I sat alone in the passenger seat of my car parked outside my apartment, crumpled up in the fetal position rocking back and forth and clutching my head in my hands.
Once again, my depression was hijacking my life.
I had been planning all week to attend a college event that night, anticipating the fun of an annual event where the whole school comes together to kick off the Christmas season with fireworks, Christmas music, hot cocoa, and an epic countdown that prequels turning on the myriad of twinkling Christmas lights that bathe every tree and bush on campus with their glow. It may sound cheesy, but it’s a hallowed college tradition; however, more than that, it was an opportunity for me to prove myself again.
My struggle with my depression caused every social opportunity to be a source of tremendous anxiety and guilt. I had become uncharacteristically isolated during what I call my “dark year,” but I had a relatively “good week” and I had allowed myself to build up an expectation that maybe this time I could make it out into society again and pretend I was a “normal” college student. I was looking forward to seeing friends that I hadn’t seen in quite awhile, and was hoping to prove I still cared about the people I had been unwillingly cutting myself off from the past year, embarrassed about the person I was trying so hard not to be.
But instead of laughing and smiling with my friends, I was sitting alone in my car sobbing and hurting alone. My expectations about what I wanted my life to be like were shattered, once again, that day.
I woke up that morning, with the all too familiar feeling that I had died inside. As I sat there in my car, trying not to suffocate in the sea of despair I was drowning in, I knew I wasn’t going to make it that night because the idea of looking anyone in the eye and forcing a smile completely terrified my crumbling mind. It was such a seemingly simple thing, but I could not do it. I knew how obvious my moist, blood shot eyes would be and I was completely ashamed by my inability to control myself. At that moment, I couldn’t even get out of my car because I was unable stop holding my head as the stabbing pain of an uncontrollable panic attack surged through my body. The affliction of my mind was causing me physical pain, and it felt like it would never end. I knew all the loud noises, lights, and the mass hordes of people talking and shouting with excitement would be too much for my hypersensitive senses.
“IT’S NOT FAIR,” I repeated over and over in between violent sobs.
This wasn’t me. This wasn’t who I wanted to be.
I could feel my heart hardening from the bitterness about my circumstance and envy I felt for everyone else I knew.
It didn’t seem fair that everyone else got to go about their day, enjoying their lives and being themselves, and I was trapped in this passionless, ambiguous existence. I was tired of this cycle I couldn’t break free from. I was tired of looking forward to things and then having to miss out and make excuses. I was tired of feeling judged for not showing up to things I had committed to. I was tired of not being able to explain to people why I said no when they asked me to do things. I was tired of trying to hide how I really felt from people. I was tired of feeling so helpless all the time.
I was tired of living with a disability that no one could see.
I sat in my car that evening, feeling indignant that my life wasn’t “fair.” I had expectations about how my life ought to be as a Christian woman at a Christian college and those expectations were not being met. But through that despair, I heard God gently remind my heart that not only was my idea of “fairness” unrealistic, but also the reality of my true identity as a Christian. Beyond my desire for “fairness” my life in this world as a Christian aspires for something so much better, truer, and more hopeful than fairness.
Whether you choose to believe in God or not, struggling is not a choice we have in this life. You may deny God’s existence or benevolence, but you cannot deny the existence of strife and affliction. We desire a just world and just lives, but, so far, no one has been able to achieve that ideal on their own. We can respond by ignoring these struggles, desensitizing ourselves to them, responding to them with acts of justice, or accepting them by putting them into context with whatever narrative on life we choose to believe.
The Christian narrative on life takes an extremely unpopular and arguably counterintuitive perspective on struggling and fairness. That is to say, as a Christian, I have no right to a fair life, by any standard. At the end of the day, being a Christian is not about me and my struggles, but about Jesus Christ and the only struggle that matters, which changed every aspect of every life for the better. We are all afflicted with the struggle of mortality; without Christ’s sacrifice, death is our fate, no matter what we say or do. We are self-inflicted victims who were created for eternity, but cursed with death. Ironically, this fate is extremely fair; death is exactly what I deserve for my sinful desire to rebel against God.
It’s this single struggle that Christ overcame that gives greater context to all of my own struggles. Given this perspective, my life is totally not fair, but in the most wonderful way possible.
There is no life in history that was more “unfair” that the life Jesus chose to lead and live on this earth. He was betrayed, mocked, ridiculed, beaten, lied about, taken advantage of, rejected, outcast, afflicted, tempted, wrongly accused, and ultimately crucified in place of a murderer. He committed no wrongdoing, gave love and healing to everyone he encountered in His short 33 years on earth. Yet, He was held accountable for everything that is wrong with the world by His Heavenly Father, who loved Him. God decided He loved us more, and, more importantly, Jesus rose from the dead, not for himself, but for us.
What’s truly not fair is that Jesus went through the culmination of the physical and spiritual pain of the cross, on my behalf. What’s truly not fair is that Jesus willingly died for the wicked things that I have done. What’s truly not fair is that pure, unadulterated Love laid down His life for His adulterous people. What’s truly not fair is that I am offered by God the gift of eternal life that I can never earn on my own, because of what Christ did. What’s truly not fair is that I belong to a God who understands my struggles, because He chose to bear and overcome them for me.
How can I look up at the swollen, bruised, and blood soaked face of Jesus hanging on the cross in utter agony on the day of His crucifixion and tell Him my life isn’t fair? Rather, it is in this moment that I find relief from my earthly sorrow and repentance grips my wretched heart to know the pain my Savior endured on my behalf.
Does this lessen the validity of my struggles? Certainly not. It merely directs my response to my struggles.
This is the gospel, the message of good news for every person. There is no heartache, no tragedy, no misfortune, and no evil that exists for which the message of Jesus does not possess context and relevance.
In the Christian narrative, my life is not a culmination of moments, but a single moment that the Lord will sustain me through, no matter how difficult it is, until I gently pass into the next, greater moment of eternity, without pain or struggle. There will be a just life for every man and women who chooses to surrender to God’s love in this life.
To surrender to Christ does not mean that my circumstances change to become fair by worldly standards, but it means my perspective changes to where fairness is not something I need. Meaning and fulfillment stem from a hope everlasting that transcends the tragedies of life.
There is a lyric in a song by the always theologically insightful band, Tenth Avenue North, that I cling to dearly when I struggle with my mental health: “hallelujah, we are free to struggle. We’re not struggling to be free.” That’s the shocking, startling, insane, and compelling truth of the gospel in a nutshell, folks.
Until next time,
The Ghost in the Pew