I don't know what it is but I have been stuck in a funk for the last few months, or at least sporadically oscillating between funk and... non-funk. Which is bizarre, not in the sense that it's news when Jordan's in a bad mood (hardly), but that on paper my life is actually going pretty great right now, better than it has been in a long time. I've got jobs I love, two of them, which on its own is bonkers to the nth degree. That's not how the first year out of college is supposed to go. I also live with two of my best friends, minister to the sweetest kids and live in a community full, just full of people I love. So what could possibly be getting me down?
Well, ya know, the usual. Friend biz. Textbook over-relator that I am, I tend to invest everything I have into friendships where the effort and affection are not equally distributed, or even reciprocated. I allow myself to become berated by emotional mistreatment for the sake of preserving relationship, whether or not it's healthy, whether or not it's right. And part of it is that I try, Lord knows I try to be a good friend to everyone God puts in my life, even those who seem tougher to get along with right out of the gate. I don't keep anyone at arm's length; I let everybody in, without their earning it. Which is tricky, and dangerous, because such vulnerability leaves one open to a host of abuses and deep hurts, and I've felt most all of them, even in the short twenty-two years I've been alive.
I don't know what about human nature causes us to so mistreat those who love us most deeply. Sure, not everyone functions this way, but some days I have to remind myself of the fact because in moments it certainly seems like they do. We, all of us, tend to take for granted the ones who give the most for us, who tolerate us best. Just how it is I guess. So it goes.
And I know I should have the answers, being Mr. Christian and all. My grandpa has even taken to calling me "Rev," so I really ought to have at least some spiritual insights into the ins and outs of friendship, the tricks or secret codes or whatever.
Trust me, if punching the right sequence of numbers into a super-computer could solve the wicked ways we treat each other I would be first in line at the keyboard. Unfortunately, though, as I'm coming to realize, the self-help formulas we employ to make ourselves feel better have no effect whatsoever on others and their behavior, unless we're willing to emotionally and psychologically manipulate them. Which I discourage.
Don't get me wrong, I do believe in the God of the Jesus story, in the Creator who emptied himself to come down and experience humanity only to be killed by His people in some miraculous, radically counter-intuitive plan to save them. I believe in this God whose cross dips down into the very pits of hell, who is intimately and lovingly involved in my own story, and I believe He is with me as I go through these aches and pains. I even believe He feels them too.
And that, I guess, is where I'm sitting right now: in this pocket of sadness, this melancholy coma, but with God. With God.
Isn't that the promise of the Jesus story? God with us?
I know God is with me. I know it, because I am confident I wouldn't have survived this long without Him, without His presence before me, behind me, beside me and within me. My tender heart would have caved in otherwise.
God delivered me from the Old Sadness, the depression which so crippled me all those years ago, before I knew how loved and precious I am. Christ stood between me and my nightmares, bearing the brunt of the fear and loneliness they hurled my way. He protected me from sadness as long as I needed to heal from it.
But now, nine years later I'm starting to reacquaint myself with Sadness, like an old friend, only this new Sadness is of a different breed entirely. He is gentler, deeper and wider yet wholly different from the old in that he is not vicious or intimidating. He is toothless, without claws, yet strong and impossible to ignore. He means me no harm and does not hobble me with his presence. He is just a truth, a reality, a crucial cog in the machine who helps the whole story along.
The New Sadness visits me when I see my friends, my dear loved ones mistreating themselves or others. When they abuse drugs or their friends or me. When they alienate themselves or become lost in unhealthy relationships. Or when they feel pain, when they are hurt by their loved ones, by strangers, by themselves. When they feel overwhelmed our discouraged. When I see them cry.
He arrives and fills me with a heaviness, with a sobering knowledge and reminder of the pain around me. He does not let me off the hook, does not permit me to escape but sits beside me, arm over my shoulder and whispers "this is real. This is the way of the world. This is how things are now and they oughtn't be ignored." And I weep, because my humanity has been jostled awake. Because the weight of these sad times I must obey. I weep because I care more than I know how to handle, and it almost becomes too much.
But then I look up, and through the streaming tears focus my eyes on my visitor. His face is disarmingly familiar, and not from the days of the Old Sadness but from all the years since. His features are striking but His demeanor warm. He is beautiful and bright but in this moment He shines dimly yet unwaveringly. He smiles at me even while tears stream down from His own eyes. And I know, all at once, that I am crying with God.
"Why?" I whimper.
He does not answer right away but holds me as I begin to cough and sputter and sob.
"Why do I feel this way?" I choke between dry heaves. "Aren't you here to take this away?"
"I'm so sorry," He whispers. "I can't."
"But... what... no..." I am inconsolable at this point.
"I can't because this, what you're feeling, it's from me. It's not just your Sadness. It's mine. It's ours. This is what I experience when I see and hear and feel what you are seeing and hearing and feeling. This is my heart for them."
"But I'm not strong enough," I'm huddled over so the tears are beginning to bathe my legs and feet. My arms are crossed over my stomach clutching my cramping sides.
"I know son, I know. I'm so sorry. But you don't have to be. I'm here." He holds me closer.
I try to shake him loose but with each convulsion I feel his hold tighten, though never enough to hurt. In fact, with each deepening of the embrace I feel more taken care of, more known. And He repeats, "I'm here."
God with us.