Progress is impossible with change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
– George Bernard Shaw
Real Progress requires Divinely Inspired Fundamental Changes
More on the nature of the ABYSS
It is not just the tragically poor or afflicted that experience the Abyss. Many of the people I met of the healthy, middle and high-class variety experience it as well. It comes across differently, in the emptiness they often feel. They just don’t realize they are in it because are they continually experiencing temporal comfort. Henry David Thoreau describes the observation this way, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.” The difference between the the groups of people is simply that the tragically afflicted have had the illusion of temporal comforts forcibly stripped away and has been forced to stare eye-to-eye with the Abyss; whilst the former, though they feel the breath of emptiness upon them, have the luxury to pretend it’s not there. They can be distracted by shiny objects, so to speak. The interaction between the two can be tragic. The afflicted is looking for help and empathy and it disillusioned when none comes. The non-afflicted are either irritated because the afflicted are “making excuses” for themselves, or that they are silently afraid to be reminded that something out of their control could just be around the corner.
Both groups need to make changes in their worldviews.
Combinations of past trauma, emotional scars, a distrust of people and yourself, post-modernist notions that there is no objective truth, present condemnations, repeated failures and debilitating diseases all make up some of the elements within the Abyss that lends it it’s power to pull you closer and ensnare. Like a blackhole, the closer you are to the Abyss the greater the pull towards it. Sadly, once we are kidnapped in it, even forms of Stockholm syndrome can take place. We, the hostage, develop empathy towards our captor to the point of defending and identifying with the captor. The Abyss becomes our identity. We make excuses staying within this place. Once this happens, the effort it takes to escape this by human effort is close to futile. If it were easy to escape it, it would have been called an inconvenience. If it were difficult, it would have been called a mountain. If it feels close to futile, it’s called an Abyss.
Neuwen precisely expands on the tendencies of the abyss and the difficulty of our response to it. He writes:
“The question is ‘Can you stand erect in your pain, your loneliness, your fears and your experience of being rejected?’ The danger is that you will be swept off your feet by these feelings. They will be here for a long time, and they will go on tempting you to be drowned in them. But you are called to acknowledge them and feel them while remaining on your feet… You have to dare to stand erect in your struggles. The temptation is to complain, to beg, to be overwhelmed and find your satisfaction in the pity you evoke. But you know already that this is not gaining for you what your heart most desires.”
(Stand Erect in Your Sorrow, The Inner Voice of Love, emphasis mine)
Like the proverbial frog boiling slowly in water, we die if we stay in too long. Even when we try to progress out, without any fundamental changes to our person and environment, we are easily swept back. Fortunately, the past can shape and frame the future, but it doesn’t determine it.
Not all PROGRESS is REAL PROGRESS
Because the Abyss is not just an “Old Country” but is also a part of you, not all “progress” is real progress. You feeling better about yourself is not the only measurement of your progress from the Abyss. You have a fundamental position, where within it, is what some people describe as a happiness set point or baseline happiness. We can deviate from it due to things that happen to you, some call this a situational happiness. Unfortunately, this is temporary and happiness is usually mean-reverting to the baseline. This is not so much a problem if your fundamental position is in a healthy place, but it is tragic if that peg was in the Abyss.
Imagine yourself being pegged to the ground with a rubber band tied to your foot. The peg is your fundamental position (it leads to your happiness center), whereas any position from it is temporary (emotional variance). When negative thoughts hold you captive, you regress behind the peg. You are in the Abyss when your peg is in an extreme depth, and is being held there by causes that lie deep in your soul. Hence, when you are in “good” spirits (or on the temporary highs of positivism), you seem to go further than the peg. However, this progress is not true progress because your fundamental center hasn’t moved – and you will return to that dark place inevitability.
* Note that what I call our fundamental position (or center) isn’t only your happiness center. Your happiness center is a subset of your fundamental center. Your fundamental center also contains within it your degree of morality (how much and the motivations of why you do certain things), your degree of moral courage, your levels of compassion, your steadfastness, the degree of your vision for the future, your levels of consciousness etc. I am talking about the happiness center to help illustrate the similar concept as I compare it to secular studies on happiness.
