I became a Christian at age four. My simple little heart grasped the Gospel stronger that day than it would ever need to. With paper cut-outs, the teachers showed us how Jesus transformed our hearts from dark to light. Poisoned to clean. I wanted my heart to be clean. In what proved to be the most important thing I ever did, I asked Jesus to come live inside me. He was my Friend.
Life grew darker as I approached my pre-teen years. At the time, my home did not feel emotionally safe. I grew isolated. My friendships were mostly built on avoiding conflict, and I often felt at the mercy of other people’s bossiness. But then: the dawn of the Internet (thanks, of course, to Al Gore). It seemed like a wonderful alternative to human interaction. My parents wanted to protect me, so they set the parental controls at ages 9-11. But the Internet was new. They did not know that keeping me from obscenity was not the same as keeping it from me.
When it felt like no one else saw me, at least they saw me. That was just the way the world was, right?
I started hanging out in chatrooms set up for children. “Cool 11,” one was called. I was only nine, but I wanted to be cool, so I joined. Bait from sexual predators, little did I know. I was so young that the first time one of the men asked me my bra size, I had to get a Girl’s Life magazine to look up what the letters were (and even that young, I knew to tell him the biggest size). Over the course of about two years, I familiarized myself with the stench of rotting male sexuality. The words and pictures the men sent were shocking and confusing. But I kept going back. When it felt like no one else saw me, at least they saw me. That was just the way the world was, right?
It became tiring to exist. Why take another breath just for the sake of it? By age eleven, I was done. I came home from school, shut my bedroom door, and tied a dress bag around my head (it seemed poetic at the time). I shrunk into the fetal position, listening to the crinkling plastic as my breathing shallowed. The world felt like the way a seashell sounds when you put your ear to it.
I tore the bag off before I passed out. Oddly exhilarated, I embarked on a love-hate relationship with the idea of my own suicide. The middle decade of my life was a dark place, made all the worse by my great skill in masking the darkness to my friends and family. I felt like a monster in a human costume.
Like any addiction, it was a fleeting high that made the crashes all the more painful.
My solution to darkness was not porn, drugs, or other “red flags.” I escaped. Books, movies, music. I would lie on the floor of my bedroom and listen to music for hours and hours, daydreaming about fantasy worlds where I was capable of being loved. I was happy there.
Like any addiction, it was a fleeting high that made the crashes all the more painful. Daydreams of happiness crashed down into daydreams of death in what became a very familiar cycle. Death starts to look like freedom to the hopeless. Although I was a gifted high school student, I missed two straight weeks of sophomore year because I could not function enough to leave the house. I got spells of lethargy where I struggled to inhale. I would hardly eat. I had half a dozen medical tests done—still no diagnosis. I suspected it was a psychological illness taking a physical toll. But I acted as bewildered as everyone else. Everyone else could handle life, and I did not want them to know that I could not. Not-so-miraculously, I started feeling better after I received get-well-soon cards from worried classmates. At the time, I felt guilty for tricking them into thinking I was sick. But now I see that I was, in fact, mentally sick. God used those people to lift me up, if just for a while, so that I did not drown.
Death starts to look like freedom to the hopeless.
Like any addiction, the escapism cost me my relationships. Addicts are indifferent to everything but the drug. I had three emotional states: 1) high on escape, 2) pretending to be normal, and 3) anger. Although I put on a face for friends, I held nothing back for my family. I once kicked my younger brother on the floor until he cried. I walked away wondering if any of my classmates were as horrible as I was. I doubted it.
But through the darkness, there were twinkles of light. A voice I had known as a child kept gently whispering to me. “I am here.” Words I had heard in church came alive as I encountered God’s Word and God’s People. A real God died for me. A real God knows my evil deeds. A real God loves me anyway. It wrecked my crusted heart, bit by bit, and made it fleshy again.
God changed everything. He made that young girl with the hidden tears a stranger to me. I have not fantasized about death in years. Love conquered Death. God made that Love real to me, and nothing else satisfies that hollowness that I spent years cramming full of male attention and self-pity.
But do not mistake: there have been hard years between the lines of these paragraphs, even as I have been growing. I hurt a lot of people while attempting to protect myself. It has taken a long time for God to pry the steering wheel out of my hands, but it has been everything.
In times of pain, I contemplate
that it would be easier to give up on God and do what I want.
Yes, I have times of doubt. I expect to continue having them so long as I live on this broken Earth. In times of pain, I contemplate that it would be easier to give up on God and do what I want. But I did what I wanted for most of my life, and it brought me only emptiness. Pleasing the self is like eating food that makes you hungrier.
I wish the world could know what it feels like to love and be loved by the God of the Universe. Feeling like your chest will burst from the fullness. Knowing Truth right into your bone marrow. The air is sweeter. Your soul is quieter. The colors are richer. It is whole, and utterly peaceful. His Love sounds inconceivable, but once you have known it, it is the only thing that makes sense.
These moments of Love are merely flutters of what is to come. One day, we will be united in heaven with God and never be separated from that feeling again.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelations 21:4).
The more we absorb this feeling of God’s Love, the more we can love others. The more we love others, the more we are filled back up. It’s like throwing a boomerang that flies back ten times as large. We can love even our worst abusers because God loved us first. “What pain must my abusers have known that led them to the depths of selfishness? How many nights did they spend crying on the bathroom floor, just like I did? Were they even able to cry?” All creatures deserve our love, even our enemies (Matthew 5:44).
If this does not sound like any Christian you know, then you probably do not know any. God is not a check box; He is an uprooting. God cannot be found in logic, because He operates firstly in the heart and secondly in the mind. He is accessible even to the most meek of humans. You do not have to be intelligent to find God; you have to be vulnerable. He died for all people (2 Corinthians 5:15), and does not have a barrier to His Kingdom based on IQ.
You do not have to be intelligent to find God; you have to be vulnerable.
People marked by the Grace of God drop their selfish habits and chase after His loving commands (albeit clumsily). Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). If you want answers, look for Christians who love when it is hard to love, like God does. Hear their stories of redemption. Every true believer has one, and every true believer, Texan or Czech or Chinese, will tell you of the power of the same God. He is not sculpted to our cultural ideals. He is Love itself (1 John 4:8).
At the end of the day, all I can know is my own heart, and my own heart responds to God. He freed my soul from itself. My journey was difficult, and my struggle against anger and hopelessness is not over. But now I have a valiant heart instead of a withering one (2 Thessalonians 3:3). I am not a victim of Man when I have the Great Protector (Isaiah 41:10). I am new (2 Corinthians 5:17). I am never alone (Matthew 28:20). And I do not have to fight to breathe anymore.
“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Please use the “Contact” page or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss anything (anonymously, if you wish). My healing did not truly begin until I started talking about the pain and engaging the camaraderie of other believers.