When I was 25, I was fearless. I got a tattoo of the Devil's pitchfork on my arm with flames surrounding it. The concept behind it (and name of this post) comes from a song The Black Keys did with RZA from Wu-tang called "The Baddest Man Alive."
And at the time, I felt like the baddest man alive. At least, I felt like I could handle anything life threw in my direction. I had graduated from college and moved to Soulard (St. Louis). I was teaching some really badass kids from really horrible upbringings. I was getting cussed out and punched weekly at my job. On the weekends I played for a pretty competitive Rugby team (and yes, I was badass at Rugby too). I had no problem finding friends or girls to amplify my already impressive life of sin. My relationship with failure was overall a fairly distant one.
How I could have started this story off...
"When I was 25, I met the Devil."
"When I was 25, I embraced darkness."
"When I was 25, I experienced failure."
"When I was 25, I was desperate for God, but fixated on temptation."
"When I was 25, I was an addict."
"When I was 25, I was lost."
"When I was 25, I welcomed chaos and mocked order."
When I say "I met the Devil", I am not referring to a red horned and hooved creature with an actual pitchfork. Nor am I referring to any physical representation of the entity that is Satan. I am referring to just that; darkness. Cold, colorless, meaningless, emptiness, eternal tormenting that shakes you to the core.
When I say I embraced darkness, I do not mean I turned away from the light. I can remember thinking/worrying about these things as a child, but luckily I was almost always surrounded by a solid foundation of a loving family and support system. Survival was never a stressor, so I had the LUXURY of worrying about my existential crisis at the ripe old age of 10. When I was 9, I became a Christian. I sat next to my grandmother in church. My great grandfather was a preacher. I was raised to believe in God and to understand that acting in the way the Bible suggests we act, is in the best interest for us as individuals and us as humanity. I did not understand the levels or depth of faith at this time. Nor did I have the capacity for who/what God could be then that I have now. But to make my point clear; I grew up consistently doubting, challenging, and testing God. I never "disbelieved" in God. I simply wanted more. I wanted to know God. I wanted to understand how the story of Jesus could possibly be THE ONE AND ONLY way to heaven. I wanted to know what heaven really meant. I wanted to know the glory and majesty that exists in this divine father we call God. I wanted to know the source of this infinite, absolute entity. By age 25, I was growing restless. Impatient. I was getting swallowed up by this big ol' world to the point where I started thinking the whole "game" of faith was downright mean. I was starting to think that the God my family worshiped, the idea of God I had from childhood, was simply too small to be the same God that I yearned to know. So, I had but one option. I demanded that God show me his face. I put all my cards on the table. I prayed angrily. I basically said "Show me ANYTHING" just to finally put this lifelong questioning to rest once and for all...
If were to share the exact details of what I experienced, I'm afraid I would terrify my mother and lose half of my audience. We've all heard the testimonies that people give, claiming that God did the undoable, said the unspeakable, shook the unshakeable, etc. I think sometimes we let the "awe" of God's presence turn into fear. Other times I think we let the work of God turn into some Hollywood story that focuses too much on the happening, and loses sight of the actual meaning.
I will put it like this, I embraced the darkness because I needed to be lost before I could be found. Needed to be blinded before I could see. I never turned away from God. My love and hunger for God is what drove me down the path of relentless pursuit. I needed to experience God. Instead of God showing himself in my bowl of ABC soup or magically making a car levitate off of a dying baby, He did something a little different for me. He loved me enough, trusted me enough, and believed in me enough to let me wonder into the wilderness alone. Never truly alone, but he dimmed the lamp just enough so I could become lost in the darkness.
When I was 25, I experienced failure. I had finally seen the other side. I had moments where I questioned whether or not I was going crazy, but I learned that whether it was real or imagined, I experienced something nonetheless. This experience empowered me. I had conquered a huge fear and become "fearless". I remember sharing my experience with some friends. I shared it with some deeply spiritual friends, as well as friends who believe humans are a cancer to the planet and when we die we just rot. I got an overwhelmingly pleasant type of attention from people when I talked about this. It was almost as if I literally had went to Hell, stole the Devil's pitchfork, and ran out before he caught me...Now I was bringing people over to my house to show them what I had stolen and they admired me. I was wrong. I had done no such thing. I had used the experience to further inflate my ego. Instead of being grateful and surrendering full over to God, I clung to the darkness I had learned to embrace. I liked feeling like a rebel. I cosigned my own BS and talked myself into thinking I was quite the "spiritual warrior".
When I was 25, I was desperate for God, but fixated on temptation. Within months, I had become so far gone with drugs and alcohol and more tattoos and more sex and more sin that I had completely forgotten that I never fully made it out of the wilderness. In fact, I had become so arrogant that I thought the wilderness/darkness/unknown was my home. This wasn't the end of stretch of poor decisions and reckless behavior.
When I was 25, I was an addict. Addicted to thoughts. Addicted to people. Addicted to possessions, to attention, to substances... The worst part was, I was completely oblivious to it. Despite my undergrad studies in behavior change psychology, habit formation, health and nutrition, exercise, emotional disorders...I even got a tattoo of a dopamine molecule on my right hand. I was addicted, and proud.
When I was 25, I was lost. I was lost and nobody could find me. I hid from who I was. I hid from God. I hid from my family. I buried myself in self absorption and quick, cheap thrills. I pretended to be serious about finding my way, but never intended to do the work that was needed to make that happen. I imagine this as being a form of hell... Imagine seeing someone you love just suffer and struggle miserably, but refuses to accept help because, well, they are too far gone to even know how bad its gotten.