For Physics-buffs: Restoring force F = kx. Quite apt.
In the emptiness that we often feel, we sometimes reminisce about the Old Country to where the Abyss dwells and it can lead to a viscous cycle. A thought, a long look, a hesitation can evoke the wrong thought – and we are pulled back behind the peg. Stay in a state behind the peg long enough and even our fundamental peg may move back as well. Hence, escaping this Abyss is much more than just psyching yourself up. Psyching yourself is temporarily beneficial, eventually we need fundamental changes to progress.
We need Fundamental Changes
True progress out of the Abyss is a slow and arduous process, and it can only truly take place in combination that involves real and the right fundamental changes. You have to be willing to consolidate and develop yourself in secret trusting that God will present the Doors for you at the right time. Let me share my testimony of building a daunting Financial Quant Model that contributed to a breakthrough in my career to illustrate divinely prepared fundamental changes.
By end 2014, I’ve had 1 year of being a financial analyst, but my career was going nowhere. Even though internally I was getting great reviews, it could not translate into a better opportunity due to my broken resume. Conventional wisdom tells us that in order to progress we should get more formal education, most analysts will try to finish their CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) certification, which is a vigorous body of knowledge covering fundamental analysis. Almost every other analyst was following this path. But I knew that going through this path would not be life-changing, everybody was doing it.
God planted wisdom in my heart – why do something that less people can do? I was already a very good technical analyst and stock market timer. I was a decent fundamental analyst. I already had a reputation for doing well in both. Why not combine Quantitative finance in this? There are many experts in each of these fields, but very few that are decent in all 3. It resonated with elements of being holy, being set apart.
However, this was very ambitious and my immediate thought is to forget about it. The body of knowledge of this requires math and programming and is very different to fundamental and technical analysis. This topic was alien to me, not only I would have to explore masters and phD level math and papers just to get a sense of it, I didn’t even know where to start and who to ask. It had been 15 years since I did anything like it. If you remember my story, I lost a lot of my mental faculties over the years due to excessive drug intake. In addition, my health was still occasionally breaking down, and my relationship with my significant other was on the rocks. There was just too many excuses for me not to try to tackle this Goliath.
Because I had already given God my life, God would not let me go. Every time I choose to “forget” pushing this path, I would always feel uncomfortable about it. After remember Jesus’s promises to me, and committing myself to Him again, I started.
Not knowing where to start, I just started brushing up on every topic that I thought could be relevant. I didn’t have the luxury of spending 2 years in a quantitative finance course. So I tried to grind it out by learning some programming and reading research papers. I just grabbed whatever I could find and read them. I would also attend talks that I would “randomly” find. Initially, for the few 3 months of self-learning, it felt arduous and it seemed like I was wasting my time. But I believe that committing myself to Jesus and taking those 3 months was viewed by God as taking those first few steps.
Soon after, resources started coming in. I would find the right papers to read, and I would serendipitously meet the authors of those papers! Because I was so far behind in knowledge, there was at least 60% of the papers I didn’t understand and couldn’t appropriate the knowledge to my research – I was trying to build a quantitative way to detect major tops and bottoms in any major financial or commodity market. Even though I was a stranger, those authors were willing to spend hours coaching me! When i needed to learn a particular programming knowledge, I would serendipitously meet someone who not only knew the language, but had a heart to teach as well.
5 months passed and although I had just enough raw tools to build something, that’s not the main problem. The biggest challenge is finding an idea that might work so we can test it. During this time, politics in my office went to an all-time high and I questioned why I am even in this office. Too many nasty people with too many egos and agendas. Yet, it was precisely in this dark period which led to a few new supervisors coming into the office. Even though they didn’t get along with many of the other analysts, they seemed to like me. To which I am still very thankful to this day.
