There’s a torture method known as the water drip, where the victim is tied down and a leaky faucet is placed above their heads so that it slowly drops water on the center of their forehead. This seems tolerable at first, maybe even laughable when the other torture methods are considered. Yet over time this method of torture has some of the most long-lasting consequences. In many ways my life prior to embracing my faith in Christ was like this water drip method of torture. I had a few emotional wounds that were immediate and obvious, but the bulk of my trauma was nearly imperceptible in its own right.
I grew up in a happy household, with loving parents in a safe neighborhood. We always had food on the table and my parents went out of their way to provide us not only with the things that we needed but also with many of the things that we wanted. I did well in school, I had good friends, and we went to church on Sundays. The perfect suburban life. Then I started asking questions.
At first my questions were not really a problem, the adults readily had the answers for me and I could move on. Over time, though, the questions became more difficult. More and more, though, my questions were answered with dismissal or deflection. I often was left feeling like I had done something wrong in asking the question, especially when it was clear the question disturbed the person I had asked. Often, I would be compared to others and made to feel like my questions made me worth less than them. I began to feel like I needed to pretend to be someone else to be accepted, and so I began to wear a mask around my religious friends. The faucet began dripping as I began to act like someone I wasn’t.
I began to live in two worlds mentally. One which embraced the scientific method and accepted what I was being taught in school, and one that desperately tried to cling to ever receding ground for my faith. I wanted to believe in God, I wanted to keep the relationship with Christ that I had fallen so deeply in love with. But it became increasingly harder to manage. I felt like I had to choose between my rational and inquisitive nature and my faith because to me the stories I was hearing from the Bible were so unbelievable.
None of my friends at school seemed to understand my predicament, most of them had discarded any faith they may have had as a relic of a bygone era. They were liberated from any demands for religious propriety and so were crass and crude. I always felt dirty using the language and talking about the things they did, but what choice did I have? I wouldn’t be accepted if I voiced my discomfort. So at school I had to be someone I wasn’t, and the faucet dripped a little faster.
In my faith I had a connection to my childhood, a time that seemed so much simpler and where I was happy. A far cry from the miserable lump I saw myself turning into. Beyond that, my faith kept me from jumping off a building. Around this time I started having intrusive thoughts about being worthless and those around me being happier if I was dead. Yet in my faith I had a way to combat it. A voice would tell me I am unloved, I could answer it Jesus loves me. A voice would tell me to take my life, I would answer it I would go to hell. My faith was survival. But my faith was also a source of shame especially since interaction with the people I knew who believed left me feeling like I was inferior because I overthink everything. .
My faith often caused my friends who were into science to look down on me, to think I was somehow less intelligent or required a crutch to deal with reality. They never outright said it, but the way they would challenge me on it on a regular basis made it clear that my refusal to stop believing in God made them uncomfortable. I never understood why they couldn’t simply leave me to my faith, especially since it hardly impacted my life. It’s not like I was thumping a Bible and telling them they were going to hell, or denying the importance of science and the validity of intellectual exploration. I was constantly playing defense, though, constantly put on the spot even after I had reached a point where I no longer was asking the questions that made my faith so hard to maintain. When I was content to not ask any more questions my friends kept asking them for me.
I tried not to notice the toll that living these two lives had on me. I had convinced myself it was ok, I was ok. I didn’t have to understand what I believed, I could just chalk it up to faith and call it a day. Then my faith started getting less real to me. I spoke with Jesus less, I stopped reminding myself He loves me. The daily grind crept in and I started to defend myself more and more by lying. I was ok, it was ok. I just had to keep pretending. I lied to women to get them to like me, I lied to work to keep my job, I lied to school to stay in its good graces. After a while I lost track of my lies and forgot how to be honest.
As my faith faded into the background and my life became one lie after another I began to deteriorate. I became paranoid everyone knew I was lying, but at the same time I would get angry at them for not seeing through the lies. I never believed my girlfriend loved me, how could she if she didn’t even know me? I never believed my friends liked me. I put on a show whenever I had to go out but I started retreating into myself, but that was no safe haven.
