I need to write something. I haven’t written anything here in two and a half months. And there’s a reason for that, beyond just “I didn’t feel like it” or “I forgot about it.” I’ve actually been debating whether I should spit out the reason or not. It’s something that, way back three years ago when I started this thing, I would quickly write down here and get it off my chest. But times have changed, and I’m not the same person I was back then. It also makes a difference when you know that people read this thing. But I can’t let that stop me because the story I’m about to tell must be told. Without telling this story, I will remain locked within who I am right now, and I can’t let that happen. It must be released, so that I can be released. And I know that doesn’t make any sense yet, so just hang on. It’ll all be explained.
So where to begin? Well, I guess I should start with where I am right now. I’m in Ottawa – I have been since the beginning of January. I’m here on co-op, working at Health Canada in the Public Opinion Research and Evaluation Division. That means I’m here in Ottawa, just south of the North Pole (or so it feels like, anyway), for four months, from January to April. I’ve certainly had an interesting time here so far – part of which I am going to get into. But, coming up here knowing only one person – a friend of a friend whom I had met a couple of times – was a challenging thing for me. I came up here knowing that there were going to be many lonely nights, and many nights when I would wish that I could just go home. But of course, I can’t go home. Not frequently, anyway. I’m 544 km away from home, and that sucks. But that’s the life of a co-op student, I suppose. I keep telling myself that it’s only for four months, and that I can survive anything as long as it’s for four months only.
So that’s my situation. But to really tell the story, I need to back up just a bit further, to before I left for Ottawa. The real story goes back to just around Christmas break. Around that time, just before I left school to go home, I started to feel not quite myself. It wasn’t a huge thing at the time, but I just started getting a little bit grumpy and hard to get along with. I figured that part of it was just realizing that soon, I would be heading off 6 hours away to spend four months in an unfamiliar home in an unfamiliar city. But I thought that would cause me to want to hang out with my friends more – you know, to hang out with them as much as possible before I left. But I started wanting to just stay in my room and be alone.
That was all well and good. I often need my time alone. I’m a bit of an introvert that way. If I can’t have time to myself to just think and relax, I get edgy. But this was different. This was just…wanting to get away from everyone. And that nagged at me in the back of my mind. But at any rate, I said my goodbyes to my friends at school and went home for the holidays. There, things took a turn for the worse. I had Christmas shopping to do still, and the last thing I wanted to do was Christmas shopping. Not because of the lines, or the hectic season, but just because I didn’t feel like doing anything at all. I felt like going to bed and sleeping until Christmas morning. And then maybe sleeping through that too. Life, it seemed, was not even giving me lemons. Try making lemonade with no lemons – it doesn’t work too well.
So, the Christmas season passed. I had a decent time with my family, although my sister started to get on my nerves. It’s kind of funny. We love each other from a distance. We’re fine when we’re not around each other much. We can chat or whatever. But living in the same house as her is infuriating sometimes. But, truth be told, at this point in time it wasn’t her fault. Everyone started getting on my nerves, and it began to get hard to contain it. I put on my fake smile, and inside I wondered what the heck was going on with me. And then things got worse.
Melissa is my best friend. Although I’ve only known her for about a year and a half now, I feel like I’ve known her my whole life. She is, almost in every way (except for her love of country music), the female version of me. I love her beyond belief, as a friend. Mostly, I guess, because she actually listens to what I say even after I’ve told the same story six times…I tend to repeat myself a lot. Most people just tell me to shut up or cut me off or something. She actually lets me tell the same story over and over again. That’s because she’s crazy. But at any rate, I mention all this because the worst thing happened. I was talking on MSN with her, and suddenly I just got angry at her. I don’t even remember how the conversation progressed, but I completely lost it. I was telling her that she never opened up to me and that here I was, telling her everything about myself, and she was like a brick wall, never letting on what was inside her head. At the time, I felt very right about what I was saying. And, well, to a certain extent, it’s true. She tries to hide her feelings, and she does so very well. But I was going way beyond that, and this frustration and anger just kept bubbling up and over.
