I don’t want you guys to make the same mistakes I did. I spent the majority of my 20s in a depressed funk, wondering why my life didn’t seem to work. Yet I was a Christian who claimed to know the One True Hope. Was that hope failing me or was I doing something wrong?
Today, I breathe easier, and my faith is stronger. Is it because my struggles were finally rewarded? No. Is it because God came down and told me all the answers? Not even close.
It’s because I stopped asking what exactly God was doing and focused on who he is. But to get there, I had to hurt.
A Brief(ish) History of Struggle
PHASE 1: Become a Christian (2008). I grew up in the faith, but only really made it my own when I turned twenty. Okay, God, I’m all in. Now what fulfilling and “more abundant” life do you have for me? What’s that? I’m gonna be a writer? Sweet!
PHASE 2: Graduate to Nothing (2009). Well, this was my fault. I sleepwalked through life. But I still got a job. I mean it’s not in my field and I see no way of getting into my field on a livable wage, but I’m a Christian now, so things should get better by and by.
PHASE 3: Ministry Internship (2011). Now here we go! Sure, it’s unpaid, but God is telling me to have faith in him. And I love it! This internship is awesome. Can’t wait to see what God has for me next since I was obedient to his will! After all, Jesus rewards those who trust in him!
PHASE 4: Ten months of Unemployment (2013). I’m sorry, what? But…but I did what Jesus told me to. Now that leads to nothing? Okay…? Maybe I just need patience.
PHASE 5: Get a New Job (2013): Whoo hoo! I’m making more money than ever before!
PHASE 6: Discover the Job is a Soul Suck (2013-2016). I’m literally trying to bite through my wrists in the bathroom. The job sucks, the bills piled up to negate the awesome new income, and I can’t seem to get hired on anywhere else. Some fulfilling and “more abundant” life…
PHASE 7: Move From St. Louis to Denver (Early 2016). So God tells me we depend too much on safety, so we need to get out of our comfort zones and go somewhere only He can rescue us. All right, things are finally happening!
PHASE 8: Hate Denver (2016). Um, God? We’re making even more money and yet we can barely pay rent. Also we hate it here. I mean I know for sure you told us to move, so, um, where’s that rescue thing?
PHASE 9: Move to Idaho (2016). At last! Finally, God is doing something! Now life will start!
PHASE 10: Hate Idaho (2016-2017). ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! THIS is the rescue?!
PHASE 11: Depression (2017). So I’ve been following God for about nine years now, and every time I do what he says, things get better for a very brief time at best, then quickly start to suck. Now I’m at a job that pays crap wages and I have a child to support with another on the way. I’m dependent on my parents, I’m dependent on Medicaid, I’m a charity case, I hate my life of constant struggle without rewards, and I’m thinking about suicide daily.
The Wrench in My Brain
So what exactly was going on? Was I doing something wrong and God was withholding favor? No, God gave instructions and we obeyed. So then why was God holding out? Wasn’t life supposed to be easier than this?
Did you catch it? Wasn’t life supposed to be easier than this? Not perfect, not rolling in wealth and accomplishment, I’d never ask for something so selfish, just easier than this. That’s not selfish…is it?
At the bottom of my barrel, my dad told me something I’ll never forget: “Frustration always comes from unmet expectations.” I was frustrated, so what were my expectations?
- God told me I’d be a writer, so I should be on that road by now.
- God told me to leave my home, so life should be better than it was then because I obeyed.
- God told me he would provide, so I should be making more money than this.
- Life is supposed to go up, not down. Struggle should result in progress, not regress.
- God should give me the same blessings as others because his love is unbiased.
None of these was being met, not that I could see at least. But I kept digging, searching through my expectations to see what thoughts were fueling them. I found:
- I have obeyed, so God should have blessed me by now.
- God made promises, so he should have kept them by now.
- I’m almost 30, life should be going in an upward direction by now.
“By now.” And when I kept circling this intellectual drain, I finally found it: the one resounding idea that was the core of all my hopes and expectations:
“I understand God fully. Anything that does not match my understanding of God clearly is not God.”
There’s cocky, there’s arrogant, and then there’s me. I couldn’t see God doing anything good, so I assumed he wasn’t. As though I have all the answers in my little noggin. As though I can comprehend the vast reaches of every step a human makes.
Aaaaand, it got worse.
