Life is Harsh
I didn't have one of those sudden, miraculous transformations you hear from the life stories of so many enthusiastic evangelists. Mine was a gradual process that spanned over almost a decade. I didn't quit smoking after "I gave my life to Christ" in early high school, I didn't stop courting attention from bad boys and I kept dabbling in drugs and drinking well beyond my teen years.
Like many of my peers, I had my reasons for indulging in this type of behavior: divorced parents, stormy family life, crippling self-esteem. You name it. I had it. Looking back, I can see I already lost the battle when I had my first failed suicide attempt. I told no one. A couple of weeks later an intervention from concerned friends followed about the bottles of alcohol I stashed in my room. At the time I thought they were hypocrites looking for a scapegoat since we were all doing the same bad things together. It made me feel judged and angry. Deep down I knew something was wrong though, that my behavior wasn't the typical teen behavior. We all had our rebellious streaks, sure, but mine became increasingly flagrant. It was more reckless than experimental and I often ended up in compromising situations, hating myself afterwards for putting up with bad treatment from people in the first place.
In the Psychologist’s Office
Eight years later and I'm sitting in a psychologist’s office staring numbly at the floor, because I can't bring myself to summon up any kind of emotion required for normal interaction. I'm in a new city, on the brink of the rest of my life, where I've been dreaming to be since I could remember. Yet all I'm aware of is the crushing heaviness inside my chest, the pervasive sense of hopelessness and the extreme senselessness of life. In my mind there is no light in the world and never has been. I always felt something was wrong, but I never registered to what extent. She diagnoses me with suppressed major depression that started when I was 16 and I begin treatment on a regular basis.
Only Dead Fish Go with the Stream
Because I seemingly have no one, no future and no energy to be impressive, I start to get real with God.
I start to think that even though I raised my hand for alter calls in church and recommitted my soul to Him on many occasions, maybe I never really gave Him a fair chance to change my life. Maybe I loved the world too much and maybe I was ashamed of being a Christian because 'what would they think of me!?'. You know what I realized? None of it mattered. None of those people whose approval I cared about were in this situation with me, holding my hand, trying to get me through it. I was alone, shattered to the point of madness and without a sense of self because (among other things) I'd wasted my life thinking only of what I must look like through the eyes of others. I'd finally become everything I'd hated: a conformist, materialist...a dead fish.
Getting real with God helped changed my perspective. He showed me that Jesus was the ultimate rebel. That's right. Not the pink-cheeked, tiny, fat child with a halo around his head in oil paintings. He was a flesh and blood man who stood up to the religious authority of his day. Pharisees hated him, wanted to stone him for his teachings. Why? He was real, His heart was genuine, He responded to suffering, reacted to evil and destroyed any notion of using ritual in the pursuit of God.
That got me hook, line and sinker. 'I want to belong to someone like this', I thought. Someone who showed mercy for the misfits because he knew where they came from and he didn't judge them for it. Instead he offered second, third and fourth chances. So eventually, round the 100th time, I took one.
My Real Changeover
I started spending more time with Him, talking to Him in my heart about the things I was struggling with. I didn't see any angels or hear heavenly music or anything, but I trusted that He would speak to me in a way I could recognize. I still had a lot of pain, I still struggled, I still cried myself to sleep. He didn't take any of it away but instead showed me that if I clung to Him, I could get through anything (1 Cor 10:13). I realized maybe the point of life was not to avoid pain, which is inevitable, but maybe to allow God to use it to transform you.
Getting more in touch with His character not only gave me strength, but also helped me be more at peace. I became OK with being myself, even if that meant I came across as being boring and dull. I didn't care about impressing people anymore because I knew God looked at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Giving God a chance meant also giving myself one. I wasn't a very genuine person when I finally gave my life to him, but He kept showing me what matters to Him and slowly it started to rub off on me. Little things like being kind, compassionate and loving all amount to being open to a real connection with people. That meant opening up and showing them my scares. And you know what? These days I think they're pretty beautiful.
I don't try to be perfect anymore and I'd rather ask for help now instead of keeping everything pent up inside. I still have bouts of depression, but I'm not cut off from life anymore. I'm actually living it, responding to it, discovering new things about myself everyday. One thing that keeps coming back to me is when Jesus said that if you loose your life for His sake, you will find it. I think what that means is that when you give up control, when you trust Him, you receive everything He meant to give you, because you stop trying to know better. I'm not saying it's not going to hurt. Growth always will. But what I'm telling you is that it's worth it.
God really did change my life. He changed my attitude and He sent people across my path to teach me about Him and give me answers...maybe not always when and how I wanted Him to, but what on earth do I know anyway? ;)