“I don’t hate people, I just feel better when they aren’t around.”
– Charles Bukoski
I was a sincere follower of Christ from young and already believed in the gospel of Grace. I was praying for more than 15 years – with brothers and sisters, and then alone when they their lives could no longer have room for me. The affliction still continued debilitating. Nothing made sense. My road was filled with much dissonance.
A Ragged Clown on display
I felt like a ragged clown exhibit on display for world around me, the doctors, church and people who interacted with me from all places. Like children trying to figure out the bewildered clown in the circus, so each of their interactions with me caused sadness in my soul.Their responses were different. They said different things. But the common denominator was a lack of love, a lack of empathy stemming from pride.
Doctors were puzzled that turned into “professional indifference” that I couldn’t recover with their standard practices. Atheists were laughing “where is my God?”. Some church people were pedantic with statements of “you don’t have enough faith”, “you aren’t fervent enough”, “God is pruning those who are unfruitful” or “you don’t believe in Jesus the way I do”. Even people close to me would think that “I wasn’t trying hard enough” or that it “wasn’t like I had cancer so why can’t you … etc”. I was made to feel irrelevant. My relationships and career all took a plunge. This was one aspect of Jesus I never wanted to experience:
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
– Luke 9:58, NIV
All I really needed is for them to hold my hand as my world crumbled around me. But very few of them did. They were quick to express their views but slow to give what is truly needed. If we do not hold the hands of people when their world is crumbling, when will we do so?
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
– 1 Peter 4:12-13, NIV
Understanding the Limitations of Others
The world’s conventional solutions and their tendencies to judge didn’t help much.
The suffering, isolation and increasing hopeless revealed some hidden tendencies of the world around. People tend to favor others whom they understand, respect or even envy. They are afraid of the unknown. Because the unknown challenges people to reconsider what they hold to be true. People with fragile egos tend to put people in boxes in order to squash the challenge without the need for self-reflection or redirection.
Doctors and their medical treatments were limited. One of them sent me to the psychiatrist because he was convinced that I wasn’t getting better because I didn’t want to get better?! As mentioned above, some various people groups were very quick to prescribe their solutions to the problem or at least their explanation of why it was happening. Many tended to be quick to speak but slow to listen. My irrelevance was made greater when people would not believe that the problem was so severe. They judged my character and resolve. My character and resolve was really all I had left. Even the dignity of having that was denied.
In their world, a “skin” problem was minor. If I downcast, I was just mentally weak, I should have been able to pick myself up easily. If my career was being shaken, I should have just worked harder. I shouldn’t have allowed myself to come out of the workforce. If I didn’t have enough friends, I could have made more efforts to invest more time into people. None could have believed that I was very limited to do all those things. If those people started to acknowledge their boxes doesn’t fit or if they even started to suspect it, what would it have meant for them?
As a close pastor friend would say, it’s about pride. Developing empathy requires a humility to challenge and deconstruct what was believed as real, and also to challenge what gives one’s ego it’s selfishness. If one sees something or someone that challenges the limitation of reality of what their lives were about, it is far easier to demonize it rather than deal with the Abyss that could be around the corner. For those people living in temporal comfort, its easy to put labels on any such challenge. It may mean nothing but a small irritation in the mind for the “labellers”, but it’s destructive to the people being labelled. Don’t be dismayed, remember 2 things: that 1) even if all men forsake you, God himself will help you. 2) Because God has your back, forgive them, use them to guide you back to where true Life comes from.
Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.
– Psalm 27:10, NLT
You keep listening to those who seem to reject you. But they never speak about you. They speak about their own limitations. They confess their poverty in the face of your needs and desires. They simply ask for your compassion. They do not say that you are bad, ugly, or despicable. They say only that you asking for something they cannot give and that they need to get some distance from you to survive emotionally. The sadness is that you perceive their necessary withdrawal as a rejection of you instead of as a call to return home and discover there your true belovedness.
– Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love, Understanding the Limitation of Others
Sometimes the place you are supposed to find shelter is the place you feel most condemned
I remember a very saddening conversation I had one day with a church leader, an old friend. I called him out because I needed to share my heart. It was around 2007, and despite me trying hard to improve my health, it was in bad shape, and I had to quit my job and stop going to church. The loneliness and lack of hope was demoralizing. I called him up to share my heart. Here’s our conversation:
“Ken, you would do a lot better and be less depressed if you came to church regularly and not separated yourself from community.” (He believed that if you prayed together with believers, things will improve – I actually agree with him, except I capitulated to the point where I couldn’t meet up. I was hoping some of them cared enough for me to check on me, to let me know I was not alone while my world crumbled.)
“That’s why I’m depressed, my eczema has prevented me from having a normal life, I can’t keep going out without it getting worse. I’m losing hope because of the loneliness.”
“Ken, I’m trying to help, but if you keep hiding behind your skin problem, I can’t help you.”
Here’s another one. This was with the worship leader’s wife who is also involved in worship. I was her drummer for a year. This was the period in which I started to go to church less because my body was breaking down under the sickness. It was difficult for me to accept my new limitations, and it was painful for me to go out. The team rarely wanted to get to know me, there was always a polite distance. This particular Sunday was more painful than usual, and I was suffering in silence.
“Can I talk to you for awhile?”
Honestly… I’ve thought about this for awhile. I think I’m dying.”
“Puleeze, everybody is dying.”
” … “
Do you hear the mic drop? The feedback is deafening.
Both people didn’t really follow up with me. Both didn’t think I had anything serious, and belittled me for thinking so.
At this point, it is instructive to share that I was indeed dying. My medicine intake was massive. The side-effects were all there. On top of the eczema, there were migraines, headaches, fainting spells, palpitations, arthritis symptoms in my knees and breathlessness. Any tiny wrong step that broke my dynamic equilibrium of routine like going out a little too long, or if I didn’t sleep well for 2 night would have landed me in hospital. Just a year later, I would be rushed to the hospital due to cellulitis. I couldn’t physically walk for a week as major arteries were being constricted by over-swelled lymph nodes and infections under the skin.
Imagine hearing this when it’s not just church I stopped attending – I stopped my day job as well as visiting family as well. I’ve put on so much weight compared to my athletic days. I had a reputation of having a love for others. How could this fellow thought I was cutting myself off from people on purpose? Was I paying thousands of dollars monthly for medical treatment for fun too? The fellow thought my problem is only an “inconvenience” rather than life-threatening?
The sadness is that I’ve known the first person for years. I had a reputation to be extremely helpful, and had the ability empathize and helping others. I was not some stranger. For the second, it’s severely disappointing that a leader could not even see into my soul… Jesus was there if you looked hard enough.
Friend, even if you are in this place, know that God will help you even if not a single helps you. And, the help of God is unlike man’s help. Man’s help is limited, God’s help can change the world around you.
Being healthy enough to make a difference in the world and family around me was what I truly yearned for. For years, this seemed like an impossibility as the big problem persisted. Yet while the big problem didn’t seem to have a solution, God would leave some “diamonds” along the road (great stock trades, open doors, insights that let me see the world in a deeper way, a few serendipitous friendships). It was to remind me that although I cannot see the whole picture, He is still there and doing something – so just hold on. Even if men forsake you, God will not forsake you.
Sometimes we must express God’s goodness even when you look like the worst candidate to do so
Even while the car was crashing on display for all to see. I would still continue to encourage others and myself with various promises like, “all things work together for the good of those who love Him” (Rom 8:28). It was not spoken with ease, but spoken from an exhaustion stemming from a fight between the residual sonship of God within my soul and a mind plagued by perceived injustice that thought otherwise.
Can you imagine the irony? I would still be praying for people, exhorting God to bless with grace and love while my own eye lids and face were swollen and bleeding, 70% of my body had inflammations, my brain barely lucid due to painkillers, and slowly becoming a social pariah. I can almost hear people’s thoughts through the incredulous look in their eye. I did so because that’s how I know God wants us to pray. It should be like so irregardless of how we look or feel. What a great challenge leveled to me by God, that my convictions be tested when I looked like the last candidate to pray for others for healing.
With Jesus, sometimes the place that imprisons you is the place you gain the most.
One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.
With doses of anti-rejection drug Ciclosporin increasing every year, I knew even my life itself was on a clock. In 2004, when I realize that doctors, supplements and praying was not stopping this capitulation, I tried to mentally extrapolate my life going forward. I estimated 11 more years of an excruciatingly itchy, painful and disfigured existence where I would be kept in a bubble till I finally wasted away – while incurring more medical costs than I could realistically pay for along the way. In the silence of my bedroom, where I spent 95% of my time, this ironic fate was deafening to me. Pain was my megaphone and the lonely silence was deafening. Both begged the question like a splinter in my mind, a thorn in my flesh, (no pun intended) an itch that couldn’t go away.
It is a great comfort that it was in this great isolation that Jesus did His restorative work. I was not fully functional in church, I was not “doing” all things right, being popular and doing social work. I had nothing left. I felt a void. People no longer were attracted to me. I had no physical gifts to contribute. I was too busy wrestling with the Abyss to contribute. But isn’t it just like God to use a “nothing” to prove He is “everything”? Isn’t it God to use a dark prison to build an Egyption prime minister, a40 year exile into the desert to build a “prince of Egypt” or a period sheep-herding to build a giant killer? In my prison, God was building something. This something may not be obvious to the world. but I’m thankful for the honor in sharing some of it with you.
Conclusions: All Roads may lead to Rome, but one leads to victory
With every reason to hate the church, the world and God for “abandoning” me, I still came to this conclusion in the stillness and isolation of the four walls of my bedroom prison:
The answer is still “Jesus”. But He is not a pill that you take and every problem goes away. He is not an object, but He is alive. If we relegate Jesus to that of a vending machine, we miss the point entirely. “He” works, “it” doesn’t work. He is not a “formula”, but He is the “fullness”.
He is your wisdom: use him.
He is your door: step through him into destiny.
He is a savior: let him save you.
He is your shepherd: let him carry you on his shoulders when you are lost.
He is your brother: join him in family matters.
He is your sacrifice and payment: accept the blessings he paid for, and let go of the debts that condemn you.
He is your bread of life: consume him.
He is your water: drink him and not be thirty.
He doesn’t simply remove your problem. God is too big for that.
He teaches you through accompanying you through it. He turns that which was evil into your good. He uses that which tried to consume you to be your bread that empowers you. He transforms you to the person He wants you to be. He teaches you real faith, hope, love in a world that either doesn’t have them or have redefined them in myopic self-serving ways.
The book is how these truths that I listed above interacted with my decade long reality that seemed diametrically opposed to it. How did I learn these concepts along the way? How did I come to believe in them while afflicted? Why I am so convinced Jesus is like that? I went through the Abyss. It did “destroy” me, but I didn’t expect Jesus to use my darkest moments to be my greatest victories. These are the glorious findings I had after letting go of all church religious doctrines and philosophies and searching the Scriptures in desperation, with the intellectual and sincere rigor of a dying person. These glorious findings slowly transformed and changed my life, the longer I meditated on them and continued walking through the Doors He opened for me.
One day, I thought to myself, as I was isolated from the world, that it would have helped me a great deal, if someone could have shared with me these findings during my own time being lost in the Abyss. What if my future self could have sent letters to my past self? What if I could send letters to someone else who is going through the Abyss now?
This is what Letters To a Modern Day Job is about. A journey from capitulation to redemption. Staring eye to eye with the Abyss to capture its nuances as discoveries on the nuances of Jesus transformed, saved and added meaning to my life. A journey characterized by condemnation and being made irrelevant to the world. A journey traveling from a road less traveled, to a mountain less traveled and seeing the world in a new light.
It is about getting to the point where we can turn the Abyss on it’s head, where it stops becoming a black-hole but rather a box of experiences we can stand on, enriching your life and the others around you. The book is about finding beauty in the space of interaction between a dark Abyss and the Light of the World. The result can produce fruit that is “a hundredfold” more than we could imagine. The jaws of rejection seemed to destroy you, but perhaps God is merely using it to strip off the cocoon to your true self?
There will be a new victory, new light, a new hope, a New Country and a New You. It will happen. Jesus’ death and resurrection is proof of purchase.
Do I now have your permission to talk about about the Jesus I never knew till now? He is the key to your journey to the New Country.
Just do not give up. We journey together, you and I.
Your fellow pilgrim,