Here’s something I’m realizing about God… he rarely does what we think he’s going to do. And that’s generally because our dreams and ideas are too small for him. What he did for me in the past three days is no different.
I decided to go to Passion 2018 probably not in the same way most students did. I had written it off – too last minute, too far, too many people – until three days before the conference began. I was sitting at the kitchen counter, staring at a job application I was supposed to be filling out, and all I could think about was how dizzy I was, how my breath felt constricted. I hopped in the shower just to feel the water on my skin, just to get outside myself a bit. I was thinking about how my plans didn’t work out, how I’m still still stuck in the same city with my same self with my same circumstances for the foreseeable future. I was thinking about how I wanted to rest in God but just didn’t know how, my head knowing all the answers but my heart just couldn’t feel anything anymore, nothing but dark and sad and scared. He felt so far away, almost like he didn’t exist. I knew he did. I had felt his presence, his spirit, in a powerful and undeniable way in a church on my knees in 2013, and hundreds of smaller moments before and since. But now, I felt completely alone. I couldn’t reach him. And I needed him now more than ever.
I decided to go to Passion because I needed a way out. I told myself it was practical, a vehicle for physically leaving my world behind for a while, but I also desperately wanted God to do something. Anything. Anything other than the way I felt right now.
Honestly, I felt a little insane as I packed my bag, prepping to sit in a van for hours with over twenty college kids I didn’t know to join a conference of thousands of more people I didn’t know to talk and sing and think about Jesus nonstop for the next three days. I was the girl who isolates herself because she doesn’t know how to be around people and carry her pain. I was the girl who almost never made it all the way through a church service because the emotions and the truth clash and it’s just all too much to surrender. I was the girl who hides in the familiar and the small and the comfort of a quiet bedroom and fictional adventures. Not the girl who decides on a whim to jump in the car with strangers, basically attend church 24/7, and constantly be around thousands of people I didn’t know. I really did feel crazy. And I completely lost it as I left my house in the morning, the thoughts in my head spooling out and circling me, you don’t belong there you don’t belong with these people you can’t handle this you should just stay home stay put and just get over yourself. But my need to get out was bigger than my need to hide. And God used that to get me where I needed to be for him to blow my mind.
As my group walks into the arena, I immediately feel surrounded by possibility. The speakers are pumping. Purple lights illuminate the mist, making the air seem to glow. Cellphone lights bob from the far reaches of the accumulating crowd, like stars or white fireflies. The atmosphere feels as if it is humming with life. I look out on it all, the stage, the full seats, the blasting music, and am aware that I am still me. I am still the girl who hides, who struggles, who loves in an empty room, who feels trapped by everything that she is and isn’t, who cannot seem to pierce her own isolation and dark, who can’t seem to reach her God. But I also felt promise. Promise that if I come, if anyone comes, we will not be turned away.
And so here comes the part where even as I ask God to something, I already have a presupposed idea of what it’s going to look like. I ask him to remove my depression and anxiety. I ask him to either completely take away the desire that has caused so much hurt in my heart or give me peace and confidence that he’s going to fulfill that desire. I say, do this or this. Hit me with a metaphorical lightning bolt, one that changes everything. But I also say, whatever you want to do, don’t leave me where I am, because I can’t stay here anymore. I can’t change myself. You can. And that’s all he was waiting to hear.
The music starts, and something incredible begins. When I decided not to run, to let him in, God filled every second of that time. The next few hours blur into days, moments all strung together by his mighty hand. I came as nothing, a shell waiting to be filled, a person begging to be rescued. And he did, and totally blew my expectations of what that was going to look like out of the water. I am still processing all that happened in my heart and in that arena and probably will continue to process these things for a long time.
In the end, God didn’t do what I asked. And yet he did. He did both things, and neither. Often this is the way God works, in seeming contradictions and impossibilities, that only make sense once we experience them, are willing to be open to them. He lifted off of me the burden of depression and anxiety that I have been feeling. I was in a pit where I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe and he pulled me out of it. But I also know I will still struggle with sadness and fear. We cannot escape these things in this life, on this earth. Sin and heartbreak go hand in hand. We have the promise of wholeness but the world is still broken. Even as God brought his peace and strength and light to my heart, I still intimately knew the fracture lines in my heart. They are as familiar to me as the sun and the night, I can trace them with a fingertip with my eyes closed. While I am here, they will always be part of me. Where love is great, pain is great. This is a part of life. But at the same time, I felt God breaking me free from the depth which I had been at. He says, you will feel pain and fear and confusion and achings, but you will not drown in them. Not while I am here.
