Disbelief & Finding My Way Home: Part 2

A CHURCH FOUNDED ON JESUS’S LOVE

When my Christian friend from college met me at a Starbucks the week after we had attended a church in Orlando together, he asked me if I wanted a relationship with Jesus. I was hesitant because I didn’t completely understand what faith in Jesus meant. But, what I had gathered from visiting the church together was how different Christianity was from the Catholicism I had been raised around. The difference was significant enough to make me feel immediately welcomed; this church was a place I didn’t feel resistant to. The church we visited played invigorating Christian music and a pastor who was more passionate about speaking of the love of Jesus and His power to transform lives, and nothing about shame or guilt. This immediately grabbed my attention, considering what I had experienced the previous 10 years.

THE REAL JESUS

Growing up, my family had not prayed for anything other than our food before dinner, sometimes not even then. Our prayers, however, were not directed at Christ, but God—and I never really knew who the God was I was praying to. He was the one we prayed to, sure, but there was nothing personal about Him. That was the main difference between the anonymous God that I grew up not taking seriously and this Jesus Christ of the Bible… I had never understood Him, nor had I cared to. Now that Jesus’s true nature was being revealed to me through this new church and my Christian friend, I was beginning to see not a religion with rules and rituals, but a man with morals, humility, feelings, intentions, thoughts, experiences, integrity—and Lordship. But it wasn’t so much the Lordship of Christ that drew me in at the beginning as much as His humanity.

“Yes,” I told my friend. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into, but I wasn’t signing any contracts or giving away my social security number. I was going to discover more of who Jesus was, and go from there.

WITNESSING JESUS’S IMPACT

Nothing happened right away. Faith came in gradual steps and moments; conversations, Bible studies, questions and answers, prayer, and time spent getting to know the stories of the Bible with more context. I had never even known there were “translations” of the Bible and that certain translations made the Bible easier to follow without changing the meaning or significance of a single story inside. That intrigued me. When my Christian friend (and my roommate at the time) helped me find a Bible translation which was easier for me to read (It was the NIV at the time), he also helped explain what I was reading based on Bible studies he’d had with spiritual mentors of his own. His stories were insightful and sometimes playful and funny. I could see my friend had developed a healthy relationship with Jesus, and so his genuine mix of humility and confidence were striking. My thoughts became, “Is this what it’s like to know Jesus?” The anger of my previous 10 years was beginning to subside, and a deeper-rooted understanding was taking its place. I was beginning to realize that the message about the Bible that I thought I knew as an atheist was either based on distortions I had gathered along the way, or they were assumptions I’d made based on the limited scope of an understanding of the stories I had read with people focused more on guilt, shame, and repentance than on love, mercy, forgiveness, and healing.

MORALITY AND LUST

Like I mentioned in Part 1, I turned to lust when all else failed to soothe my pain. When I learned about Jesus and His integrity, as well as His teachings, I came to realize that the way I was desiring women was very misplaced. Not so much that I viewed them as sexual objects, but I viewed women as though they were the solution to my problems; my emotional problems. With Jesus, I learned faith is the solution to a dead life. When I applied what this meant to my life, many things changed. One of the changes was that I recognized the way God loved women through Jesus, and that there was a call to love women the way Jesus loved the church (community of believers). This image of love was inviting, and clearly more healthy than my approach had been. It was a beautiful picture of what love should look like, and it was a reality I wanted to embrace as my own. That meant changing my thinking, my motives, and my perspective of pain and solutions.

This helped me, tremendously, to appreciate and admire women more than need them. While God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18) He did not add that man is incomplete without a woman. To me, that meant that God wanted us to have companionship, but He wasn’t suggesting that man needed a woman in order to be complete. Again, all of this changed my view of women—whereas before they were the solution to my pain, now they were people who I respected, admired, and wanted to see more with the eyes of God.

HEALING FATHER WOUNDS

When I first brought up my new faith to my dad, he too had found Christianity from another church in Michigan. I was shocked and pleased, because for the first time in my entire life, we related to something meaningful and intrinsic. Also, for the longest time, my dad and I didn’t really speak for more than once every few months. But that changed to once every couple of weeks during my slow transition into becoming Christian. I wanted to know that my dad had Jesus, and I wanted to develop an emotionally deep relationship with him in ways we had missed out on during my adolescence. Over the course of almost 8 years, we have come a long way, and we are much closer now than we ever were before I left Michigan to go to college.