I had started working towards a high paying job that I had chosen purely because of the promised pay. By most indicators I was on a good path. I had a girlfriend that was way too good looking and kind hearted for me, I was in a good college working towards a degree in a lucrative field, I had a good paying and stable job to get me through college. But I was falling apart. I started drinking to cope with my internal battles, to numb the disquiet and silence the voices calling me a liar. At first it was socially and on weekends. Drinking let me be more like myself around people without feeling a need to pretend so I loved it. Then I started drinking alone, especially when I didn’t have the desire to be around people. Pretty soon I was drinking every day, and drinking excessively.
One day I abruptly stopped drinking and my questions of faith resurfaced, though they no longer brought me comfort. Now my faith was my accuser, but I knew that I deserved the accusations. I began to struggle with questions of morality, especially how I could accept a belief that some people were condemned to hell for desires they were born with. I began to see my faith in a different light and decided that if it were possible for one to die for the many, then maybe I could go to hell for the all. I knew I deserved hell, I was the worst person I had ever met. At least something worthwhile could come from my existence.
So I began to try to figure out how to make that happen. The abrupt stop to the drinking had given me an energy like I had never felt before. I went days without sleeping, devouring the Bible and mulling over its contents for hours. I knew what I had to do but I wasn’t sure how to do it. So I read, and I thought, and I questioned, and I looked for clues. I started to think that this must be what God intended for me, I just needed to figure out the steps to get there because simply killing myself would not be enough. Everything around me started to be a clue to the puzzle, words in passing held a great significance. I had no idea the condition I was in.
As my condition worsened and I began neglecting daily maintenance more and more to obsessively ponder how to achieve the goal and figure out whether it really was God’s will for me life continued on as normal. People expressed concern, from my family to my co-workers including some who I never spoke to but I couldn’t hear it. I was too far along and I was on a mission. It all came to a head on a Saturday, I know this because everyone in my family was home. I spent the day pacing around because I believed my thinking and action were intertwined. As my thoughts raced I hurriedly walked back and forth searching for where God would tell me to act. My parents asked if I wanted to go to the movies and this felt right, so I agreed. We went to see the Hunger Games and as I sat watching I came to believe they were talking to me, telling me my moment was coming up soon. That I would soon need to take action. So I stood up, arms lifted above my head. My father pulled me aside and scolded me, demanding to know what was going on. After a brief back and forth we returned to our seats. Katniss continued to talk to me, so I stood up again, arms lifted above my head but this time I took off my shirt. Someone in the theater said in horror “Better not take off your pants!” So I took of my pants and shouted loudly “My will is God’s will.” Over and over I shouted as the theater erupted into chaos. The police arrived, believed I was on drugs and took me to the local jail.
My behavior was erratic still, so I was thrown into a cell by myself. Confused as to why I was not in hell, I began to try to figure out God’s will again. Somewhere, a voice said “show them your pain.” So I threw myself against the wall, over and over again. Convinced I had an audience, I put on a show acting out every feeling of frustration and inability I ordinarily pretended I wasn’t feeling. Sometime in the middle of the night they let me out of jail. Rather than waiting for someone to pick me up I went searching for the answers to putting my life back together. I made many decisions that night, including deciding to change the degree I was pursuing to go for a teaching degree. Somehow, a friend of my parents found me at 4:30 in the morning in a dangerous neighborhood and brought me home. My family took me to a mental hospital but when we arrived they said I was too far into crisis for their facility and they sent us to a more intensive hospital. I was taken 5150 and spent the next couple of days in that hospital.
In the time I spent there Jesus seemed to be the topic of conversation at every turn. I overheard the orderlies and nurses having conversations about their belief or non-belief, but more importantly the other patients all seemed to be talking about Jesus. One patient in particular was talking about Jesus was the great physician and how Jesus would heal him. He spoke of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a way I hadn’t heard before, not focusing on the guilt of sin but on sin as a disease Jesus heals. Instead of looking at Jesus as something to be proven, He became real to me. He wasn’t some distant judge watching over my life but was right there with me. I didn’t have to try to convince Him I was worth His time, but He sang over me and called me His son. In the mental ward I was in the most uncomfortable place I had ever been, and yet because of Jesus I had never felt more at home.