struggle

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)

Head Shot: Alone by Michael Nichols

Do we alienate people because we hate them or because we hate ourselves?

Is it better to be surrounded by oblivious, apathetic souls, or to be alone?

At the end of the day, can you live with pushing everyone away for the sake of staying safe inside, free of criticism, free of failing others, free from the hurt of missing those absent?

...or is failure found in the alienation of everything and everyone we ever deemed important?

No. Failure means that there is no hope to change.

Is it worth the effort to believe and hope that genuine albeit imperfect love exists between two human beings? Is fulfilling our calling in Jesus' name a greater gain than the connections we lose in defying those who deny the dreams we've been given? Is victory over our own soul's shadows worth the struggle?

Yes. Undeniably, yes. It is worth it.

Semester Four by Michael Nichols

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Today, I think about how much of a procrastinator I am, and how quickly I either blame others, beat myself up, or become frustrated, or shut down when I fail at something, do something crooked, harbor hate, or anything else. Yes, I know that I'm taking one idea, the idea of simply putting off homework assignments, and taking it waaay out of context into something much deeper and darker than that, but that's the way my twisted mind works. I see darkness, and I think about other darkness. Thing is, I recently procrastinated to the point of being perfectly unable to do this assignment, and now it's sinking in, how great of a disadvantage I've given myself, and that is a lazy part of me, a part of my darkness. It's this sense of, "Wow, I seriously just did that!" which give me a reason to take this post the way I'm going to take it.

Whether someone pulls it out of you or you just sort of end up working it out either intentionally or by the way of something else, there is always something dark inside, that worst part of us that we forgot was really there, because we don't believe in monsters under the bed, and that's our problem. After all this time, I'm still trying to piece so much together from so many things I've dealt with. Now, I don't care how it happened or what spirit brought it about. Now, all I need to know is how it affected me and if I'm a whole person beneath the tangled threads.

It has been roughly three years since I left home, just over one since I returned. If you knew me back then, you'd know I was a dark person, devoid of any sense of joy or pride or anything worth living for so I thought. Some of you also probably know the reason I left, and others still know what my last two years of high school were like. The rest of you... well, I'm frankly not ready to talk about it yet, but the day will come.

The important thing for you to understand is that I didn't want to return. Beginning from the end of my junior year of high school, I was ready to burn every bridge connecting to the deserted isle upon which I lived, regardless of the repercussions because at that point, I had learned that nobody could be trusted, especially the ones you needed the most. No, everything I thought I'd know and I thought I could rely upon simply wasn't real, and I could stomach no more. All I could think was, "Get out, get out, and get out now!" That is to say, of my social circle, my school, my house.

Through an undeniably providential chain of events, I found people who cared, who always asked questions, who always backed me up, and were always around to catch me rather than to condemn me for any failure of mine, any shortcoming, any weakness. I started growing, like I was built by God to do, and would have been doing if anyone had the faintest clue as to who I was and who I am, and yes,only began to grow when I wasn't trying to be forced into the cookie-cutter of buyable Christianity (as opposed to the Gospel of grace.) When I started growing, I started seeing light! LIGHT! That's right, the thing that makes us see anything at all.

At the same time, I started seeing darkness for what it really was, and the more I grew to be able to see the lighter side of life and the good things therein, the more easily I and deeply I could see darkness, the hurt and the evils that bury the world. But that didn't make me want to grow. It certainly did not. It made me want to run, so I did.

I'm not just talking about from home or from a social circle. I mean everything. I was planning to attend college to be a music teacher, but I didn't. I thought by now I'd be out of school, maybe even married, with a decent job that paid decent money so I could have a decent life, not that I was really looking for a decent life, but rather a fulfilling life. I stayed out of school for two and a half years, working a dead end job and living a dead end life. Whereas I had once devoted myself on Scriptural knowledge and vigilance, I stopped reading, stopped praying, stopped praising. And the worst part? (As if it could have gotten worse for me,) it wasn't all at once.

Subsequently, I gave in to various alternate ways of keeping my sanity, which I'm also not willing to talk about yet. Did I forsake believing in Jesus? By no means! But when your mind and your heart have been maliciously cut over and over and over from day one, along with the occasional upheaval, all of which left marks, something eventually had to stop, so I ran because I felt small, because I had been betrayed over and over, and because I just wanted to stay alive and feel like I should...

The funny thing is that today is Suicide Prevention Day (and I wasn't taking that into account when I began writing this), when we remember that there are people in this world who don't feel like they should stick around, and there have been many times I've been in that place, where I honestly though I could just slip out without so much as a flinch from anyone in the room. Now, I realize that I've gone through every bit of this for a reason (that I was also completely wrong), and I understand where this mass upheaval started. I remember it like yesterday, the day I had my heart ripped from my chest, when I'd been betrayed worse than ever before at that time. It was like my heart had been ripped from my chest to bear every ugly, untamed, unholy part of me, and though I once blamed the ripper solely, I know now that even though they were in the wrong, those things were already inside of me, waiting to be ripped out, to breathe and live.