A SON’S LOVE FOR HIS MOTHER

While growing up, I had looked up to my mom like a god because she was authoritarian, strict, and always seemingly knowledgeable. When I found Christ, I realized how powerless my mom had always been. Her emotional outbursts also became crystal clear to me; she hadn’t been upset because of me, but because of separate issues from far before I ever came along. When I grasped this truth, a weight was lifted off my shoulders, and instead of continuing to feel sorry for myself, I prayed that God would lift the weight off of her shoulders as well. My faith has also enabled me to see my mom in a healthier way, loving her where she is in every aspect of her life, rather than feeling tormented by our differences.

I’ve prayed, so many times, for Him to show Himself to her in a way that would soften her heart and help her to see, feel, and intimately experience His love for her in a way she couldn’t miss. Up to this day, I continue to pray. She has a stubborn heart, and I love her, truly and deeply for it. I continue imagining how much glory to God she would give if she aimed that stubbornness in the direction of passionately evangelizing about the love of Christ in her life.

THE BLESSING OF INNER-TRANSFORMATION

After learning that Jesus was a wise, personal, loving, intelligent, spiritual, knowledgeable man with incredible insight and presence, I had to know more. What I can tell you is the more I’ve discovered, the more I can’t help but want more.

Ultimately, the pain I experienced that led me to my bathtub so many years ago has been replaced with a hope I can finally explain. I know Jesus is real because I’ve spoken with Him, experienced Him, and I continue to pursue my faith in Him because I understand now that He was working in me all along. I truly believe His love was pouring into my heart when I tried to kill myself and that that was what drew me from the water; that His hand scooping me out was His response to my screams for a reason not to die. I believe He didn’t want to lose me then, and that He doesn’t want to lose me now. I truly believe the divorce was His way of asking me to take faith seriously and to find Him in a way that would ensure I wasn’t “following the crowd,” but rather, choosing Him on my own accord.

Sometimes we find ourselves asking Him, “Couldn’t you have done that a little less drastically?” But, really, who are we to question God’s motives? If He can align all that is needed to maintain the universe from imploding or exploding, does He not also have the strength and foresight to know what we need and how we need it in order to mold us into our best selves? Would we really claim that we know any better?

THE NATURE OF CHRISTIANITY

Being a Christian doesn’t mean a person is perfect, and it doesn’t mean that a person knows everything. To me, being a Christian means putting my relationship with Jesus first and seeking Him when I forget to do that. Being a Christian means humbly pursuing Him and coming back to Him when I lose track of that pursuit. Christians are not perfect people who have decided to stop pursuing a life of denial, nor do we think we’re perfect because of our decision to accept Jesus; Christians are sinners who recognize their sin and acknowledge their need for a Messiah capable of and willing to extend mercy, grace, and love through sacrificing Himself in order to prevent us from experiencing the eternal judgment that we actually deserve.

THE POWER OF MERCY

This may be new for some of you, so please feel free to leave your thoughts in comments below if you have a different perspective which you would like to share. The way I view this is, we are all sinners—that is, we would all fall short of our purpose in Christ if we did not have Jesus’s mercy, and therefore no one would deserve anything but the consequence for their actions. However, because of Jesus’ mercy on us, His mercy says, “You’ve sinned, and it requires a debt (a consequence). But because I love you, I’ve taken your punishment upon myself and paid, with my life, the debt which you originally owed me. Now, you don’t have to worry about paying me back. Go and love others, living in the joy of knowing that you are debt-free.” That, to me, is mercy.

We can extend mercy to others on behalf of the mercy we receive from God through Jesus, but mercy requires forgiveness, grace, and love—and we do not have this power without God first extending it to us. I believe this is one of the fundamental differences between Christianity and any other faith. This is another massive part of the reason Christianity drew me in and continues to do so today.

A NEW JOY AND HOPE

I still fall and make mistakes constantly. But I believe what is important, both for me and any person willing to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, is that we can seek refuge in Him (Psalm 119:114) who has already experienced our consequence for us. We need to ask for His strength to move us to action, and to continually replenish our souls with hope and joy. To me, this is no longer cliché, because I’ve experienced what having faith in Jesus feels like in my mind, soul, and body. 

