After The Fire
When I was a kid, my dad had a very successful business. That business would burn in a freak fire. That fire would burn for 4 days. What took years to build burnt for hours. In many ways, my dad’s life’s work lay on the ground, smoldering.
In some ways, this echoes my experience blowing up my life with sin and untreated mental illness. There is a key difference, and I am sure the discerning reader caught it already – in my case, I was complicit. Not only was I complicit, I was very nearly wholly complicit.
Where my dad walked in the ruins of a blaze that brought his life crashing down, I can imagine myself dawdling amidst the embers and pouring gas where the fire just “wasn’t doing it for me”. Instead of watching my life’s work burn and trying desperately to remedy the situation every step of the way, I watched my life burn and saw myself fanning the flams and frolicking ignorantly while the flames licked at my heels.
And so I stood in our master bedroom of an apartment we, unbeknownst to my wife, were too broke to leave and began to admit everything I had done for five years. I lifted up the rug and began to show the ashes underneath. The life my wife thought we lived? It had been burning for five years while I fought to funnel the smoke out of the window before it made its way to her nose. It was all ashes.
The prior day, a disagreement we had been having culminated in my wife calling my parents to come over. I was too obstinate in my sin to reveal the truth of what we were living in. I lied to my parents as well, fabricating financial statements and webpages to prove to everyone that the lies were true.
Sin had multiplied in my life to the point where it was rooted in every aspect. Every skill I had? Bent toward hiding sin. Every free moment? Bent to worrying about hidden sin. Every word spoken? Measured to hide sin.
The Sunday morning my wife and I ended up separating, I began to reveal what I had done in my depravity. That afternoon, we would separate and we remain separated as I write this.
Sin and the Mind
I don’t know much about how mental health works. I am working through it. But I am working through it as a sufferer. I am also working through that as a Christian. I believe I do suffer with mental health issues, but this doesn’t excuse the fabrications. Instead, it reveals sin’s effect on my life.
The truth of my situation is the same truth we all live in. Sin has broken God’s design for the world and we all make this broken world our home for however brief a time God wills.
With that being said, brokenness reveals itself differently. In my case, as I say it, that brokenness reveals itself in what I call my “broken brain”. Without excusing my poor behavior, I believe that my sin was a poor response to my reality. I am not guilty of being depressed or possessing any mood disorder. But I am fully guilty of my sin and how I chose to respond to that brokenness in my life.
As I’ve described it previously – imagine yourself in a hole. You realize you are in a hole, say, in your early 20s. But that hole is only up to your neck. You can survive this, you tell yourself. You can still see the sun. You aren’t “happy”, but happiness brushes over you when the clouds aren’t out.
Fast forward a year or two. Your head isn’t above the ground anymore. Your life is spent trying to pile enough stuff at the bottom of this hole so you can stand on it. Happiness will wash over you again if you can just get high enough out of the hole.
In my case, I chose to start responding with a bit of spending. Then a bit more. As I spent more, early on, I did find that I could stave off unhappiness. I couldn’t hold the shovel I was using to dig deeper in my hole if I was using both hands to surf Amazon. It worked. But, it wasn’t what I was supposed to do. So these items materialized at our apartment and I seized control of the finances with an iron fist. I would protect my wife from my bad coping mechanism by concealing it. We had enough money that there would never be a problem.
Fast forward again, I am twenty-nine. I can’t see where top of the hole is. Only when the sun is directly overhead do I even laugh genuinely. And my digging has struck the water table and the hole is filling up. Now it is absolutely imperative that I get stuff to fill this hole. And the spending is out of control. But now, It’s getting hard to conceal. I don’t have enough money. Depression and sorrow have led to unhappiness in the workplace, high paying jobs become low paying jobs. Paychecks are replaced with quick loans. Now people call for money.
Failure sinks its teeth in a bit deeper. Wife looks at me and she knows. I look at myself and know she knows something isn’t right. But I haven’t cared about anything but not drowning in depression for too long. And so I admit a portion of what I did and then inform her that I am calling my parents to take me to a mental hospital.
If you’ve been following along, you may be wondering where the hope is for people like me and, I wonder, maybe like you?
In all this collapse, amidst the rubble, where is the hope I was talking about? What happened to me that made this story worth sharing? You may prefer an earthier and more direct questioning for your own situation – “Why’s this all happening to me?” Or “What is the purpose of this?”
I can not promise you that your current brokenness will look the same as mine, that our trajectory will be the same. Or, that your time spent will be just as long or nearly as brief. What I can say – if you believe in Jesus, or believe he is pursuing you, or have questions about who he i…and I am saying this to myself just as much as I am saying it to you – very little purposeless events will occupy the pages of your story.