Lessons Learned in 2018
I know I have a lot to write about 2018 but I have thought about the best way to pen it down without overwhelming my readers with a wealth of information. My usual metaphoric representations or theme- based soliloquies? Raw emotions or filtered psalms? Since this is a post about 2018 lessons learned, I’ll stick to the conventional.
If you know me, you know how much I do not like clichés but because God has a sense of humor, my year was like a mesh of fake deep Instagram quotes woven together to make an actual coherent statement. How cliché can it get? You’ll see.
- Depression is Real
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”- Psalm 42:5
The suicidal deaths of Anthony Bourdain followed by Kate Spade, both within the same time frame, shook the world into acknowledging the depths of depression or at-least admitting its existence. I came to that realization at about the same time.
This year, I had major depressive episodes. I had suicidal thoughts. I had panic attacks more frequently than I’d imagine to be possible.
I started off the year ready. As in, battle clad, Daniel fast, journal popping kinda ready. I’m a planner and a control freak; ask my friends. My brain is constantly working a million miles per second, putting pieces of ideas and schedules together, I am always up to something. Depression snatched this “ability” off my fingers and in hindsight, I thank God for being merciful enough to relief me of that burden.
I’m not going to fixate on the full details of my depressive episodes, you can read those on my blog but I’ll share how depression made me a better Christian.
One cliché coming through- I was broken and put back together; this is something you usually hear from a new Christian, right? You know sometimes as Christians, we make such an idol out of our “how I got saved story” that we forget to participate in the real work of sanctification that occurs for a life time. The grace of God given to us in Christ is one that saves and keeps on saving. We are offered grace at our very first encounter with Christ and we continue to be offered grace to lay down every weight that prevents us from running the race.
One of the first things I had to surrender in my battle with depression was control. I had accepted Jesus as my savior but I continue to wrestle with making Him Lord over my life. With depression, I didn’t have a choice. I mean, there’s only so much control you have when your brain goes complete 360 on you leaving you in a state of utter helplessness. I had to trust that my inability to consistently have my daily devotional and routine spiritual practices wasn’t going to divert the daily train of grace away from my route. Strip me of my neatly constructed prayers, verbatim memorization of scripture and overdosing on my favorite preachers’ sermons and articles and I’m left bare and exposed. I’m left with mumbled words, laced with tears, little to no appetite for anything that once excited me and many awkward monologues. As raw as they come, I was an emotional wreck at my every attempt to talk to God.
But y’all, I can’t explain with English Grammar what I’m about to say but with every strike of panic attacks and depression, I felt God to be more real than my disconnected rituals ever made me feel. I knew I was falling apart but in a strangely odd way, I was being put together at the same time.
Now, don’t get me wrong, spiritual disciplines are important for the growth of a Christian and I strongly recommend them. However, they can very easily become an end rather than a means to enjoy God. Depression helped me become a better Christian by taking the rigidity out of my interactions with God. I went to God as bare and unfiltered as David, as incoherent as Moses and as exhausted as Elijah. Depression was the most unconventional place I’d have imagined meeting God, but He showed up and taught me how to pray my tears.
I saw a lot of Instagram captions with “depression is real” this year and it almost made the statement lose its seriousness. But as cliché as it may sound, it’s true. Depression is real but God became even realer to me during my mind battles as I learned to be more real in my interactions with Him.
- Love thy neighbor as thyself.
“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”- 1 John 4:20
This is a very popular quote thrown around both in Christian and non-Christian circles.
In the secular world, it’s the era of “self-love”. Hardly will you ever scroll an inch through Instagram and not bump into a quote on the importance of self-love. As a Christian called to selfless service to others, I find it hard subscribing to the self-love propaganda. But I have learnt that there’s some truth to these Instagram nuggets. From a Christian perspective, it is important to selflessly love one’s self to be able to selflessly love others. Sounds counteractive, right? The execution of the first part of the command is contingent upon a good understanding of the second part.
We can all agree that by nature, we are selfish humans. We don’t need to be told to love ourselves, that’s already by default. How then do we successfully live out this command without feeding our narcissistic tendencies?
Let’s look to Christ for answers. One major theme we see in the life of Christ is His selfless act of service in giving Himself up as a ransom for all. But the gospel narrative also affords us the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the mundane experiences Christ had. He took a nap, He went for a wedding and drank wine, He took time away in solitude to fellowship with God, I bet He also got a lot of steps in walking miles of distance with His disciples (could Jesus be fit-fam too? Lol) These regular day to day occurrences led up to the day of the crucifixion. Christ, being very settled in the love the Father has for Him, enjoyed God’s common graces to mankind while serving those around Him.
We must first learn to love ourselves in light of the gospel before we will ever be able to love and serve others adequately. As the popular saying goes: “you cannot pour from an empty cup”, I learnt that I could even cause more harm by trying to love my neighbor when I have no love for myself. It’s almost hypocritical to say I can love another one of God’s vessels while neglecting the very one I dwell in.
How do we love ourselves selflessly?
For me, it means being intentional about my mental health to be able to help and serve others in doing the same. It means saying no to an additional service opportunity, so I can have my personal time with God (don’t work for God and forget to walk with him). It means being realistic about how much I can take on and asking God for continuous wisdom on what to say no to and when to say no. It means taking the time to do things that I love and enjoying them as gifts from the Father of lights. It means rest. It means continuously re-establishing where my identity is found and discarding every false notion. It means taking care of my body, my mind and my soul, because they all matter to God.
When I can comfortably appreciate the gift of God in myself, doing the same for others will prove no challenge.
Love yourself selflessly first, so you can love others genuinely.
- Being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” – Romans 12:10-13
I will try to keep this last one short. I was very uncomfortable in 2018. From having difficult conversations to being in gatherings where less people looked like me, I went above my quota for “time allowed to dwell in awkward situations”. I have learned that some of life’s biggest growth opportunities come in times when we are least comfortable.
It is in the moments I was least comfortable I learned to see people beyond their outer shell; that we all have more in common than we don’t. I learned to confront my unconscious biases first hand and not write people off just because they look different than me. I learned to sit friends down and have conversations that I don’t want to have but are necessary for the direction of the friendship. I learned to pray to God to help me see people the way He sees them- worthy love and redemption- and not through the lenses of my human limitations. I learned that when I sit, just for a little while longer in my discomfort, I will see more, learn more and be blessed by more people than I had ever allowed myself to be blessed by. I learned that I am not called to be comfortable but to I am called to love.
My year wasn’t about learning new truths, it was about gaining more insights from same old ones.