander out of pitch black.

Just north of here is Mammoth Cave. On several of the tours, once you're deep enough in, all of the lights that have been installed in the cave are turned out for a moment so that tourists can experience what it might have been like for the original explorers to wander the depths with only a torch. For a brief moment, before a tour guide's flashlight comes on, you experience total blackness. Nothing. No point of reference. No way out.

It's terrifying.

It's even more terrifying that you get used to the dark, so much so that you have to adjust to the light.

It's comforting to hear voices calling out to you, telling you that you're not the only one down here.

It's electrifying to see dim rays of light bouncing around the corner.

It's overwhelming to see a map in the hands of your rescuers.

Songs like "Hymn For The Missing" and "Pieces" by Red, "It's No Secret" and "I Found My Way Back Again" by Nevertheless, "Wrapped in Your Arms" and "All I Need To Be" by Fireflight, "Breaking You" and "Run Forward" by Audrey Assad, and many, many others... they've saved me more times than I can count. Most of my own sad songs, including "Closure," have been the most therapeutic to write. It's one of the reasons I'm so excited to share them with you in 2016.

If you're like me, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. It's okay. If you know the darkness, it's okay. But there is a way out. We're calling out to you. Jesus is calling out to you. He knows. My God, He knows darkness. Let Him come find you. Call back to Him.

Accuser Within by Michael Nichols

I've always struggled with risks. I think everyone does, though maybe not as much as others. If I know that there is something to be lost, I don't want to. Don't we all? Whether we acknowledge it consciously or not, we realize that we contain infinite value, endowed upon us by Jesus. We also experience fear when we're confronted with the possibility of loss. Everyone's looks different. Some people are afraid to take risks on career ventures. Others hate the idea of moving away and facing the unknown in that respect. My issue is with relationships, specifically the dating kind.

I'm not the only who has been hurt. I'm not the only one who has been scared. I'm not the only one who gets tripped up on words or will altogether avoid words when nothing seems sufficient enough to make enduring the fear worthwhile.

Unfortunately, inaction, in my case, has led to much, much more pain than action. You know, at least if you get shot down, you know you can change direction. And there can be a lot of reasons for being shot down other than it being, you know, your fault, something you did, something you are, heck, how you look.

But wait! How can you experience pain if you don't take a risk?

I'll tell you.

You see, it's equally as big a risk, if not bigger, to assume that something bad could come from your action, as it is to assume that something good could come from your inaction. I say this not to perpetuate the "follow your heart" mentality that has led modern day culture into a morally relativistic decadence, but holding back what's inside of you because you're afraid you might get hurt is like holding onto fire. You don't get used to it the more you hold it: you simply burn what's left of you the longer you hold it.

You're not protecting your heart by not telling people how you feel. You're actually poisoning it. You can always get back up from rejection, but you can't move past a choice you never made. I've avoided making a lot of those choices, and none of them have made living with the regret of what I might have missed any easier. I can think of a few instances in the not-so-distant past when I could have just told a person how much I cared for them, or let them see more of my real self, let go and just had fun with amazing people, but I didn't. I treated my insecurities as though they were for my benefit, like they could save me from being broken.

In reality, all I did was break myself before I let anyone else get to me.

What really eats at me is that every time, at least for the past several years, I've told myself I would stop avoiding what's inside of me, quit copping out of making the choices that I had to make. "This time" I'll say how I feel. After all, that's all I can do, right? After all, I have no control over what she does with that knowledge, right? And I haven't actually lost anything more than an idea, because until the feelings go both ways, I'm not actually "in love" with a person, right? And it's their problem if they can't get over the fact I might have feelings for them, even if I can get over them myself, right? So knowing all of that should make opening up easier, right?

I haven't. Not once.

Even as I speak these things, I realize I'm just finding more reasons to blame myself, as a dear mentor and friend recently put forth to me. And she was right. I'm not doing this for my own good, at least not anymore. Just the habit of repressing the person that God made you to be, even if you don't acknowledge that you're actually doing that, leads to the belief that God doesn't want good things for you, that you are beyond His love, His grace, a second chance, and that you might not even have any value at all.

