I would sit to write this one over and over again in the last couple of months, only to run face first into a brick wall of writer’s block every time I tried. I think it’s because I recoiled at the thought of coming across as a hypocrite and had trouble scaling the scope of this down to a readable length. Besides that, I’ve had time to digest some life circumstances that I’ve been chewing on as of late, especially in a week that couldn’t have been more appropriate to reflect on it all.
Last week, the church I intern at observed a media fast – taking a break from online social platforms and the digital universes we live in for a couple of days to reflect, pray, spend quality time with people and God in observance of Jesus’ last days before the crucifixion and resurrection. Taking a break from Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram has been something on my mind, but admittedly, I made the excuse that I live parts of my life on social media that sustain communication with my internship, family, and friends. How else would I maintain them? I kept shelving this personal project, knowing deep down that it was necessary and needed, but I eventually let it slip between the traffic of ministry projects and theology papers to write… until this last week.
Two Sundays ago, a breaker switch flipped. I can remember mentally freezing in the sanctuary after second service in the buzz of people shuffling out, saying hello, and talking about lunch plans, thinking to myself that I need to go home. Go home, rest, and unplug. I scratched my head over this notion, because it came out of nowhere. With minimal notification, I packed a few belongings and essentials in my Saturn and drove to Minneapolis with the intention of spending some quality time with God away from the noise. It was the perfect time to unplug. In addition, I was seeking a change in scenery in the hopes that it would be part of the antidote for a set of nebulous symptoms that were pointing to some kind of renal condition. Two rounds of antibiotics and a physician’s visit in Lacrosse throughout the last two months have been giving few answers and at this point, I figured it was only a matter of time when it all came to a head when the symptoms began to collectively get worse. The first day and a half at home was spent not on my phone, without my laptop, and spending some time absorbing scripture (more specifically the Gospel of Matthew), prayer, and brainstorming. It was well lived until Monday afternoon when (long story short) I doubled over in pain in a Target parking lot and was taken to United Hospital in Saint Paul. Kidney stones.
Laying in an emergency room in downtown Saint Paul, pumped with enough Morphine to put a fully-grown gorilla to bed, and weathering excruciating pain led me into a profound spiritual time. The video below is front man and worship leader for Bethel Church in Redding, California providing context for Bethel Music’s newest album, Have It All. In this video he talks abut a cull of circumstances that led to a mental breakdown and having to medicate panic attacks. The first line in this clip is… “True worship happens when there’s nothing else. When there’s no other options.”
I had no other options in that hospital bed, because I was emptied. No social media, no physical strength left, and emotionally drained. The only viable option was surrender to God. Surrendering the most acute, excruciating pain I’ve felt. I only had the breath that the Lord sustained and in that moment, it was weirdly enough – and in a good way. It’s kind of hard to explain, but to have experienced a dependence on God that could have only come through circumstances like that was a significant experience for me.
Upon my release later that evening and returning to Winona, I was in a time of prayer with a few other ministry leaders this weekend, leafing through some old notes scratched from a couple years ago in a worn journal and came across a great passage of scripture in 1st Thessalonians. The Apostle Paul spent three Sabbath’s in Thessalonica – an area of Greece that was a crucial Italian crossroad and port city with a church made up of primarily, Gentiles. Because of the amount of persecution he and the church endured, Paul didn’t stay too long, but a few commentaries I found about the Thessalonian epistles (letters) talk about how the themes of endurance and giving thanks in everything help reinforce the circumstances in the letter. It gives context for verses such as this that made me think of Brian Johnson’s thoughts and my experiences in the week…
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18
It’s like Brian Johnson says later on in the video, surrender is a process that comes with giving up the smallest of things, the biggest of events, and all the subtleties in between. Being hospitalized gave me the shot to learn dependence and that was huge. So did taking a break from social media – the smaller of details. Like I said in the beginning, the words never quite materialized when I tried to write this last fall and even on break before coming back to Winona. My inspiration is drawn from the well of a pastor from Oklahoma City, a class presentation I gave last semester, my roommates, and of course – the forthcoming Relient K record. Part of my recovery process is sifting through the 30,000-foot issues and the smallest crevices of my present routine, every relationship, habit, attitude, and unsaid thing in between. Admittedly, this has been an area of my life that I’ve altogether ignored for all of high school and most of college. I assimilated to a platform that is so commonplace and widely used, that I never even saw how much of my idle time is spent chained at the ankles and wrists to my devices until I took a break from them. Relient K’s new song, Look on Up, touches on how the beauty of things like sunsets, the face of a mountain or hillside, and even ourselves get lost in the trimming of every minute detail we don’t like. We filter and crop it until its very essence is basically gone and we lose appreciation for anything natural and unscathed by scant editing. I know. I’ve been there. It’s actually a very poignant song for the age we live in that calls us to appreciate the simple things in life. But doesn’t that feel hard when it seems like everyone has it better than us?
Craig Groeschel of Life Church in Oklahoma City quoted pastor Steven Furtick in his new book called, #Struggles when he said, “We compare our behind the scenes to other people’s highlight reels.” At this point in my life, a lot of friendships are looking very different. Many of my friends are getting engaged, married, beginning careers, moving, and starting families – most of them are my age or not that much older and admittedly it makes me think, “I’m missing out or doing something wrong.” And it doesn’t even stop there. I sometimes go to the simplest of photos or Snapchats of our friends hanging out with people, doing things on the weekends, taking trips, etc. and we wonder why I’m not doing the same thing. I’m sure we all share these same sentiments to a certain degree.
I don’t exactly know how I’m going to continue with this social media fast, because I don’t want to blanketly bash social media behind a keyboard without lending anything good to it, because there are some indisputably good things about social media. I just know that after an eventful week, I know I can’t really go back to the way I used it before. It’s just not the same. I see the difference when I sit down with people and don’t feel like I need to whip my phone out upon feeling the buzz of it going off for mundane notifications. The conversations feel more real and authentic. I care more about the people I’m around and what’s going on in their lives rather than comparing it to the events on a news feed. I like that I can feel like life is actually going okay and that my circumstances are fine when I disengage from it.
I think Holy Week was the best time to experience all of this, because I had the chance to back drop all these recent circumstances against the events of Jesus suffering a barbaric execution as an innocent man and Son of the Living God to be resurrected three days later, conquering death. Through that event we have the freedom to surrender and crucify our insecurities, blemishes, social standings, and need for approval into his wrists in the way of Galatians 5:24 – “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” It’s a gentle reminder to me to look on up to the cross when I feel like life isn’t really how I want it to be, because when I am weary from painful illnesses or from finding myself comparing my behind the scenes to everyone else, His yoke is easy and His burden, light (Matthew 11:28-30). Live it in the moment and know that Jesus Himself said in Matthew 6:34 – “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring troubles of its own.”