When I was 25, I marveled chaos and mocked order.I could really stretch all of these last few paragraphs into the ages 25-27. Mind you, I was also teaching special education at a school for kids with behavioral and emotional disorders. I was very good at my job too. In fact, I sometimes think that I cared so much for some of them that it played a part in rationalizing how badly I treated myself. I wasn't all bad. I just lost sight of who I was. My biggest sin of all, however, was my pride. I was so used to being successful with sports or school or social life that I refused to listen to anyone tell me how to live my life. I would talk about God and read the Bible and watch documentaries. I would meditate one time and claim to be a mystic or go to one yoga class and claim to be a yogi. I was half-assing my life and lying to myself about it. Deep down I knew better. I knew it was all bullshit. I knew I was capable of so much more, and that I was meant for so much more. I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I was born with the luxury of these burdens. In no way do I think that my story is somehow worse than anyone else or that it makes me more qualified to speak on "hardships" or "suffering". But I am human. I am learning to become a better human. This is my journey. Maybe there are parallels in mine and yours. Maybe something I said or did in my lifetime will help one person with one little problem in their life. When I mocked order to marvel in chaos, I wasn't doing it to be ornery. When I embraced the darkness and dimmed out the light, it wasn't some punk rock attempt for attention. I was genuinely searching for my purpose in this life. Maybe not everyone has to take it as far as I have, but to me...a life unexamined is hardly a life worth living.
A poem I wrote a couple of years ago....
Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous; your laws are rejected by[b] him; he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.” He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”
His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent.His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
like a lion in cover he lies in wait.He lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, “God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees.”
Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, “He won’t call me to account”?
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked man; call the evildoer to account for his wickedness that would not otherwise be found out.
The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land.
You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.
Reading through some of the psalms that David wrote really made me want to write on this topic. I have heard King David described as "a man after God's heart" and in reading the Psalms he wrote, it is evident that he, too, engaged in a relentless pursuit of God. He, too, called out to God in times of need, as well as times of glory. He, too, sought the face of God. David was fearless. Not only against human giants like Goliath, but in the face of all giants. He was reckless. He was brave. He made mistakes. But one thing that remained clear in his story throughout the Bible, David was in deed a man after God's heart.
I recently walked along the wall full of graffiti down by the Arch in St. Louis. On the walls there were things written such as "God is dead" and some other "messages" I guess calling out God. Almost as if to say "Ok God, if you're real then you better come punish us for what we're down here saying about you!" I could help but chuckle at this. I've been there. I've felt that lost and desperate sort of daring God to show his face. I was fearless. I was relentless. What God showed me (at the time) was not his face, nor his grace or his love. He showed me the evil that exists within me and within the world. He allowed me to experience hell. Maybe that was just my personality that called for it. Maybe it was my destiny. But I had to go there to get here. It's funny how humans can get so arrogant and impatient with God. Deep down, they do not wish to live in a Godless world. Even the extreme atheists. If they claim they do, perhaps they should reexamine what led them to feeling that way. For whatever reason, I think people often grow bitter in the absence of God. Not too different from an adolescent who's father left him/her as a child, they grow up to one day say "Fine, I do not wish to know my father. I do not need him. I am better off with out him. He is dead to me." It isn't that this hypothetical father is bad or this hypothetical child really grew up to hate their father. In reality, it is a lack of communication; a distant relationship between two beings that has grown further and further apart. And because of the perceived independence, bitterness and arrogance arises to justify the individuals success/failure.
In Psalm 9, David is telling how thankful he is to have him and how there's no shame in running to the Father's arms. How God is a safe house, a sanctuary in bad times, and the moment you arrive there, you're relaxed. And you NEVER have to feel sorry you knocked on His door. The burden is lifted and all you had to do was ask. So, it's just surrendering and swallowing your pride. Its saying "I cannot do this alone"... quite beautiful piece of writing by David as he setup psalm 10 here. In 10, he mentioned how nations were becoming bitter and arrogant about feeling alone. The storyline David is taking us through here is remarkable. At first, I thought "David is so bipolar!" but it's kind of telling of ourselves in this up and down roller coaster of life. It is teaching us that even King David had ups and downs. It's challenging us by giving us a constant change of emotion and circumstance, yet comforting us by assuring that we are safe and loved in God.
When I was 25, I was fearless...
Can you relate to my story from earlier? How about the writing of David? We are all in a constant war within ourselves. At war with our impulses and emotions. At ware on the outside with our circumstances and situations. And I cannot speak for others, but much like David, I feel like my whole life I have been in a constant war with God. Obviously, God could destroy me at any given time if he so chooses, so it is not like a real "fight" we are having, but more like a game of chess where I am inexperienced, but God is the chess master! He is letting me make moves and allowing me to experience success and failures in order to grow. He could have me in check-mate at any given time. If I get too cocky, he will bring me down a notch to humble me. If I get too low, I can always ask him for guidance in my next move that will put me right back in the game.
I think it takes real courage to be in this type of relationship with God. Many are overwhelmed by the infinite nature of God. Many are blinded by their own ego. But few do what I do or what David did: Seek the face of God. Ask for him to challenge you. Willingly head into the darkness with only a sword and a shield as we set out to slay demons and monsters. Fearing not. Because if God's light is shining from within, then nothing can ever overtake you.
A few months back, I was doing an exercise in a planner I have that required me to ask 5 friends what 5 qualities they admire in me. Every friend I asked said something about my level of courage or fearlessness. I hardly give myself credit for that and I rarely feel like I am actually a badass of any sort. Mostly because I am very sensitive and a nonviolent person. But when I think about David, when I think about my own journey in seeking God... Wow, I am a maniac. Ive taken this thing to the edge of the universe and without even thinking twice, dangled my foot off the edge, not to tempt God, but to say to him "Ok, now can I jump? Are you ready for me to take this leap yet? Im ready when you are. Just say the word and I'm GONE..."
Yesterday I was fearless and reckless. Today I am humble and focused.