The relationship I’ve been in for the last few months ended the other day.
It’s been a bit on-again, off-again as hinted at in other posts of mine over that time frame.
For those of you who know me well, the timing is somewhat ironic, as my rock-bottom moment in life came around 10 years ago when I was dead to the church, I lost my job, and then my fiance / daughter’s mom left me.
And now I find myself in a position where I haven’t been at peace with the church since it sold its soul to Trumpism, I’m out of work, and now my girlfriend is gone.
It’s not as severe as it was 10 years ago (God willing, a background check will be finished soon and I’ll have a new and better job; and this relationship, though short and intense and resulting in love, wasn’t at the level of my daughter’s mom).
But man I’m depressed.
And the thing that concerns me is how numb I am.
I’m very emotional. I have a high level of passion, and I feel things very deeply. When I lost my first serious girlfriend when I was 19, I cried deeply more times than I can count over a period of weeks if not months. When I lost my daughter’s mom, I did the same, though for a shorter period of time.
Since then, I haven’t truly had a deep cry over a relationship. I finally teared up over this one last night, but that was it.
And that worries me.
It worries me because it points to my heart not being healed, and having gone through the process of healing my heart before, it’s not something I want to do again.
But I’m going to have to.
It’s selfish of me if I choose to remain bitter and broken because it’s going to unconsciously take itself out on those I love.
But I really don’t want to. And I really don’t know how I fit in amongst an evangelical-esque landscape that views reality through a Trumpish prism. I have plenty of friends like me who seem to manage the tension just fine, but I don’t know how.
And I also don’t know how to hold onto hope in general when yet another blow is taken to one of my heart’s deepest desires. I want a partner in life, but I’ll be damned if things just don’t ever work out. And for some people, they just never do.
That’s the harsh reality of life on a broken world sometimes. Some of us draw a bad lot – and good God, I’m not one of them compared to many, many others and so much of the horror that befalls millions upon millions of people.
If the worst thing in my life is I never find a partner for it, I’ll have many blessings to count. But it doesn’t make that heartache any less real or painful.
But all the factors in my current situation again have me questioning who I’m “supposed” to be in life. I’m a father, no doubt, and I’m a son and brother and friend, but is that all? I’m a writer, but one hardly anyone reads (thanks to you, dear reader, for being an exception).
Being as interested in family history as I am, my thoughts often drift to wondering what my legacy will be when I’m gone, and to how often I’ll be remembered and by how many people when that happens. The really humbling thing about studying your family is, the answer is almost certainly “not for long and not by many.”
Which is why the hope is to be surrounded by people you love and love you while you’re still kicking, which brings it back around to having a partner.
But, then, many of the saints who are my heroes never married or lived a monastic life, and I must confess that monasticism has a certain allure to it once my daughter is grown at this rate.
So the call as always is ultimately to an increased intimacy with God, but that’s where the bitterness makes that a bit challenging. I can’t hold God’s hand or look into his eyes, which is a bit awkward for a dude anyway, though God is neither male nor female (but Jesus is eternally a dude, so there IS that).
And I have to say, of those single and celibate saints I admire, I’d venture a lot that was wrong about their theology owes to their own emotional brokenness (looking right at you, St. Augustine, and though he was neither single nor celibate, don’t get me started on Martin Luther).
So as I vacillate between dragging myself out of the house and lying listlessly in bed staring at my ceiling fan while I have yet another episode in my ongoing existential crisis, I’m drawn again to one of the most depressing books in scripture, Ecclesiastes, which, if you aren’t familiar with it, is basically a textbook on what an existential crisis is almost three thousand years before Kierkegaard roamed the earth. Purportedly written by Solomon, David’s son and second king of Israel sometime in the ballpark of 1000 BCE.
“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.
“I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. I thought to myself, ‘Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.’ Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-18, NIV).
It’s a real morale booster of a book, and the author goes on to point out how pleasure is meaningless, work is meaningless, it’s better to be dead than alive but better still to have never been born, advancement is meaningless, riches are meaningless. He does admit towards the end that wisdom is indeed better than being foolish, and he also says to remember God when you are young before the troubles of life overwhelm you, and his concluding statement is this:
“The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails – given by one Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:11-14, NIV).
I guess there’s a reason you don’t hear too many sermons out of Ecclesiastes. One of the better ways to look at it is everything written is true if God isn’t real – there ultimately is no meaning to anything, which is why my dude concludes the way he does. That doesn’t make everything all nice and tidy, though, so there’s still a good bit to ponder there that is beyond my intellect.
A section from Lamentations (as the title suggests, another super depressing book) written by Jeremiah after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians around 550 BCE kind of brings this thinking around a little bit and I suppose gives me the guide to follow in times when everything seems lost, out of reach, or hopeless. One thing you can say about scripture, if you know it well, is it doesn’t hold back from how freaking hard life can be and how cruel it can seem:
“I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.
“He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.
“He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked.
“Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. He drew his bow and made me the target of his arrows.
“He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver, I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall.
“He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped form the Lord.’
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’
“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.
“Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust – there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.
“For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lamentations 3:1-33, NIV).
I’ve written it several times before and it sucks because it’s hard, but the only option is to cling to hope. When everything in you and around you seems to scream that there is nothing else left, you just have to stubbornly choose to keep hope burning, no matter how small the flame.
Hope may not see you get what you think you want, but you hold your hope in the One for whom all this confusing life is for and trust despite yourself that eventually this will all be worth it.
The true alternative as Ecclesiastes reminds us is utter meaninglessness.
I choose hope.