Hello again, friends.
Yeou could say the last fourteen months have been eventful.
At 8:30am on a beautiful Monday morning last August (2021), exhausted from having flown and driven across the country to help relocate my grandmother, I sat down at my living room desk and logged on to begin my remote job. I noticed that my team hangout was empty and there was an immediate 8:30 appointment scheduled for me by management. Without opening it, I knew its meaning: my department had been laid off in my absence. I was the last person to be told. The new offshore employees we’d helped train were going to be our replacements.
God was one step ahead as always. A friend had alerted me to a hiring spree by a local employer just the prior week, and though I hadn’t really felt a need, I’d interviewed on a “what the heck” basis. Now that employer was becoming God’s stepping stone.
The layoff itself wasn’t a huge deal. But it kicked off a series of events that…yes, I think I can say it would try my faith like never before.
Almost right away upon taking the new job, I began experiencing a downturn of spirit that grew steadily worse for three months. It kind of came from a perfect storm.
I don’t usually feel comfortable talking about mental health. It’s a sensitive and oft misunderstood realm. But this was real. The early darkness of 47 degrees latitude in autumn, the new job’s early shift start (6am), the loss of a valued roommate as he moved away to take care of his ailing father, the anxiety over the ripple effects of the attempted vaccine mandate upon our workplace, and what I eventually realized to be a great deal of spiritual warfare on this new factory floor (blue-collar jobs can house a great deal of aimless, lonely men) combined to become the worst depressive episode I’d felt since my time in the Air Force twenty years ago.
A sense of futility, lethargy, and gray with no discernible cause hung around. Loss of interest in food and music and hobbies, confusion, fog, a lot of just quietly staring at the wall. It would continue through the spring. By February, I’d lost twenty pounds. Even as early as Thanksgiving, I no longer had energy to speak to people at church.
(A number of my worship team bandmates are reading this and going “Ahhh…“)
But this story isn’t about that. It’s about God.
During the nadir of this time, I somehow stumbled upon a simple practice. I would wake every morning, fight through the malaise, and simply say out loud, “God loves me.”
It is amazing how much of a renaissance those three simple words aroused. I’d always known it. But Scripture seems to illustrate a power in speaking (and singing) aloud, a bringing of other parts of the brain into play, an expansion of a concept in your soul. We’re told that life and death are on the tongue (Prov. 18:21). Even Jesus saw fit to speak to the forces of evil, the Word speaking the Word. He did it whether people were present to be edified or not.
Over the wintertime, I would speak these three words – “God loves me” upon rising every morning. Each time, they would seem to find purchase against roadblocks of unbelief and abandonment, a spiritual blacklight revealing ink of doubt.
Contradictions live comfortably in our souls, often unseen until choices need to be made. We think we’re ready to tithe, but when the plate gets passed, we hesitate. We think we can avoid the next splurge of addiction, yet when the choice comes, there’s a pause, a check. Our truest beliefs, our heart beliefs, are revealed by our actions. At the deepest level, we struggle to believe that God loves us, that He cares for us, or honestly, that He even exists. If we did, what would our lives look like?
As 2022 arrived and the sunrise gradually grew earlier each day, my doubt began melting with the snow.
Unexpected blessings came.
Worst fears saw themselves into the ditch.
God challenged me to stand before youth, before recovering addicts, and speak of His goodness. I struggled to obey. Yet He gave me the strength.
Turmoil continued at my church, constant change at my new job.
My mother was an angel of prayer and mercy.
Christmas and Easter came. I celebrated the unmatched love of the cross and empty tomb.
Sometimes I’d wake up at 3am in near-despair. At times I would need to pray and read hard. Other times it would take Spotify and worship music. Yet other times, He would just graciously snuff out the internal darkness upon first prayer, waving it off effortlessly. There were times it’d stay away for a few days, other times it would come and go literally every hour. I still don’t understand the rhyme or reason. But gradually, by March, my soul’s twilight was become shorter than ever.
In Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund, I saw a Scriptural truth whose pieces I had always held but somehow never assembled: Jesus doesn’t grudgingly accept the frail, sinful, and downcast. He runs to their side. It’s the very thing that gets Him going. It is true that it’s not the healthy that He seeks, but the sick; not the rich, but the poor; not the strong, but the weak. He sought me, and He lifted me up.
The storm has passed. In its wake, God’s winds are moving me in new directions; it’s been made clear to me that circumstances will now need to change for various reasons (vagueposting much, Brandon?). There is a sadness to that. But, like all movements from God, there is also excitement, readiness, curiosity.
Moreso, more than ever, I see God as a Father, a Friend, an Ally, a Lover of my soul. For perhaps the first time, I now register a hesitation to doubt. I have developed an actual mustard seed. I’ve come to know hope. The joy of the Lord is now an everyday occurrence.
And I revel in the knowledge that, one day, darkness itself will be laid off, laid out, laid to rest. For good.
“I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.” (Psalm 34:7)