Dear Wendy, twenty-sixteen will be a year of unexpected revelations.
But before you start straining for what’s ahead, I want you to pause and remember something with me–after all, it’s fresher in your memory than in mine.
In December of 2015–just a month ago–you attended a camp organised by Varsity Christian Fellowship. During those six days and five nights, the Holy Spirit whispered to you, over and over again, to surrender.
You tried to ignore its gentle nudging at first, remember? You were, at your very core, afraid. You didn’t know whether you could do it, or what to expect once you uttered those words, effectively pledging yourself totally, wholly, fully to Him. You just couldn’t.
But on the last night of the camp, you knew that you couldn’t say no forever.
You broke down, on your knees, your head bent, tears falling into your open palms.
God, I surrender my all to you. I don’t know how to surrender, but I surrender my all, you cried.
Do you remember what happened a few days later? You returned home to Singapore, and you forgot.
But let’s return to the present: it’s only the start of January 2016 for you.
You’re struggling through Psalm, a book you started reading when you embarked on your student exchange in Hong Kong. For two years now you’ve been slogging through psalm after psalm, being nowhere near done.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry day by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
You find these hymns painful to read, the writers a little too whiny. You can’t understand what they were going through: at their wits’ end, alone and accursed, and literally at the brink of death. You almost dread it now, when you open your Bible to the next psalm, describing situations and sentiments you can’t quite sympathise with. You don’t understand.
In April, you will write this in your journal:
Lately I’ve been feeling a lovesickness in my heart. A dullness has taken over, draining the colour from my day-to-day living. Mundanity, repetition, exhaustion. I feel like I’m straining to feel something more, to comprehend why it is I’m feeling this way.
Friends have commented that I’ve seemed unhappy over the last few months. And I don’t know why. When they ask me what’s wrong, I know something is, but I don’t know what. I feel unsettled when they point this out to me, my brows furrowed, nails digging into my palms. I feel frustrated, almost emotionally constipated—something wants to come out, but nothing does.
God, what’s wrong with me? Why am I feeling un-happy? What is this part of me that feels blurred, difficult to understand, void?
I’m starting to realise that believing in Jesus doesn’t automatically split my world into black and white; I find myself wandering into the shadows and forgetting where I am.
In another month, you will utter two words to the Lord: unsettle me.
At this point, you are stagnating in your faith, as you struggle with sins that have solidified over time. You will feel your heart growing distant and dissatisfied, even though you don’t want things to be this way and even though you feel like you shouldn’t be.
After all, you’ve doing your quiet time regularly, even though reading Scriptures can feel like a chore at times. You’re going to church every Sunday, although you’re beginning to feel reluctant about attending your discipleship group after. You’re praying daily, but it’s starting to feel like you’re uttering them more to yourself than to a living God.
You don’t know what you’re doing wrong, because you’re doing everything right. Aren’t you?
Halfway through the year, depression will arrive at your doorstep. The uninvited houseguest returns home with you one unexpected day. She rents out all the space in your heart, mind and life, and pays you with pain, grief, despair, sorrow—in short, in every currency available that hurts.
For the rest of the year, depression will overshadow your life. You will feel numb at first, but then it will begin to hurt–really, really hurt. It will hurt to the point where you can no longer differentiate the pain you constantly feel on the inside, and the pain you inflict on yourself on the outside.
There will be countless days and nights, where you will be found lying on the floor or slumped over your table or crouched in a corner of your room, sobbing until you cannot breathe, until you think you will die–you will literally die.
On some days, you will turn to peppermint ice cream and cheap wine and funny videos that make you neither satisfied nor oblivious nor happy. On others, you will do explosive press-ups and mountain climbers and sprints in the park late in the night, till your head is hammering and your lungs are bursting and your cheeks are streaked with tears and sweat. You won’t be able to tell the difference, but it won’t matter because no one one can see them either.
I must admit that I feel frightened as I write this, because how will you possibly be able to take it once you know what the next 365 days will hold for you?
But take heart, Wendy.
Because the year ahead will be the year you learn to truly surrender your all to God. He will reveal to you much about yourself as you undergo all that I’ve just described, and more importantly, much about who he is to you through his Word. You will see the psalms you currently hate reading with new eyes, as you take the place of the psalmists and read their songs with your lips. They will no longer be undecipherable words on a page, but your heart’s cry, your spirit’s surrender, your soul’s anchor.
You will experience the fullness of his grace upon grace this year. You will start seeing a counsellor, who will be invaluable in helping you address the source of your depression. You will take long walks by yourself, pausing to look up at the stars winking in the sky, the trees waving in the wind. You will begin to appreciate the beauty of music like never before, for expressing what you can’t and when you can’t. You will discover that as you open up to those around you, many will hold your hand and uphold you in prayer. You will weep over your Bible, in sheer exhaustion and thankfulness and joy, as his comfort, peace and love wash over you, wave after wave, like never before. You will take a deep breath and plunge into the waters of baptism after five years of holding out.
At the end of it, you will read these words and cry, not out of melancholy but because you will remember your past prayers. You will come to comprehend that these will be God’s very own words to you at the dawn of 2016, even as I read them at the cusp of 2017:
“Make no mistake. If you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect—until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.”
— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity