Before I left Chicago, I preached my last sermon titled, “Don’t Drown.” It was a painful and prophetic unveiling of all that I knew was coming my way: A storm that would inevitably wreck me, and send me where I did not want to go.
Last thing I remember, a good friend, Josiah, as if holding me afloat for one last breath, looked intently at me and said, “Suck it up. Be present” and then I slipped into the undertow. Yet quite unlike Peter, I would not be pulled from the eddy.
Beneath that deep, dark abyss, depression swallowed me alive. Listless and weary, I managed to blink while thoughts of suicide swam through my skull. No amount of white-knuckle, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mantra was getting air into my lungs, and how I so desperately needed air. My heart was a forgotten anchor at the bottom of the ocean. My thoughts were tangled ropes, strangling me on the floor, and the miles of sea surrounding me, engulfing me, never let up pressure. All I could do was hold my breath, or drown in the despair.
It’s been over a year since, and then today happened.
Today, someone I deeply respect paid me a surprising and sincere compliment about the piercing mark of the Spirit on my life and in my eyes. He hesitantly asked a question, though, that caused me pause: “What has been the most significant part of your formation?”
Hot tears hid behind my eyes. “Pain,” I stared past him, “Rejection.” His eyes never left mine.
At the end of the day, it’s still a crucified Christ that I follow. However you spin it, living an accepted, comfortable, guarded life doesn’t make sense for Christians who are called to take up a cross. It would make sense if one followed another King – say, for instance, Caesar. How any Christian imagines living a painless life while claiming a crucified Messiah is beyond me. What I know now is this: the Son of God bears the wounds He bears because He became vulnerably human, and any attempt on my behalf to avoid wounded-ness has always and inevitably made me less human, and thus less like Jesus.
Not that pain and rejection are the goal; but a heart lived uncaged, vulnerable to wounding, thundering loudly for the healing of another – that is the goal! And I’m convinced I must find the courage, just as Jesus shows for Thomas, to show up and allow another to place their hand in my side, touch beneath the shallows, even scar me.
Those who have dared to do so know something of me that no one else does. They’ve also hurt me in ways no one else ever will. But know this, friend: I would never write my story another way. I am who I am because of the pain of deep love and loss. I am who I am today, because of the liquid sunlight I watched dance over my head day after day, and the silent cold current that carried my soul for over a year.
Somehow I learned to breathe, to pray, to swim deeply in God. Beneath the waves, He held me. There, I unwittingly learned that He is the current, the storm, the ocean – all of it. And when He has swept me along to His quiet depths, I will alas, be where I am to be. But more importantly, I will be who I am to be. This false part of me will have died, and a truer me will come up for air.
This undertow will be my baptism.