If you have not experienced this, I hope and pray that by reading my testimony, you will feel encouraged to open yourself to Jesus and experiencing the fullness that comes with living in relationship with Him. Truly, faith in Jesus changes everything from the inside out: Our perspective of pain, our view of purpose in life, the meaning of everything large and small, and not needing to have all the answers.

MADE NEW IN CHRIST

After all that I’ve been through, Jesus words, “I am making all things new,” makes so much sense to me now. He made me new, starting at a soul level by giving me a purpose (writing). He made my relationship with my father new by connecting us through our faith; he made my relationship with my mom new by clarifying that only He is God—and by placing the desire in my heart for her to know His love the way I have come to know it. He even renewed my desire for love by providing the healthiest way to view women through His own eyes. I cannot imagine my life now without Jesus having intervened when He did. I was ready to die, but now I’m ready to live. So, without a doubt:

Trust Him, listen to him, love him, choose Him, and continually pray (speak) to Him. He will never forsake you.

LET’S CONNECT

If you resonated with what you read in this article and would like to read more, please follow this blog, and please share this with anyone. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, Pinterest at Lance Price Blog 2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please feel free to leave your thoughts or any questions you may have in the comments below. May God meet you where you are and affirm you in ways you never imagined before. In Jesus name!

Heal

Disbelief & Finding My Way Home: Part 1

THE WHOLE STORY

I would like to fully explain why I converted from atheism to Christianity. I have shared bits and pieces of my conversion story in previous articles, but I want to tie it all together in this two-part series. Here, I hope to clarify for people who may relate to my testimony just how powerful God truly is. Needless to say, Part 1 will be darker/heavier because of context that this took place before I understood what to make of my past, emotionally and spiritually. Part 2 will complete the story and bring us to the present where I can now see God working in my faith, and I will share more on that with you as well. 

By writing this, I hope to bring clarity, hope, and direction to others who are in the position of searching for life’s answers without knowing which way to turn.

THE BETRAYAL OF TRUST THROUGH TRAUMA

My parents’ divorce left me reeling, drowning in questions and denial. Growing up, I’d grown extremely fond of the security of familiarity, of placing all of my trust in my family’s presence, the memories we made, and the traditions that made being a part of family so special. For example, we were told to wait upstairs on Christmas morning until our dad turned on the foyer Christmas tree lights in order to come downstairs and see the mountain of presents in the living room. They would dim the lights, and we would never think anything of my parents’ droopy eyes as they had been up an hour earlier preparing the eye-popping display.

In another example, my family was active—we would go outside and play ball after dinner as the sun went down. We did this frequently, and it fed me the passion for exercise, activity, adventure, and fun.

When my parents divorced, the very cheerful, optimistic, positive part of me became very serious, quiet, reserved, and exclusive. My thoughts burrowed inward, trying to grasp with profundity the depth of my own pain.

My dad would urge me to keep going to church, since we were raised Catholic—but I refused to attend over the course of two church invitations. The notion of any kind of God was not only unappealing, it was detestable. How could a God allow this suffering to take place? I was sure there was no God because no God would allow me or anyone to experience this excruciating emotional pain and familial division. But that was only the beginning of the pain.

SUICIDE AND PURPOSELESSNESS

When my questions following the divorce became unbearable and everything I’d believed seemed to be wrong, I felt myself imploding intolerably. This new reality where my mom slept in another house and everything was drastically different was utterly nightmarish and terrifying to me, emotionally. The rules had changed and life had become more about survival. Nothing I had believed about life seemed real anymore. I couldn’t find myself embracing this new reality with my family torn apart and unfamiliarity at every corner, and I also couldn’t wrest the old reality back from its grave. This realization birthed the deepest, darkest feeling I ever thought was possible: I wanted to kill myself.

For 11 years, this wasn’t even a thought. Suicide was not even a vocabulary word that I was capable of conjuring. But suddenly, out of absolute nothingness, death became a possibility; a desire. I’ll never forget, because wanting death was the most degrading feeling. I’ve learned there is nothing darker than wanting death, and that death’s invitation is consuming.

MENTAL BREAKDOWN

I was in my teens, 13-15, lying on the floor of my room with the door closed, crying until I could barely breathe through my nose. All I could think of was how nothing was the same anymore; there were no remnants left of my past reality, everything was over and there was no going back.