The Icky, Icky Truth
I picked up Tim Keller’s amazing Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering because Keller is awesome and I was hurting. He said that our modern, Western culture, unlike so many others before and now, believes suffering has no purpose. The goal in life is to eliminate pain because it is nothing more than a hindrance.
To greatly summarize, our culture believes that if we can’t see any good reason why we suffer, that there isn’t one. What’s more, if we can’t understand why God would allow evil, then God either doesn’t exist, or he is evil himself.
Ever look at a fun house mirror only to realize you’re not in a fun house?
When I realized that my near-thirty years of Christian life could be summed up in an atheist manifesto, I could hardly move. All my faith was no greater than someone who disbelieves or dislikes God.
See, the Christian hope is so much greater. It says, “God is bigger than me, therefore I cannot understand everything he does. If I cannot understand everything, then it’s possible God has a good reason for allowing bad things in this world. And if God has a good reason, then it is possible that this path of human suffering is in fact better than any path he could have chosen that did not involve suffering.”
Being a Christian is not about understanding God, it’s about trusting. We see this over and over again in the Bible. We’re told to trust God, not our understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). Jesus told Peter to walk on water without telling him how, or why he’d never do it again (Matt 14:22-33). And though God gave Job a new perspective, he never told Job why he suffered in the first place (Job, the whole thing).
I wanted a God I could understand, not one I had to trust.
So God wrecked me. He let me spin in my angry circles, to grasp at straws until none were left. He led me into pain and frustration until, after nine years of commitment, I would finally sit down and question my own assumptions about how my life would go.
As of this writing, it’s only been about three, maybe four months since I realized all this, yet already I’m seeing changes since I decided to quit trying to understand God and start trusting him instead. This has allowed me to see beyond my narrow scope.
For example, I got a raise. Now this raise does not take away my money troubles. In fact, months ago I would have wallowed in despair that even when I get a raise, it’s not enough to provide for my family. I still don’t know how I’m paying rent at the end of the month.
But now I know I don’t HAVE to know. I just have to remember that my paycheck is not God’s only means of provision. Surprises and miracles aren’t usually on the calendar, but they happen. Therefore, I can calm down and enjoy my raise, even celebrate it.
More than that, I can see how this job is actually excellent for me. Though it pays far less than my last one, it’s far more satisfying, and I’m coming home happier than I ever did when my wallet was full.
And when I was unemployed in Denver, that’s when I wrote and published Ferryman, a book every reviewer has enjoyed (as of this writing) and one I enjoyed creating. And when I was unemployed again in Idaho, that’s when I wrote “Hypocrite,” which is currently in a publisher’s hands. And last year, I wrote 200,000 words of the biggest and most ambitious novel I’ve ever created, “Dodecon,” and I’ve even been told it’s my greatest work yet (let’s hope an agent agrees!). So who says I’m not growing as a writer?
I’m excited to have another child, not wondering how he or she will go to college. When my van has trouble, I’m not panicking. And I haven’t wanted to kill myself in months. All this because I trust that my little struggles and major agonies have a purpose, even if I can’t see it.
The One Thing I Want You to Know
Aha! Caught you scrolling though to see if there’s a point to this, didn’t I? Lucky you, there is.
You’re either hurting now or you’ll hurt at some point in your life. And yes, God’s ultimate plan is to remove suffering entirely (Revelation 21:4). But right now, pain is still a problem.
I can’t possibly get into all the details on God and suffering in a blog post, plus Tim Keller’s book already did a thorough job and I highly recommend it. I just want you to know this: God will do things you don’t understand. If we could understand everything about him, he wouldn’t be God, but some made-up human construct. A real God would be bigger than we are.
When you have to know everything, you get furious when the answer doesn’t come. I mean couldn’t God have just come down from the heavens and explained things without making me struggle like I did? You start to feel God owes you an answer, and his silence is more infuriating still. You’ll rant and rave and cry and moan, not realizing the contradiction of understanding God, or that there are plenty of non-God things in this world we don’t understand and don’t lose our minds over it.
But there is peace when you trust. When you know God has you, even when he doesn’t seem to be nearby. When you know God is good, even when it seems like he’s the source of all evil. When you know God himself, not just his rulebook, agenda, or policies.
That’s what we call faith. Trusting when you don’t understand.
Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand,
But I know who holds tomorrow
and I know he holds my hand.