Man, it seems so far away to think about it now. It seems like just a distant memory, because so much has happened with me since then. But I think that was really the turning point. That night I didn’t get much sleep. I kept replaying what I had said in my mind, and I knew that I had screwed up big time. She didn’t deserve what I had said, and the next day I talked to her on MSN again and apologized for the things I had said. I had made her into the bad guy, which wasn’t the case at all. She, on the other hand, thought that I was right and told me that she’d try and change things. That, as it turned out, made things even worse. I blew up at her for not opening up to me, so she opened up to me and started telling me all about her feelings. Unfortunately, in the state I was in, I didn’t want to hear about it. I didn’t care. I told her that I was wrong and that I wanted to take back what I said, and she told me that I wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t true to some extent. So things started getting awkward, and she continued to get on my nerves more and more. Things started to spiral out of control.
That’s when I realized something very important: I was depressed. The loss of appetite, the lack of pleasure in everything, the irritable mood, the lack of sleep – it all pointed to the fact that maybe, just maybe, I was depressed. I’ve experienced it before. Maybe a couple times, maybe just once, I’m not sure. The problem is that I didn’t know what was happening at the time, so I didn’t know what to do about it. But now I realized that what had happened to me before in those times that seemed so long ago – it seemed like a different Jeff that had experienced them – was now coming back. And that, quite frankly, scared me. And so, yet another day on MSN trying to explain to Melissa that I didn’t want her to be so open with me after all (and trying not to get angry at her), I realized that there was no choice but to tell her the truth. I couldn’t explain my actions otherwise. I was being a complete jerk, and I wasn’t the same person that she had seen just a few weeks before. So I told her that I thought that I might be depressed. And she, being always the best friend I could ever have, immediately dropped any anger or resentment she might have had for what I had said to her and turned all the focus on how she could help. It was an act which I couldn’t truly appreciate at the time.
Of course, she had her questions, and I tried to answer them, although I still wasn’t sure what was happening with me. The conversation eventually ended and I went to bed, feeling maybe just a touch better, but still knowing that I’d probably have a gruelling time ahead of me. But of course, whenever you think you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s always further that you can go, and so down I went, spiralling just a bit further to, by far, my lowest point.
As a Christian, I’ve always been convinced that our faith is a reasonable and reconcilable one. It should be able to be reasoned out and should have evidence to support it. I’ve spent many long hours trying to find these evidences, and when I find them I try to share them with others. And once I got Facebook, I found out just how satisfying a debate can be. I was previously involved, maybe a year ago, with some groups where questions and debates about God’s existence and about creation vs. evolution rage like wildfire, and I’ve been right in the thick of it, trying to throw my two cents at people’s faces (in love, of course…). Eventually my zeal for debating kind of withered away a little, as I moved on to other things to direct my short attention span toward. However, during this Christmas break that I’ve been talking about, I decided to see what was up with a couple of these groups and check them out. To be honest, I’m not quite sure why I went back. But once I got there, I got right back into the swing of things and started slinging the mud once again.
This time, however, it was different. Normally, in a debate, you throw your arguments at the other person, they throw theirs back at you, and then you keep doing the same thing, altering them slightly to give the impression that you are actually listening to them, but still basically repeating the same arguments over and over. It’s just how it’s done. Nothing is ever really accomplished, except sometimes you shake hands and go your separate ways, and other times you hate their guts and laugh at their expense. (The reason I really left the whole debating thing was because I realized that nothing ever really gets accomplished with 100 people each yelling their points of view at each other…) But this time, I went back and threw my arguments, and they threw theirs back, and suddenly theirs made more sense than mine did. I started agreeing with them and saying, “Well yeah, but…” Eventually I reached into my pockets to pull out another argument, and there were none left. I had thrown them all, and they had all fallen flat on the ground. I was at a loss as to what to do, so that night I went to bed. The next morning, I woke up, and I got the strangest feeling. It is impossible to describe, really. But I woke up, and suddenly I wasn’t so sure anymore. I wasn’t sure that God even existed. I woke up, and suddenly the doubts crowded my mind to the point where I just had some blank feeling, like there was no feeling at all. Where was my reassurance? Where was my Bible verse that I could pull out of my head and tell myself to make myself feel better? Suddenly, it was gone. And that’s when I felt the cold, hard ground of rock bottom.