My mind tried to get creative about how to end my life, and I took myself to my bathtub. On more than one occasion, when the water pressure began choking me, my mind was screaming to find a reason to live to avoid the pain of air emptying from my lungs. My chest was growing tighter and I had to decide if I was going to die this way. I started seeing stars and I could hear my own heartbeat; time was drawing close and I didn’t want to let in—I wanted to die. Alone, my family outside somewhere, clueless to my intentions, I was merely moments away from breathing my last, when I came out of the water. I breathed, looked at the walls of the tub, and begged myself for justification as to why I had chosen against death. I didn’t have a good reason: I was afraid of the pain of losing air—my lungs screaming for me to save myself was horrifying. Living in a house full of people who didn’t know me or my pain was also horrifying. There was no escape. The misery drew anguish and bitterness.

No, there is no God. A God wouldn’t allow this suffering. God would be evil to allow this. These were my thoughts and I got out of the tub to continue living, although without certainty; wondering how else I could end my life.

PARALYZED RELATIONSHIPS

My relationship to my mom was strained after the divorce. As soon as she left home to move to another house, I had to begin learning to pack bags for sleepovers. Every week I would pack necessities to take back and forth. There was more than one problem with this. The first was that right after the divorce, the presence of my mom was very different than from before the divorce; her new presence was something I did not like, nor did I want to be around. Because of her attitude and behavior, I did not want to see her often, and I felt guilty for not wanting to see her. After all, she was my mom. Not only did this seem contradictory, but it was causing me mountains of stress, guilt, anxiety, and racing thoughts. I would constantly analyze everything that was said and how it was said to pick up on anything I could in order to placate the disagreements we had. Mom had picked up on my lack of desire to spend more time with her and became angry and hurt. Her anger made me withdraw even further, and I quickly learned that our new relationship dynamic was terrifyingly different from the way it was growing up. This change haunted me—what was to become of my mom and me?

More confusing was the way my dad seemed so uninvolved with me. Our relationship seemed to have retreated, which lasted about a decade. Throughout all of my adolescence, I didn’t talk to my dad very much. In every sense of the word, my relationships with both of my parents were paralyzed. We weren’t moving forward, no one seemed to want to move back, and we were not on the same page. The horrors of the divorce crippled us and made everything that once was so beautiful into something unrecognizable, dilapidated, obsolete, disappointing. My heart was throbbing with fear, but there was no closure.

KORN/CLOSURE/VALIDATION

When I was 16, I found my first Korn album, “The Untouchables.” Upon playing the first song, “Here To Stay,” I was hooked. Never again would I find a band as interesting and addictive as Korn; their lyrical expression of rage, pain, depression, and self-mutilation were spot on with that of my own thoughts. I quickly learned that I not only related to Korn, but that they spoke into my experiences. Korn became my musical “Gospel,” in that I would listen to them for hours on end, embracing their anger, resistance, and ability to fight pain with rage and hate as my own. I soon believed that anger and hatred were ways to find strength in my darkness of despair and trauma. My desire for death was still present, but Korn was like a strong dose of morphine; they would speak into my darkest place and tell me my feelings were valid.

LAST RESORT

Along the way of finding myself tortured by the questions challenging my sanity, I found myself drawing closer to girls. Their attention gave me energy and I desired to impress them and earn their loyalty; their relationship. I ended up bringing my search for purpose to my girlfriend my senior year of high school; someone who I would learn later on could never have fulfilled that part of me. No girl ever could have, but I didn’t know where else to search for closure from all the pain. I didn’t know where else to search for purpose. I was living for me, and hating every second of it.

FINAL ULTIMATUM

After all those years of heavily contemplating my life and its brokenness, topped off by resorting to lust and infatuation—I decided to pursue film studies in Florida when I was 21 to make something of my life while I continued my search for something beyond the pain. By moving to Florida to study film, I was intending to also leave behind all of my memories in Michigan. Like a placebo pill however, my mind wanted to make believe leaving Michigan would numb the pain (my past). But, after many years of being away, I’d learned that the kind of pain I experienced wasn’t solved by geography, but by the spirit. My spirit had been plagued by anger, bitterness, selfishness, and resistance to any sort of aid—and in turn, my mentality, maturity, and belief system were closed-minded and shallow. More on this will be elaborated upon in Part 2.

