“I’m a good person. I don’t drink, smoke, party, or cheat on my wife. But I look around at all my co-workers who do and they are so happy. I go to events to support my wife and I see all these people smiling and happy and I can’t remember the last time I’ve smiled. I think it’s been 6 months.” The words struck me like a right hook. The man standing before me opening his heart had not crossed the threshold of our church looking for a handout. Not in the material sense. He had stopped in because he was seeking peace.
This past weekend our head elder approached me while I stood in the church lobby talking with a small group. With him was a gentleman who had stopped into our church seeking to speak with one of our pastors. Since the pastors were otherwise involved, our head elder had come to talk with him and subsequently introduced him to me. We stepped into my youth room for the three of us to talk with some sense of privacy. As he summarized his life both past and present the story was very normal; one that could easily have been any other member in our pews. He talked about his wife and kids, how hard he works to support and provide for them and about the stress of his job. How he loved all of them and wouldn’t change anything, but slowly the load of all of them was becoming a weight too heavy to bear. Through all his work to supply the needs of others for their happiness, he had lost his own.
I looked at our head elder who had tears in his eyes. I understood why he had brought this man to me. Not for spiritual guidance or profound words of truth, but because I knew all too well what it felt like to spend time as this man was, searching for God, longing for God, trying to find peace and contentment in this world yet feeling a growing void with each passing day. You find yourself asking over and over again “What’s wrong with me?” as you find little joy and fulfillment. I had gone through the same steps he was; spending time in prayer and study, seeking peace from God. He was devoted to supporting his wife and kids and doing good work at his job. But rather than resting in the knowledge he was doing good things, he was anxious and worried.
There is no point where you can tell a person in this situation, “lay your burdens at the cross and trust in Jesus”. I’ve tried. It’s cliché and insulting. The only thing that happens is that you feel worse because you’ve tried with every breath to turn it over to God as a good Christian should, yet nothing seems to change. There is no rest. The yoke is hard and the burden heavy. Your overwhelmed with the joy of others and resent them as you long for just a moment of what they have. You feel wrong for longing to do something for yourself. You’re not supposed to be selfish, but just once you want to scream “What about what I want”.
How do you find peace when it hides from you?
How do you find joy when it has been swallowed up by everyone else?
I went home troubled. My wife dreads these moments because she doesn’t know what to do or say. I stared out the window in silence, feeling the agony of this man whose story is all too familiar to me. I had not found peace in the church. There was no tranquility in devotions or worship. Joy in service to others was a mystery. You tell yourself God is there, but He is a speck in the distance that seems so far.
Our head elder asked me to pray and the words felt like cotton in my mouth. The prayer on my heart for this man wasn’t an easy, comforting prayer. It’s a plea. It’s a cry from the fetal position, laying on the floor in your closet as the world overwhelms you.
Does peace come? Eventually.
How? I can’t explain. Somewhere along the line you realize a little bit of selfishness for your own peace and joy simply makes those around you happier as well. You understand doing things for yourself is okay. You struggle and claw your way along the road trying to reach that illusive figure in the distance and He gradually comes into focus. Slowly as you get closer you realize it’s not just you that is crawling your way closer, but He is sprinting to meet you. As you stand up you realize you’re okay. And a new question enters your mind; now what?