From there, things just simmered. I told Melissa, though I don’t remember how it came up or why I told her. She was, needless to say, shocked. I have gotten the feeling in the past that she trusts me to figure out what the truth is and believe it. She knows that no matter what, I search for the truth, and to tell her this was like saying that black is white and up is down and the sky is what we walk on. It was the complete reversal of everything I’ve ever said to her, and in that moment, I felt sick. When I woke up and felt nothing, it freaked me right out. But now, I just got this horrible feeling like I had let down everything and everyone. And the worst part about it was that, in a way, it was true.
Melissa didn’t bring it up for quite a while after that. I told her that I was sort of looking forward to going to Ottawa so I could hopefully have time to figure things out. She let me know that she’d be praying for me, and at the time, the thought that came into my head was, “Well, not sure whether that’s going to help, but okay.” But there I was. My parents and I drove up to Ottawa and got me somewhat settled, and then I was suddenly, and utterly, alone. Alone, like I’ve never felt it before, because at least other times when I’ve felt like that, I had God to turn to. This time, I wasn’t sure He was even there. My prayers felt like they were hitting the ceiling and falling back down, so I stopped praying. My Bible remained on its shelf where I had put it after unpacking it. My thoughts, on the other hand, whirled around like a hurricane inside my head. Yes, this was rock bottom, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
But now we must introduce another character into the story, and her name is Katie. She was the friend of a friend that I talked about earlier, and I was hoping that she would be okay with me clinging onto her like plastic wrap covered in super glue. Of course, I did my best to try and not be like that, but thankfully, she understood that knowing one person in some unfamiliar city is a little disconcerting. She gave me a tour of downtown Ottawa, which was nice. She gave me opportunities to have at least somewhat of a social life. She’s Catholic, and she is involved in Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), basically the Catholic version of Campus for Christ. It targets university students, and the CCO Carleton group meets every other Wednesday. So, she invited me to go to that, and I figured I might as well go and get to know some people so I could at least say I made some friends in Ottawa instead of being a complete loser. It was fun – the people there were very welcoming and friendly, and while I still wouldn’t say that I “know” anyone there (enough to really call them “friends”), they are certainly some of the best friends I’ve got in Ottawa.
Soon after I moved here, Katie also asked if I wanted to go out for coffee sometime and have a “religious discussion.” She’s majoring in religion, and since she is Catholic and I am not, she was interested in what the differences between Catholics and Protestants were. We had talked about it previously over MSN a little bit, but now she wanted to have “the big discussion,” so to speak. This somewhat concerned me. How was I supposed to tell her what I believed when I wasn’t even sure that God existed? How does a person with doubts that large explain the basic tenets of the Protestant Christian faith? I was somewhat uneasy about going, but I agreed to go and I just hoped that she wouldn’t ask the question, “So what do you believe?”
Of course, she did ask that question, but I conveniently deflected it to what the Protestant denominations believe. Even this was a pretty big task, considering that Protestants are all over the map as far as beliefs go. There are probably enough denominations to cover every possible combination of beliefs that a Christian can hold, plus some others thrown in there that just wanted to make up their own name for themselves. So it was a bit of a difficult discussion, but at the same time, it was good. I enjoyed it, although my inner self was calling me a hypocrite and a coward for not even letting on that I didn’t even know what I believed about all the stuff I was saying. But I conveniently ignored that inner self, mostly because it was a whole lot easier to do that than to listen to it.