JUST THE BEGINNING

What is important to note here and now is that this isn’t the end of my story. This is just the first step in the path. All of this, as it were, marked by darkness, bitterness, and despair–this is not the end of anyone’s story. This is the reason for Part 1 and 2; I need you, as the reader, to fully grasp this picture as its own image, because when you understand the rest of the story, you will come to see where the transformation is, where God’s hand was, and how it’s a matter of taking a leap of faith to see what even our physical eyes cannot. In Part 2, I will explain all of this so that you can see for yourself that our pain and our questions have answers and solutions, even if it doesn’t seem like it yet. I can tell you right now that despite my pain, God is still good!!

LET’S CONNECT

If you resonated with this article and would like to read more, please follow this blog, and please share this with anyone. You may also find me at my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, Pinterest at Lance Price Blog 2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please feel free to leave your thoughts or any questions you may have in the comments below. I’ll do my best to respond as promptly as possible. May God bless you today!

Jolt

How Faith In God Makes Sense Of Our Pain

When I lost all hope following my parents divorce, my scarce understanding of God miscommunicated my need for Him. In turn, I put my hope in all the wrong places; where pleasure I received was tangible but not eternal; where love was lusted but not grounded; where joy wasn’t joy, but instead was the duplicitous mirage of permanent Earthly bliss.

UNAVOIDABLE CRISIS 

I longed for connection, but the very picture of connection had been convoluted and misshapen by the brokenness of my family’s divorce. Relationship lost its identity and I was redefining it for myself amidst an internal trauma that was as punitive as it was inevitable. The trauma incurred an internal crisis at 11-12 years old which subconsciously renegotiated the first 10 years of my life as I tried to make sense of the sudden thrust of painful change and coercive emotional agony. My thoughts were looking back instead of forward, hoping to aid my past in keeping my present from completely dilapidating. But the longer the present continued pulling me forward, the more narrow my hope became that my past had a chance of surviving the excruciating present. When my motivation to retain the past was exhausted, I couldn’t handle the pressure of such a threat, and that is when my picture of intimacy, closeness, security, and safety was crushed into despair. There was no place in the back of my mind where I felt I could hide my hope because I understood there was no going back to what was, and understanding that merely procured more hopelessness. 

FALSE IDENTITY IN HINDSIGHT

Looking back as a 29-year-old man, I understand my parents’ divorce does not define my life. What I can admit however, in honesty, is that my parents’ divorce was a turning point for me as a human being. What I mean by that is that as a boy becoming a man—and as a boy interpreting the emotional incursions of divorce into the reality that is life—I came to understand that what defines a person is what material we’re made out of. After moving to college, I came to unavoidably experience internally and what I was not made out of. I was not made of internal strength, will power, any kind of belief system, or some image the world made of me. My mind had realized that my exterior had all along been a concoction of external influence, peer pressure, and the desire to people-please. But that was all a facade, not my identity. During my two-year stint in Florida, I learned so much about what I had been holding up in front of me for so many years, and I came to understand more clearly how heavy it was to hold up something that had never been me to begin with. You see, in my mind, my identity had begun with my parents’ divorce because my mind had overwritten the first ten years and redefined who I was based on the newfound pain. That was my premature response to dealing with trauma when I was doing everything I could to refuse the reality taking shape. Moving to California after that helped discover the next piece of the puzzle in finding myself. 

THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD

Realizing who we aren’t is no one’s epilogue; it is merely a cliff note alluding to the cantankerous reality that is human life in a corrupted world. Realizing who we are, on the other hand, is the body of our story on Earth. This is what I came to understand after I left Florida and found myself in California. 

Jesus Christ is my Lord and my best friend. But I didn’t know that until I moved to California and felt His presence come alive in me. If you’re wondering what that feels like, I can’t promise you that what it felt like then and what it feels like for me today is what it would feel like for you. God’s presence is like so many things. For me, it’s like wiping the dust and dirt off of my glasses and my eyes and peering into the world without distraction or filter. His presence feels like clarity, the way it feels to look out a window into a brutal rainstorm to witness what the beauty of danger looks like without being harmed. His presence brings satisfaction to the soul even if it doesn’t bring complacency to the body. God’s presence reveals the beauty behind everything, even disaster, and it opens my eyes to witness the majesty that is behind His creation: His fingerprint, His signature; His love. 

OUR PAST IS A VEIL TO THE PURPOSE OF OUR LIVES

The reason why it’s important to keep the past in mind is to understand as a witness the way God works through pain, suffering, challenge, trauma, adversity, confusion, and doubt. But the past isn’t the dictionary of our soul; our past is the veil in which, when removed, reveals the true beauty in believing there is more to this life and its agonies than merely leaving the veil draped, mystifying the purpose for why we’re here. We’re not here to hold up facades or to be defined by our pain; we are here to learn, understand and receive how God works, speaks, and lives in our hearts—that even in every moment of Earthly pain—with Jesus, we hold a higher purpose through our pain. 

Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone’s past plays a significant role in the way we choose to move forward. The problem is, we cannot move forward if we choose to live in the past. This is why hindsight is a blessing: We’re able to look into the past to remember why our present is so important. The past isn’t meant for dwelling, but rather it is meant to be a reference point for improvement. Our pain is a way of reminding us why we wouldn’t want to make the same mistakes again. Even doubt rather than belief is significant in pointing out to ourselves why we are skeptical about one thing but more open or receptive to another. The veil of disbelief, for example, covers over not only our lack of belief, but over our ability to witness meaning in life beyond the value we place on our jobs, marriages, or families. When we live for these things, we depend on them for our happiness. But these things will always disappoint, sooner or later, causing us pain. This is the veil of skepticism at its worst. When we must objectify the meaning of our life to circumstance, we have forgotten purpose altogether, disparaging our present by declaring that our every breath is as meaningless as the pointless suffering we must battle stoically without belief that our suffering happens for a reason. In other words, if we depend on circumstance rather than hope and purpose in something beyond this life and this moment, then we set ourselves up for disappointment, constantly pleading for our present to live up to an expectation that it could never achieve.

THERE IS ONLY HOPE, THERE IS ONLY NOW

This is life when our past controls us, when we refuse to learn from the pain of our past rather than use the pain to clarify our present and cling to a reality that no longer exists. This is disbelief in the face of a world that contends a purposeful life—where God uses our greatest hopes to help us reap the benefits of growing through the pain in what we experience—above a life where circumstance will never live up to our hopes or fantasies. Here, we let go of the acrimony of the past and cling to the hope that God instills through strengthening us in His love. Here, we experience His presence and come to know Him not only through Scripture, but through personal testimony, prayer, community, nature, and the actual sensations in our heart and spirit reminding us that not only are we not alone, but that our pain is but a means of growing closer to God by seeking intimacy in the presence of His grace, love, mercy, and compassion.

I am not my parents’ divorce, one of the most painful experiences of my existence. You, too, are not your worst pain. Through Christ, we are made stronger because of our pain and through our pain, and our Lord God promises we will never be alone, nor will we ever be forsaken (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Be encouraged with this truth, and remade with this promise, in Jesus name.

LET’S CONNECT

If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to read more, please follow this blog, and please share this with anyone. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, Pinterest at Lance Price Blog 2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. If you have any questions or thoughts, please share them with me in the comments below. May God bless you today

Conquer

The Significance Of Pain

The shock of trauma is the deadliest lie about pain, influencing the idea that pain is to be associated with fear. Where setting the surface of our skin on fire feels atrociously unpleasant, it teaches us not to do what led our skin to be caught on fire ever again. In this one sense, the existence and experience of pain is made purposeful, though excruciating. Likewise, the modern fallacy that pain is bad is exhaustively misguided by the preemptive decision to connote the message of threat to the experience of pain, marking it as meaningless and morbid. If pain is truly without purpose and therefore unnecessary, then what is to be explained of people’s opportunistic chances to learn from their most painful experiences?

Why write about this? If we continue to view pain as an obstacle to overcome rather than a tool to utilize, we will forever resist what was meant to help us develop into stronger, pertinacious individuals; remaining cantankerous in the face of challenge and childish in the absence of maturity. In this article, I will reiterate an approach to pain that I hope you will find helpful and indicative of a healthier response to our multifarious circumstances.