And then, he did something strange with my desires, my longings. I expected him to take them away or tell me he will fulfill them. But he did neither. He filled me up with who he is. The songs and the messages reminded me of who God is in a new way, and as I surrendered everything I was to those truths, my heart started to wake up. I told God, I just want you, everything that you are, all of you, just fill me up with yourself, and he said yes. always. Here’s the thing about being a Christian – you don’t have to feel God to believe in him. Just like you don’t need to visit India to know it exists, or see the sun in the nighttime to believe that it’s there. Believing is not about feeling or seeing. It is about knowing. About truth. About the facts lining up. And they do, and that should be enough. But it is human to want to feel. I have been blessed to have powerfully felt the presence of God a few times in my life. And in that arena, with 10,000 people all praising God together, technologically connected with over 30,000 more, I felt him there again. It’s not something that’s easy to explain. I don’t know if it’s something that people can explain, because the words just aren’t there. But we know it when we feel it, and it’s not something deniable.
Over and over again, God showed me this: He is the lightning bolt. No change in my circumstances or my desires can make as big and true an impact as his presence in my life and the condition of my relationship with him. When I let him fill my focus and my heart, everything changed. My desires did not change, but when I desired him above all else, I didn’t feel them as sharply. They felt smaller. Not because they were any smaller, but because next to God, they couldn’t compare. He eclipsed me. God is worth infinitely more than anything else we could ever want. And in the end, everything good we desire is a reflection of who he is – that’s why we want it in the first place, because it is good. But ultimately, our biggest desire and need is him, and nothing else can fully satisfy us. It’s one thing to know that, and quite another to feel it. My desire is still there. My love is still the same. My memories intact. What was true before is still true now. But with God, it doesn’t have to overwhelm me. All is not lost if my desire isn’t fulfilled here. God will be enough for me. And in the end, in the perfect world that is to come, every desire will be fulfilled, in ways more perfect than we can imagine.
And yes, God did give me peace. He did give me hope. But he gave them to me through my being willing for him to do whatever he wants in my life. Through knowing that he cares about my loves and my desires. Through believing in his fierce, unstoppable love for me and for the people I love. I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one can ever know. But with God, I have hope for good things, even if the good things he has for me aren’t the ones that I would have picked. His plans are better than anything I could choose. Bigger. But he also hears me when I pray. He feels my heart when I love. And with him, anything is possible. And it. will. be. good.
I am aware that the experience I had at Passion definitely qualifies as a “mountaintop” experience. It was full of revelation followed by revelation, one after the other even when I thought there couldn’t possibly be any more. It transcended most of the experiences I have ever had. It was full of feeling and seeing and not just believing and knowing. Whenever you climb a mountain, you have to come back down. You can’t stay up there forever. It doesn’t mean you leave behind what you have learned and who you have become, but you do have to come down to the life you normally walk, full of plains and hills and even valleys, but rarely mountains. I am aware that I probably will not feel this peaceful, this grounded, this full, this satisfied, this courageous, this lit up, in few days. Right now it feels like there’s this direct line between me and God, a 24/7 connection. I know that most of the time it doesn’t feel like that, even though nothing has changed, even though his spirit is still present and living in me. I am aware that as I come down off this “high,” sadness will trickle back into me again. Fear will attack me. Those fracture lines are going to hurt like nobody’s business. But I’m going to fight back. I know who I am. I am a daughter of the King. I am never alone. And he’s already won every battle that I have to fight.
During the last session of the conference, someone said, “Be in the dark who you are in the light.” I like that. It feels like the truest statement for me. It doesn’t deny that there is going to be dark, that I will have to live through darkness. But it also confirms that there is light. That who I am in the light is the person I was always meant to be, the person I truly am. The person God has made me to be, who he will help me continue to be, get better at being. Right now, after these few days, I feel like I am living in the light, despite the darkness of unmet desires and love that keeps on going without answer. I am infinitely grateful for that. I am not the same person that left for Passion. But I also know that the farther away from this mountain I get, the more the dark will undoubtedly return. But that doesn’t mean that who I truly am is different. That doesn’t mean that God is different. And that’s what I want – no matter what happens, I want to live in the dark as the person I am in the light. And with God in me and around me and by my side, I will.