Some time ago, I got into a major—and potentially relationship-ending—argument with someone I love. Tensions between us had been growing for years, but until that night I felt the widening rift could be healed. I will spare the details, but when our phone call was over, I felt utterly devastated. I was emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and even physically exhausted. I managed to make my way to the kitchen floor where I sat with my wife reviewing the pain of my phone conversation.
Well into my recounting, I stopped talking and sat silently, allowing a new realization to present itself to me. I felt I was at the same time the bearer of a great and burdensome sorrow as well as an observer watching, as it were, from the outside. In these few moments, I understood in a new way the fragility of life, especially that of an addict or anyone engaging in harmful behavior.
Even though I work with addictions—and have battled my own demons—this moment seemed to me to be one of great decision. I very much understood the pull of the bottle and the needle. I heard the siren song of online pornography enticing me with sweet-sounding, but bitter lies. In the midst of my pain, all those temptations that would destroy me and my family called out to me, and I understood—even as I resisted.
I do not pretend that the pain I felt that night was any greater or less than the pain of anyone else; nor the draw to deaden that pain any more or less powerful. I say, simply, that one dark corner of the misery of life became clearer to me.
In a very deep sense, I wanted to not be myself. Even as I sat with the woman I love and who loves me, I felt that I would do just about anything to become someone else, to crawl out of my circumstances where rejection, sorrow, and tears could not follow. It was more than this, though. I also had the desire to simply not exist. I did not wish for death, necessarily, but, like Job who cried to God in his affliction, I wished I had never been born. The pain was such that I simply wished to be in a state of non-being.
If I could not have that, I wished for pain. I wanted to put my hand through a wall or sit in the cold until my body shook with frost. It occurred to me that this was, perhaps, the same internal sorrow that leads young girls to cut themselves or young women to jump from one abusive boyfriend to another. This, too, is the pain that drives the businessman to spend every waking moment in the office, avoiding a return home to the rejection he finds in his family or in himself. Or, what keeps the young college student up all night clicking from one impossible image to another.
These are the moments when the world spills over with evil and everything good, true, and beautiful is crushed. The urge to destroy—even, or especially, oneself—is particularly powerful at this time. Anything at all to numb the heartache.
As I thought about all these things, I shared them with my wife and with my God. Even as I relied on them both, my desire was for neither. How strange to be a Christian—one who promotes to others a message of healing and redemption to those caught in the webs of addiction—and to almost consciously reject that faith myself.
To all those who are hurting: I hear and understand your anguished cry. I have tasted your pain and felt its bitterness burn upon my tongue. I have felt your despair and stood with you on the verge of hopelessness. I have cried with you to the empty air, where God neither appears nor responds, and where the darkness closes around you and makes even breathing difficult.
Yet, I say to you now: do not allow sorrow and despair to overcome you. The night this all played out in my own life, I resisted the bottle and the computer. I even avoided taking aspirin to dull the aches that had sprung up through my ordeal. I got off the floor and finished the work of the day. I simply existed. I did not pray until drops of sweat poured from my hands. My heart was broken and silent. Only a few measly words to God managed to escape from my lips. Lord, have mercy.
But, despite my failures and my pain, I have placed my faith in a God who loves. And not just loves, but stands beside me and says, I, too, have suffered. Jesus Christ, whose name we have often used as a curse, experienced the same pain we have and more. He was rejected by his friends, his people, and even his own Heavenly Father. God’s judgment against our sin was hurled at Jesus on the cross. Christ himself, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed that God the Father would take away the sorrow, the despair, and the pain awaiting him. But rather than exercise his divine power, Jesus chose to take that pain upon himself for our sakes’ so that we would hear His voice when we, too, cried in the darkness.
When we numb our pain with sex, or drinking, or working excessively, we provide a cheap substitute to God’s true grace and mercy. Our substitutes end up betraying and enslaving us, and they block our hearts to hearing God’s call of hope.
I did not sleep much that night, nor did I “feel” God’s presence at any time. But God had prepared a new day for me. I will not lie and say that my heart was flowing with joy at the sunrise. Nothing felt different in the morning, but I went about my business and came to work as usual. Yet, in the clamor of the office, the Lord put a coworker in my path who asked me how I was and stayed to hear the truth. His words of encouragement were God’s own call to me to not despair, to not hold onto the pain, but to allow Him into my heart. Just as Christ lovingly and patiently washed the feet of his disciples, he spent the next day wiping away the tears of my heart and washing the sin that stained my soul.
The Gospel message that Christians proclaim is this: The God of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ, lives in the darkness of this world, listening to our cries and working to gain entrance into our hearts where he can wipe away every tear. Whether you call to him in desperation or curse him for his silence, he hears you and loves. Resist the call to numb your pain and if you are not able to call out to God, try to simply exist. The pain may feel worse at first, but your ears will be better able to hear the call of the Great Healer, who promises to take us with him to a place without tears or suffering.