Time went on. I had told Melissa as well as myself that I would solve this problem and figure out the truth. There were some big issues I needed to deal with. I mean, figuring out whether God exists or not is a tough process. There’s no incontrovertible proof that someone can point to and say, “See? How could you even think such a thing?” It’s more of an inductive process, building a case from available evidence and weighing the sides. So I tried to begin this process, but like probably anyone would do, I tried to avoid it. I put it off, and I made excuses to myself. I didn’t want to face the idea that maybe the stuff that I believed in was all a lie this whole time. I wanted to just believe that what the Bible told me was true and just accept it, and have that be the end of it. But of course, it could never be that easy. Especially not with me. To someone who has spent the last several years of his life ensuring that he believes the truth, it’s not easy – actually, quite impossible – to just blindly accept something and be happy with it. That’s the sort of thing cults are made of. So, whenever I felt up to it, I tried to dig just a little bit deeper, do my research, and begin to compile the evidence.
Of course, it didn’t help that alongside this doubt was my depression. I had trouble sleeping, so I would wake up every morning at around 5:30 or 6:00 AM, and not be able to get to sleep. That meant that I was tired and lacked energy for the rest of the day, and nobody likes to think about philosophical stuff when they’re like that. There were some days where it was all I could do to not call in sick and just lay in bed all day. I’d be awake all day if I did that, of course, but at least I wouldn’t have to move. Or do anything. At all. This was what I was reduced to. It was pitiful, and so I pitied myself. But at the same time, I tried to fight it. I wanted to just get rid of this depressed state and tear it into little pieces and burn it and throw it into the ocean. I hated being in this state, and I hated not being able to do anything about it. So I would put on my fake smile, try to face the day, and come home and try my best to avoid facing the issue that I really needed to deal with – Is God even up there, and if so, why is He torturing me like this?
The days passed by, and some were better than others. Some days would be “good days,” where I wasn’t doing too badly. It would just be a mild sort of “blah” state. Other days were “bad days,” where life and the whole world seemed to be caving in upon me. Every day was a struggle, but at least some days were less of a struggle than others. And having people to talk to and hang out with sometimes helped. Katie was great at helping me get through the day, although she probably didn’t even know it. She was open to talk about anything, never got mad at me although I said enough about Catholicism to warrant more than one slap on the face. Her kindness, with the support of Melissa as well, helped on those days when it felt like I was walking on broken glass. And as well, a few weeks ago three of my friends from Waterloo – Hailey, Jaclyn, and Melissa – came up to visit for the weekend. That was awesome, and it helped a lot. Suddenly I didn’t feel completely abandoned, because my friends took the time and effort – and the money – to actually come and see me. I had a great time when they were here, although often the urge to be grumpy and on edge tried to fight its way to the surface. During those times I just reminded myself that these were my friends, and above all else in the world, I shouldn’t – couldn’t – ruin the weekend for them. I just wanted them to think that everything with me was fine, so that they wouldn’t have to share my burden.
While they were here, we went to a Catholic mass. I had told Katie that I was interested in going to one to see what it was like, and she suggested that we go while the girls were up for the weekend. That was fine, and it was definitely interesting. I would go on to explain what I thought about it, but that would make this blog entry unnecessarily longer than it already is. Katie, though, had also told me about the church she used to go to, which was a charismatic Catholic parish. I thought that would be interesting to go to, since I come from a Pentecostal background, and was curious to see the difference. The next week, then, Katie, her mother, and I went to that church. Both masses were very different from each other, and yet at the same time they were very similar. It’s hard to explain, but I will say that I was very interested and it was a great experience. Of course, being the way I am, and due to the talks that Katie and I had had, my interest level for Catholicism spiked. I started reading through the catechism of the Catholic church – not because I was interested in becoming Catholic, but because I didn’t want to say that something was wrong without having something to point to. To say that Catholicism was wrong because that’s what my church had told me would seem kind of hypocritical, considering what Catholics say about their church authority.
So, I started reading. Most of it, I agreed with, because in some areas Catholics and Protestants are very similar. But every time there was some note of interest or some point of contention, I marked it down with my comments. And as I read, something changed. It was the strangest thing. Somehow, reading about what I didn’t believe in started to reaffirm what I did believe in. Somehow, my doubts started to fade away.
I can’t really explain it. This is, after all, very recent. So I can’t exactly say what it was that caused the change. It just seemed very much like a light-switch. One minute, I was off, and suddenly, I was flicked on again, and things were alright. My feelings in general started to return. I was no longer just some flat surface; I started to become textured once again. And suddenly I knew what I had to do. I grabbed my Bible, which had been sitting there, collecting dust, and I cracked it open. I didn’t know what I was going to read, but I just started flipping through until something stuck out at me. Romans was what did that. One of the titles said something about “Faith brings joy,” so I decided that maybe I should start with something about faith. So I started reading at Romans 1:1, and I kept reading. I read through all 16 chapters of it (with a couple stops along the way where I grabbed my laptop and did some quick researching on a couple issues that I thought of randomly…yes, I have a short attention span). I read through it all, and then as I was closing my Bible, I saw a sheet of paper that has been in my Bible for a couple years now. It’s my “Statement of Resolve,” something I wrote almost exactly two years ago now (it’s dated as March 8, 2006). I pulled it out and started reading it silently. And as I read it over in my head, I knew that I had to go back and read it out loud. So, quietly, I whispered the words on the page. I reaffirmed what I had set aside, and after reading that, I knew what I had to do next.
On my bed, I knelt face-down, and prayed. I prayed for forgiveness and redemption. I prayed that, somehow, I could pick up what I had left behind and start over with it. I thanked God for His infinite mercy and His completely undeserved grace. My friendship had been restored, and the cycle completed. Suddenly, I realized that faith did indeed bring joy, for as I picked up my faith once again, the joy that came with it flooded back into my soul. I can’t explain how, nor why, but it happened. I’m just thankful that it did.
But of course, there was one last issue to deal with. Before the two Sundays of going to Catholic masses, the previous two Sundays I had stopped going to church. I had felt guilty about it, but the weeks before when I had gone, I just hadn’t felt anything. Nothing at all. I sang the hymns (the churches in the area are very traditional), but I just didn’t feel it. And I know, faith is not all about feelings, but the complete absence of feelings was, to be quite honest, scary. Somehow, what had previously brought me joy now brought me nothing whatsoever. So I had stopped going to church. But of course, with a change of heart and attitude must come a change in action, and so this morning, I went to church. It was a United church, and I can truthfully say that it was the best church service I’ve been to in months. Why? Because I know that God has not abandoned me. He remains faithful, even though I became faithless (2 Tim. 2:13). He welcomed His prodigal son back home, despite his shortcomings and failures.
So do I still have my doubts? Yes, to be honest. I will always have doubts, because there are always doubts to have. It is my nature to question everything that can be questioned, and I do understand that this reaffirmed faith could be nothing more than fancy feelings that point to the concept of a God who doesn’t exist. But I believe He does. Why? Because considering the alternative, I would much rather place a faith in God and be wrong for it than believe He doesn’t exist and find out otherwise. It’s not an airtight argument, and it never will be, but I believe it because it sustains me. It answers my questions. Life without God just leads to empty questions with no answers to accompany them. And so, I resolve my faith once again.
Statement of Resolve
I am a man of God,
A new creation through His saving power.
Being born a fallen man, however,
The sin nature is still active within me.
Therefore I resolve:
To maintain a vibrant and active relationship with God daily;
To strive to eliminate all forms of sin in my life;
To pursue excellence and authenticity in every area of my life,
spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically;
To ensure that my heart and mind remain humble before God and others;
To serve and love others as I would want done for myself;
To show God’s love in practical and specific ways;
To never let my own will interfere with God’s;
To trust in God’s complete and perfect faithfulness when times are hard; and
To fall back on His mercy and grace to sustain me always.
This is my prayer and my plea:
That I would be wholeheartedly
A man after God’s own heart,
And never anything less.
March 8, 2006