At this point in my life, I realize this:

  • I haven't measured up to the perfection that some people refuse to concede is impossible of mere mortals because, no, we are not gods.
  • I haven't been willing to compromise some things that I believe that other people feel are simply psychotic, but it's my faith journey, and no, they are not gods, nor could they be because they do not love like only He can.
  • I haven't accomplished everything I know beyond the shadow of a doubt I can do and was made by the Lord God of Heaven and Earth to do because no, I am not a god.
  • I haven't loved as well as I know I could and know that I should because I have had the ulterior motives of pleasing myself and pleasing a world that is not god, and that reflects upon my understanding of and my relationship with God.
  • I haven't had the faith in myself that others have shown to me, and that reflects upon my faith in them and in the God that made us all.

... And all of this gives me the ability to say this: I'm am over people because I know I'm just as screwed up as the next guy, but I'm not going to give up because of the simple indisputable fact that God doesn't screw people up.

Not even me.

Wood Chips of Faith -- Part 1: The Crisis by Michael Nichols

I grew up in the home of a Christ follower and an agnostic, so my relationship with faith has been interesting to say the least. I have a very agnostic way of approaching life, but I also have decided to follow Christ. That may seem contradictory to you Christian readers, but let me clarify what I mean.

Living without certainty can be liberating when you're talking about not relying on earthly things to fulfill my eternal desires. Do I always succeed? No, but I do understand that not everything in life is certain, and that God's specific plan for us isn't always clear. Just because we don't know what details of our lives will be like doesn't mean we automatically have to dismiss the thought of truly knowing who God is, nor of knowing Him like a friend. That's not to say our understanding is perfect. We are, after all, human, limited. Limitation, though, is not the end of faith, but the beginning.

I've said this before: The decision to believe ends where living in faith begins. You make a choice, then you live it out; that's how it works, and it cannot be circumvented. I don't really know why I try to do so, but I do.

I knew this atheist once. He asked me a lot of questions, challenged my beliefs on things. I'd never encountered that much... adversity before then. I'd never really had the reason I believe what I believe challenged like that before, and it hurt quite a bit. You know that scripture from the letter to the Romans, in which Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ"? Well, it wasn't really that I was ashamed of it, but I was ashamed that I didn't have better answers for the guy. I'd like to be able to have a deeper conversation with a person than what I had, but I was unprepared, and I was embarrassed for that reason.

I tell this story to say that eventually you will have your belief system challenged -- and yes, you do have a belief system even if you don't think you do, because you live your life a certain way and according to a certain code, and you value certain things and therefore treat them a certain way...  and you don't quite value your faith until you've been through the wood chipper. You don't really know what it's made of, or rather, what you are made of, unless you've had what you believe picked apart by someone.

I dare say you don't even know that you truly believe it until someone else tries to take it apart. Afterward, because of my lack of answers, I began to doubt whether or not I believed what I said, if I practiced what I preached. Over time, the reality of my angosto-Christian state really began to set in. Did that mean I was agnostic? No. Did that make me not a Christian? Uh, no! It simply meant my faith hadn't grown past my doubts, and believe me when I tell you that I had many.

When I found the congregation with which I currently associate (and this bit came before my encounter with the atheist,) I became friends with this one particular person. Well, she was more my friend than I was hers. Given how standoffish I was toward people in general, being a friend to others wasn't an active ability of mine. One day, we went to this youth conference -- Rebelution it was called. We had a break for lunch, and she started asking me how I was, and I remember responding to her with much negativity towards my life. I didn't see any light within it, but she did somehow.

Living through that story made me realise how worthless my faith had been until then. It was a name, a nice idea, a good set of ethics and stories, (and I didn't actually realise this was my condition at the time...) but I didn't really believe it until that day. It didn't really become worth it to me to trust fully in Jesus rather than to integrate a collection of stories into the back of my head. Sure, I thought I was a Christian because I believed that the stories were true... but they meant little to my heart, and until then, I didn't acknowledge them as being relevant to my heart. Once I saw the love of God lived out by my friend, toward me, then I got it. I had been seeking answers, but answers didn't change me, nor did they love me, nor did they save me. Jesus did.

That is one of the beauties of dismantling your own faith. Despite the agony of the process, you get to know yourself inside faith rather than outside it. Throughout the scriptures of the new covenant, you will find the apostles advising people and churches about working through their faith, their conscience, and settling it in their own minds, and how much their prior faith (or lack thereof) affects their new faith. They knew that the people they were called to guide in the path of a disciple would be thrown in the wood chipper, their faith being split into splinters. Certainly they, especially Paul, experienced this! Did they invent theological seminaries, though? Nah. They showed love during times of doubt and distress.

During those times, it is always helpful to have friends like that, who care enough to listen. Alone, the process can rob one of his sanity. Friends let you know you're understood, that your crisis of faith wasn't intentional but rather something that everyone goes through in the maturing of the mind, the calming of the heart. That's why I believe it was so necessary for that friend I told you about to have been there with me at the conference so that I would have someone to talk to, someone to show me things weren't as bleak as I thought, and whether she knew it or not, to show me how hollow my faith really was.

It isn't wrong to grapple with your faith. It just sucks that we must. Whether you struggle with faith on a fundamental level or just one aspect of it or not at all, you're not doing something wrong, and you're not being a hypocrite. You are experiencing life, and your faith is being tested by the world around you, to see whether or not it really holds up.

That's the awesome thing about the Gospel of Jesus: it does!

NEXT -- PART 2: THE CRY FOR HELP