THE ROOT OF HEARTBREAK

Heartbreak is a form of pain, and it is also an opportunity to leave an otherwise potentially noxious relationship. Sometimes separation happens when we least expect it, whereas other times it doesn’t happen soon enough. The excruciation of heartbreak operates in the same way as catching on fire; instead of standing still and burning, we move and extinguish the flames before permanent damage is incurred. In this way, heartbreak tends to project the notion that we were meant to live alone, that we aren’t worth loving, or perhaps that the love we project is dangerous for someone else—leading us to believe we are incapable of loving others properly and convinced our perception of love is so convoluted as to be warped with no hope of redirection. These are the emotional “flames” of heartbreak. How does one extinguish these flames?

Well, first off, we need to acknowledge those thoughts written above are all fallacies, of course, rooted in the fear birthed from a lack of feeling like we belong anywhere. Since the fear of being unlovable or of being incapable of loving others occurs in our first relationships, we know our fear is rooted in family. 

FAMILIAL EMANCIPATION AND THE MEANING OF “HOME-LESSNESS”

For the first ten years of my life, my family introduced me to movie nights or TV show-marathons on Fridays, outdoor fun on Saturdays, Catholic church on Sunday mornings, and playing ball outside on weekday nights; it was either the American Dream, or it was my idyllic fantasy of a perfect life before I was aware of such a phrase. As many of you know, my parents divorced when I was 11. That familial schism caused such a traumatic ripple effect that it literally sent all of my three siblings (I am the youngest of four) to three different states, each at their own time. While I’m sure personal endeavors at least partially inspired my siblings to their distant locations (college was among those inspirations for the oldest two), what is more telling is how they didn’t came back for more than holiday visits.

They say home is where the heart is, and while many young adults do in fact move out of their parents house when they are old enough and can afford an independent living—not every grown-up child intentionally moves out-of-state, far away from their parents and maintains that geographical distance long-term. That is the story of my family however, and indeed, that is also a big picture view of the effects of divorce. 

Needless to say, the experience of that trauma led me to believe that there was something wrong about me, or about life as a whole, that it would include the agony that I came to experience so soon after the divorce. What happened to me emotionally after the divorce is nothing shy of what happens to every boy when he loses the confidence in his parents’ love for him: He looks for it elsewhere, all the while sure that he is unworthy of it because his own parents couldn’t extend it in a way more palpable than separation and the ambiguities of “what it all means” when everything is finalized.

Divorce “breaks the rules” of a healthy home life, debilitating the image of a stabilized family regimen and disparaging the emotional security of what it means for a home to be home. Having two homes is not better than one when you must acclimate on an exhausting weekly basis to actively participate as a sentient constituent of two households, two very different and distinct ways of living, and two very opposite family dynamics. All of my teen years were spent trying to be the right kind of son to two very different parents in very different home lives. And that is why home, for me, post-divorce, completely lost its definition altogether. What happened to me next propelled me to understand what it means to need to know why we as humans are alive.

ELONGATED SUFFERING

The pain of my parents’ divorce led me to attempt suicide multiple times, which stirred tension namely for my mom. I discovered creative ways to employ pain on myself; I felt I deserved to bleed if I deserved to experience such excruciating pain such as divorce, so I would cut myself and watch the blood trickle out. Those experiences left scars that remind me of a time when I truly experienced the reality of self-loathing and the most extreme convolutions of detachment. My view was that if there was a loving God, He wouldn’t allow such pain to come to exist. That, still even today, is among the most prominent of arguments for atheists who disbelieve in an all-loving God as described in the Bible. I can speak with extraordinary empathy for each and every atheist for that matter because I used to be one. And the reason I am no longer an atheist is because of what I discovered through experience, time, insistence, intention, and the unstoppable urge to find answers to intrinsic questions that left me threatening myself once again with suicide if I couldn’t find the answers. 

THE UNSTOPPABLE URGE TO DISCOVER MEANING

Years of inner torment would lead anyone to desire extreme outcomes. For me, those outcomes were as simple as they were extreme and possibly even morbid. Either I would discover a purpose beyond myself that provided a viable reason for me to want to live, or I would end my life with the confirmed and inarguable truth that there was nothing worth living for, breathing for, or even remotely trying for. When I was 20, I discovered I wanted to attend college to become a filmmaker since I loved movies so much. I thought the idea of becoming a filmmaker sounded cool and impressive, and it fed my ego. So I worked for one more year at the grocery store I’d worked at for four years prior to save up some money for that trip. When I finally got to move, I drove myself with my mom (who flew back to Michigan after helping get me there) down to Florida, but it wasn’t just a move to study film; it was a move away from the traumatic memories of my parents sitting me down to tell me they were getting a divorce; it was a move away from the many heartbreaks in school that ripped my heart to pieces and made me feel even more worthless inside. And most intrinsically, it was a move towards finding myself and my purpose in a place not encompassed in the atmosphere of familial agony and self-abhorrence. 

