fight fire with fire

Last week was deep emotional pain. This week, I nearly cut two of my fingers off with a chef knife.

Losing consciousness is terrifying. As much as I love the ocean, I can’t stand swimming in it, especially when I have to stare down into the seemingly bottomless abyss. As my friends hastily carried my limp body outside, my mind struggled to stay afloat, but my attempts to tread water were futile. As much as I thrashed, I really had no control over the waves. They would wash over me, envelop me, and the frantic soundtrack playing in the background would grow disturbingly silent, save some muffled voices. The world would turn eerily dim. No goggles.

Is this what it feels like to die?

 

The hospital visit was one of the best workouts of my life. One of the first questions the nurse inquired of me was this: “Intentional or unintentional?”

What the hell..?

“Unintentional”, I responded.

I think my grip strength is getting pretty good by now. The best types of exercise involve not only all of your body, but all of your mind and soul. So much of it is a game that is played mentally. How much can you take? Where do your limits lie and do you have the strength and willpower to trespass them?

Fighting pain is exhausting.

One of the most memorable highlights in our workout routine was when my doctor shot anesthetics into my finger. As soon as the word “stitches” was mentioned, I entered an episode of internal frenzy. Mental game level up. Boss level. I could hardly stutter through the pain but in my mind, I frantically demanded, Just give me the damn anesthetics.

Getting the anesthetics into my finger was ironically the most painful part of the process but the payoff was well worth it. Man. The things you do and say when you’re in pain amaze me. When you’re hurting that much, the mere absence of pain can feel like pleasure. Yet my body did not receive even that degree of relief. I was still very much in pain but it felt like euphoria and I was content with it. It strikes me how when one is in agony, he will settle for lesser agony, rather than actual healing.

But what happens when the anesthetic begins to fade away? Apart from passing out, feeling the painkillers wear off was one of the most fear-inducing moments of the day. Wait. Can you give me more? I’m not ready to go back there.

It has been a rough week, being limited in my activity and having the rhythm of my life forcibly hindered behind everyone else’s. But when I come to think about it, it wasn’t all that bad. At least I didn’t have to think about all of the heavy pain weighing on my heart from the previous week. I only had so much energy and mental capacity and I spent all of it on my lacerated fingers. I didn’t have enough space to even think about other scars.

I think I understand why people cut themselves now. It distracts them from deeper pains, the pains of the heart. And I can now attest, it is surprisingly effective. In fact, it works like magic. (Great. Now my heart is breaking for more people.) Sometimes, the emotional suffering is so unimaginable that it only makes sense for someone to resort to physical self-harm. Sometimes, the pain is so unbearable that the greatest anesthetic to pain, it would seem, is pain itself.

But alas, like all anesthetics, pain inevitably subsides and wears off. And the scars of the body usually heal faster than the scars of the soul. My stitches get removed this upcoming week. Panic. Internal frenzy. Doctor, I need more anesthetics. Please. Can you give me more? I’m not ready to go back there. I can already feel the sting of my deeper wounds slowly creeping back. Oh God. I’m scared. What do I do? Need I apply more anesthetics?

 

Fight fire with fire.

Dear Justin

Here are some reflections that I have of this past Fall Semester as a leader on InterVarsity at Cal State Long Beach, written as a letter to my future self. I had some fun with it. Hope you enjoy!

Dear Justin,

Do you ever have moments when you learn something from Jesus and not too long after, you learn the same/similar lesson in one of your classes? Of course you do. You’re me, haha. Sometimes, it’s vice versa but you get the idea. I took Community Psychology this semester and this actually happened pretty frequently. Probably my favorite class I’ve ever taken in college and probably for this reason, too.

One of the first lessons I learned in that class became so core and fundamental to my thinking that you’re probably still thinking about it as you read this letter in my distant future and your present. On the first day of class, I learned that the way that we ask questions frames how we see the world. Therefore, we must carefully discern how we ask questions if we are to understand ourselves, other people, and the world in the most holistic way possible.

The secret to the Kingdom of God is to pursue Jesus by asking questions. So we must therefore be vigilant in examining the way by which we question, lest we miss Jesus, or see Him through the wrong lens. I’m not sure which one’s worse. It’s not only avoiding seeing Him the wrong way, but seeing Him for who He truly is. If so much of following Jesus is the discovery of His character and His truth, we have to question how we question, for how we question is how we intake and digest truth.

The secret to the Kingdom isn’t a one-time prize that you receive when you decide to follow Jesus. It is a process of learning, a state of mind that must be sharpened constantly, a heart posture that needs continual refinement. It takes practice.

Perhaps the most helpful question we can ask ourselves is this: “Am I asking the right questions?”

This semester, I asked the wrong questions. Out of the brokenness of my heart, I warped the image of God. It’s interesting how when you ask the wrong questions, you can make Jesus disappear. The Light of the World can grow strangely dim.

And yet, I blamed God for this. Is He really the Good Shepherd? What kind of shepherd leads His sheep to a valley of over-demanding stress and turmoil? What happened to green pastures and still waters? I thought the yoke was supposed to be easy. I knew I shouldn’t have signed up for this.

It took the voice of community and the grace of God to rescue me from my blindness. And only one question would suffice to lead me to the right ones.”Are you asking the right questions?” I realized that it wasn’t that Jesus was disappearing or that Jesus was a bad shepherd (oh. yeah.), but rather, there was a problem with the lens that I was viewing Him with.

Jesus was still the Good Shepherd. He never stopped being the Good Shepherd. It was my vision that was faded, not His goodness.

As I saw Jesus more clearly, truth could sink deeper into the soil of my heart. And with truth came conviction.

“This semester was a demanding one, but was it really other people making those demands? Or was it you? It definitely wasn’t me. You were trying to give it your all AND some. You were trying to give your 150 percent. I never asked for more than 100. Indeed the yoke is easy but you’re just adding more weight to it.

Stop living like you know how to do it better than I can. I can live your life better than you can yourself. You need to let go of all the expectations you placed on yourself. Let go of control. It was never your’s to begin with.

You need to learn how to ask for help. How can you speak of raising new leaders and empowering people if you’re so afraid to delegate the ministry to the people you’re discipling? I think you’re scared that they’ll make mistakes. That they’ll fall. Well I knew that YOU were going to make mistakes but that didn’t stop me from calling you into mission, right?

Justin, I took you through this turbulent semester, not so that I could punish you, but so that I could reveal the areas that I needed to heal you. I wanted to stretch your faith and invite you to deeper trust.

I miss you, Justin. I miss it when you could see me more clearly. I could have just left it that way but I love you too much for that. I knew that although you could see me clearly, your vision could still be sharpened. And I was willing to do that for you, even if that meant leading you somewhere where you couldn’t see me for a while. You don’t know how much that pained me.

Justin, you need to learn to trust me more or this will have been all for naught. I implore you. Come and take the freedom and vision that is already your’s. Come and follow me.”

oh.

dammit.

I’m so sorry, Jesus.

 

Have you ever done something that was good while it lasted but you would never choose to do it again? Of course you do. You’re me, haha. Well, this semester was one of those times. Jesus’ healing is good but it’s also kinda painful.

So. future Justin, don’t screw this up, okay? I don’t want to have to go through this again. Thanks.

By the way, Jesus is proud of you.

 

To infinity and beyond,

Justin (as of December 19, 2015)