In my random conversations with them and picking their minds, suddenly, an idea clicked. To cut the story short, I developed the idea. It was a personal new benchmark and achievement for me. A professional service provider in the US asked if they could license my model! This breakout did a lot for my career. Because of events like this, God restored my 15 years of a broken career. God can do in 1 year what the enemy tried to sabotage for 15.
But lets recount what actually happened.
God put the idea in my and wouldn’t let me go.
He waited for my free-will decision to start walking in that direction even though I couldn’t see any clear path to get to an acceptable final destination. I did have to fight a great number of fears and excuses to do so. God is not going to “baby”, He wants you to be the best version of yourself and that requires divinely inspired decisions and changes. It is in the contrast of fear that courage is framed. It is in the contrast of hate or indifference that love is framed. Great life-changing decisions are usually peppered with adversity.
“Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.”
– Frederick Buechner
I dedicated the journey to Christ the whole time.
The same random paths I was taking could have led me nowhere, but yet there is a divine outcome. Later on I will write on how Jesus doesn’t put new “correct” doors in front of you. The same doors exist in front of you regardless if Christ is involved. The difference is that God can change the outcome depending if you were looking to Christ as you entered those doors. Just because you meet the right people, doesn’t mean they have to help you. Just because you go to the right place doesn’t mean you will take away what you need to take away. God prepared their hearts so that they would be willing to help a stranger like me. He orchestrated the players and props in my movie to get me closer to the vision He placed in my heart to begin with.
It was in the darkest places in my career that I found the final piece of treasure God planted. God turned the worst time into a bigger victory.
The results was better than I could have expected had I done things the way the rest of the world would do.
Each step of the way was a fundamental change. I had to learn something new. I had to go to new places to find resources. I had to fight my fear to be unabashed about meeting new people and asking for help (Because of my health and past failures, I had to fight feelings of low self-esteem). I had to go to these new locations even if my skin was painful on that day, trusting that it will not fall back into a viscous cycle as it tended to do so in the past. Please note that the glory belongs to God. A person could do all the steps listed in this paragraphs to the best of his ability and still not get close to where he needs to be.
With each successful step forward and divine result, I had fundamentally moved forward towards a particular destiny. So even on bad days where the Abyss causes depression, I may fall back temporarily, but I soon snap back to the peg which had moved further up.
Where do we start? What Changes?
The very first thing to do is to anchor your hope in the right person. We must look to Jesus, and be convinced that there is indeed a New Country waiting for you. There can be a place where love, meaning, and purpose exist in this world. The second is to actively have faith to walk through the doors He lovingly and wisely sets up for you. Entering these specific doors set up for you, which were baptized in God’s plan and grace, and closing them behind you is what will truly fundamentally move you closer to the New Country. An effect of this is that over time, even when bad days occur and you are momentarily drawn backward, you’ll find that you can snap back into the journey of progress easier.
In the end, you will also be pleasantly surprised that the New Country is not just a physical destination, and it is not the be all and end all. But in the process of entering these ordained doors and experiencing miracles of grace, by the time you reach the New Country you’ll find the greatest blessing isn’t the new surroundings. The blessing is in the transforative journey. You thought you were travelling to a difference place. But God changed your heart and opened your eyes in the transition. After a while, you’ll find that there is more than one place that is blessed. God orders these experiences and blessings to frame his character so that we can understand it. Seeing the sheer force of His character is transformative to you and to your surroundings. This joy, no one can take away.
Today I want to talk about the first 2 aspects that propelled me out of the Abyss. 1) The true journey out of the Abyss starts with the Look, and 2) then commences the Journey Of Doors. When he give Jesus “The Look”, it means we adore Him, and have a positive impression of Him. We also see an end goal or destination that is good, hence it gives us the courage to make fundamental changes to get there. The Doors are the special door that God sets up for us based on our unique needs to get us further than what is limited by our imagination and past experiences – the sequential following of these doors lead us in the right direction. These doors also include the creation of the right community around you where these changes can be practiced, express and nurtured.
Please continue to the next chapter: Working through your Abyss with Jesus (Part 4): The Journey starts with the LOOK. Followed by the WALK through DOORS