Guess what. It's a lie. Your very existence, not to mention the whole truth and message of the gospel, is proof of that.

We all torment ourselves over something, but if it isn't making you a better person, it's not worth it. Whatever you're tormenting yourself over--and it doesn't have to be fear of rejection--isn't worth your time, your breath, your life, if it is a barricade preventing you from growing into the person God made you to be in Christ.

Easier said than done, right?

It's a good thing we have a powerful God going before us. Just trust that. Trust Him. Take a risk. Even if it doesn't turn out the way you wanted it to, let Him carry you to the place He wants you to be, and trust that this place will be a beautiful one.

Rev(ital)ised: Nothing Can Take It Away by Michael Nichols

This one was born of my struggle to accept things that I cannot change and live my life beyond that moment.

31 January 2009 at 3:41pm -- from Facebook Notes, revised 3 February 2014

I’m a very attentive person when I try to be. I try to take in everything I see and hear (granted, my short term memory span doesn't exactly help). I especially notice opposites: modesty versus immodesty, truth versus lies, depression versus joy, helplessness versus having a grip on life, etc. And I especially notice when people have changed and when they have something to hide.

It seems to me that, while most of the people I know are generally normal and okay with their lives, a few people have issues, and having been through stuff myself, I keep on asking myself, "What can I do to help?" and I think I have an answer.

I don’t know if you've ever been there, but have you had something that you treasured more than anything, then you made one simple decision for better or for worse, or maybe something happened that was completely beyond your control, and it was gone, in all likelihood to never be within your grasp again? I struggled with this myself, and even though you can feel the absence like a severed vein, I know one thing to be so true: nothing can take it away.

What do I mean? Two things, mainly.

First of all, nothing can take away the pain. It’s just not going to happen. Take any meds you want. Drown it out with substance abuse. You might get a high off of it, but it won’t change your life. It won’t take that situation you have and make it alright. And complaining about it definitely isn't going to help, though we all need to let it out every now and again. Making it a lifestyle for attention, though, isn’t going to help you. Sure, it’s great to ask people for advice and help when we feel helpless, but crossing that line to create drama only hides the real issues, preventing you from finding real help.

But secondly, there is a parallel to the fact that nothing can take away the pain: nothing can take away the memory. While the memory is what creates the pain in the first place by making you long for what you once had, the memory is also the one thing that can truly eradicate it. If you have that good memory that you wish you had back -- that girlfriend, that home, that church, that family member, anything -- you can say, "Hey, I had that. I was fulfilled in my life. I had a close connection with a person. I achieved that goal." Maybe somebody moved, passed on, you lost something precious, a friendship was shattered, your abilities have faded (mental or physical), but nothing can take away the fact that they were yours, and nothing can undo the past, good or bad. So if good is in it, find it, and hold it.

No matter how much you’ve lost, at least you can say that you had it, and remember that life doesn't end here even if one chapter does. Don’t lose sight of reclaiming what you can, but if you can’t get it back, even if it’s difficult to accept, please, for your own sanity, try. You will slowly start to see how good you have it and how good things can become if you refuse to let the past enslave you but instead let it propel you. Your life may not be a bed of roses. It might not even be a little rosebush. But at least you’ll have that one rose, and regardless of how many thorns have to prick your hand to hold it, you will still have it to nurture and behold its beauty.

When You Want to Curse the Day by Michael Nichols

Remember this when you want [or may have already decided] to curse the day you're in:1) Not a single day is given us by anything other than the mercy of God, and He makes no mistakes, nor is He the creator of evil. 2) Were it not for today, tomorrow would have no foundation. 3) Things could always be worse, and even if you're at rock bottom, you're not alone. 4) Jesus loves you, nothing can change that, and He is always waiting patiently for you to run to Him.

"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the thing which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." -- Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 4:17-18)