The last six months of life just have not made any sense.
Do you ever have seasons like that?
You look back, trace your memory through all of the stupid stuff you did, all of the hurtful things that you did and others did to you, all of the mistakes, all of the risks, all of the time spent completely self-absorbed – and still, what do you walk away with? Faithfulness. Friendship. Forgiveness. Love. That just doesn’t even add up.
Those words didn’t really make sense to me before. Maybe they don’t make sense to you, either. And maybe we still have a lot more to learn about them. But something recently clicked, and I think I’m beginning to understand the depth of these words that have become all-too-common clichés.
You see, they don’t depend on adding up. Their worth, their meaning, actually comes from asymmetry. From imbalance. From suffering, from failure, and from the hard and ugly things in life. They are, simply put, born from sacrifice – and sacrifice never breaks even.
I graduated college last weekend. I was pretty happy about it, because, frankly, college hasn’t been easy for me.
I mean, I don’t think it’s particularly easy for anyone. So I don’t want to make myself out to be a martyr. But I will say that four majors, two schools, and an emotional breakdown later – college was hard.
My roommate told me just before Christmas break that her goal for this year was to keep me from dropping out. Last Sunday, she achieved her goal. I walked across the stage, shook the President’s hand, and received a fake diploma that will, in a few weeks, be replaced by a real diploma because thank God I actually passed Astronomy.
While graduating was great, it was, however, one of the most bittersweet weekends of my life. And the bitterness has not left, even this week, as I find myself nine hundred miles away from the place that has changed me so much over the last three years.
It was sweet because I accomplished something. Because academia isn’t exactly my ideal environment, and I don’t have to take tests anymore. It was sweet because I look back on college with a lot of gratitude, because it made me a much stronger and fuller person. And I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
But it is also so, so bitter. Because I had to leave people who have taught me so much about what it means to be imitators of Christ. People who pulled me in and built me up. People who have stuck with me, even though I can’t figure out why on earth they would do so. People who sacrificed for me. Leaving them made graduation bitter, and that taste is still strong in my mouth nearly a week later.
I told some of them this, but I don’t think that community of people knew that they were inheriting a crazy person when they first invited me to hang out. But they were. Christmas break of junior year was also the “emotional break,” during which I spent most of my time caving in on myself because I felt completely isolated, and no longer trusted anyone or anything (but seriously…sometimes even sitting on chairs gave me anxiety). And I certainly didn’t trust God.
It was after that horrendous break, however, that I came into community with some of the most important people of my life (though one of them I already knew…and actually left that semester…but she came back in the fall and was providentially my roommate. God has a sense of humor).
It was after that break that a lot of wounds began to heal. And while God often repairs me in solitude, this time He chose to use what I had cut myself off from: people.
It was an adjustment.
You see, I have problems accepting things. Specifically, I’m stubborn and prideful as hell (pardon my language), and so even your well-intentioned help makes me feel like maybe you think I’m somehow lacking.
Which is true. I’m lacking a lot of things. But I like to think I’m not. It’s a very convenient cover-up (to myself and only myself, mind you) for all of my insufficiencies. And it’s much easier to lie to yourself when you’re all alone.
But sometimes God brings people into your life, and those people offer you things, and they make you realize how weak you are. But it doesn’t cripple you like you thought it would. Instead, you come face to face with your own weakness in the context of the unconditional love, support, and faithfulness of others. And suddenly you find yourself in the process of shattering and being pieced back together, all at the same time.
That has been the last six months. And I wish I had realized it was happening sooner.
I knew the people in my life were (and are) special. And I knew they are gifts. But as I said goodbye to each one last weekend, the incredible weight of all they have done for me became apparent.
Faithfulness, friendship, and love. Each in their own way. Each pointing me to the ultimate Source and Definition of all good things.
Over the last six months, I have learned that God is faithful. He is a provider when you have nothing, an infinite well of strength when you are weak. And He loves to use people to show that. He manifests Himself through steady friendships, unshaken by your craziness. People who forgive you, even when you have wronged them in terrible ways. And so faithfulness is intimately tied to forgiveness. We do these things to people, horrible things, the same as we do them to God. But sometimes God blesses the people we wrong with the gift of forgiveness, and it both convicts you and points you heavenward. I learned that faithfulness and forgiveness are decisions, and ones I have been the asymmetrical recipient of far more than I deserve.
I have learned about true, deep friendship. The kind that wants to know how you are at the end of each day, and all the moments in between. The kind that does not make you weary (which is rare for us introverted folk), but emboldens you. The kind that wraps its arms around you when you’re crying, but also isn’t afraid to make you cry, because sometimes you just need to be called out on your crap. The kind of friendship that walks with you through your good days, but even more so, your bad days. The kind that knows when to hold your hand, when to leave you alone, and when to push you to talk, because it has taken the time and effort to know you intimately. The kind that Paul talks about in the beginning of Philippians – true, Godly love for each other.
Which brings me to love. Love is the summation of all of these good things. And this past semester, I caught a glimpse of what love looks like. Not perfect love. That only comes from God. But I caught a glimpse of how friendship and faithfulness and forgiveness collide into a reflection of God’s unconditional love for us. I should not have been loved this semester. I’m an awful person. Over the last few months, I have been confronted again and again with my own ugliness – my own arrogance and selfishness, my own sense of self-importance, and my own unwillingness to forgive (not to mention all those days when I am grumpy for absolutely no reason). But it takes light to realize you are sitting in muddy darkness. And this semester I found myself again being given what I did not deserve. All at a time when I was my ugliest, and therefore when I needed them the most: Friendship. Faithfulness. Forgiveness. Love. All things that come from sacrifice. All things that come from setting aside the things of the flesh out of obedience and a desire for the things of Christ.
I find myself wholly convicted and wholly grateful. As well as burdened by a regret for not having recognized it sooner.
I don’t know why people have stuck with me. I’ve spent so much of the last six months or so thinking only of myself – I would have washed my hands of me by now. And I sure don’t know how God sticks with me. I’ve got to just be so annoying to Him. I don’t even have anything to offer Him. It’s the ultimate asymmetrical relationship.
But I guess the best things in life are the gifts. The things that you are given and can never pay back. The people that you want to spend every day of your life trying to make everything up to, but who insist that their love is free. And, of course, the God who loves you steadily, through your seasons of devotion as well as the seasons where you can’t see outside your self.
Like I said, I have problems accepting things. But I am insufficient. And so I am just beginning to learn to receive. And have been convicted to give more, myself. Because the best way to stop thinking the world revolves around you is to take a look at everyone else. To sacrifice. To practice unconditional love. To love God more than you love yourself.
To receive all good things in humility. And to pay them forward.