WHEN MY SOUL DISCOVERED ITSELF

After moving to Florida and far away from everything familiar, several factors hit me in the face like a cement wall:

  1. I had no idea who I was, and I was shell-shocked at how little about me I actually knew.
  2. Faith in Christ is less about knowledge, and more about empirical experience; obedience, faith, and slowing down enough to examine how God’s love works through our every-day circumstances, others in our lives, and the small blessings (i.e. the taste of food, the sound of music) as well as the bigger and possibly more obvious blessings (i.e. affording rent, having a family to come home to, etc.)–and worshipping Him for providing these blessings!
  3. My self-worth had been pulled back from my family’s influence and handed over to women for many years. In other words, I came to realize through faith in Christ how I had been associating my worth with how much women wanted me in their lives romantically (which wasn’t much, which made me all the more desperate).

I later learned after I’d moved away from Michigan how number 3 is common, and that for boys without a strong bond with their parents, basically, we take a lot of perspective of ourselves from how our parents view us and treat us, and we project that perception from our parents onto others, further ingesting others’ perception of us in the same manner we would our parents, thus associating the weight of our worth based on others’ opinions of us. When I realized this of course, I had to learn to retract my old habits to allow Jesus to help me structure in new habits; healthier perspectives that would allow me to see myself without outside influence.

All of these realizations culminated in me understanding something I never had before: When I die, I’m going to be somewhere—and where I will be will depend on the belief in my heart, and concordantly the way I live based on that belief. This meant that I had something inside me that was constantly being influenced and challenged; something deeper than character and personality, more eternal than thought and more intrinsic than emotion—in short, a soul.

WHAT IT MEANS TO DESERVE PAIN

Every time I hear the argument of pain and human suffering being a curse in life, I think of the times I cut myself because I believed I deserved it. I believed I did not deserve anything good and so cutting myself was my “rational” response to executing justice. How do I see it now? I understand where my thoughts were at the time, and I obviously disagree now, but what I see most differently is not what you might expect. I actually believe even more now that I deserve pain, but I believe that Jesus took that away when He was crucified. In dying for me, I believe He stood in the place of what I deserve for my selfish ambitions, for my lust, and for my pride. Through Him, I now believe He has taken justice for my actions into His own hands (literally nailed into them), and now I no longer have that price on my head. It was given to Jesus 100%. I have Him to be eternally grateful for every day; a reason to experience joy in every moment through faith in His life and resurrection.

THE VALUE OF PAIN

Considering this, what is the value of pain? We claim God would never allow harm to come to us if He was so loving, but how can we justify that? What kind of life would we allow our children to have if we never allowed them to walk by themselves without holding their hand to absolutely ensure they would never fall? Not only would they never reach independence, they would never truly live. What kind of life would we allow our children to live if we gave them everything they ever wanted every waking moment of their entire life? Not only would they be spoiled and feel no need to try at anything, set goals, nor put their mind and heart into a passion or hobby—they would expect the world to act the same way, and obviously that is not realistic as the world operates whether you acclimate or not. If we allow our children to fall, do they learn to get up? Of course! How else do they learn to go from crawling to walking, and from walking to running? Through repetition; trial and error. Likewise, when God allows us to experience pain, not only has He given us the freedom to know what to avoid and why to avoid it, He also opened our eyes to see what we could do instead. Pain is not a threat or a curse, it is a lesson. When we learn, we improve. How would we improve if we were never given the chance to try learning in the first place? If God always held our hand and never let us roam independently—while of course keeping His eyes on us to ensure nothing fatal would occur—we would never learn the ropes of the world, never grow adventurous or curious, and certainly we would not develop creativity or excitement for something new. When we experience pain, we learn something invaluable.

LEARNING FROM TRAUMA

In the moment, pain can be excruciating, as was my parents’ divorce for me. But since I learned about Jesus, I have come to understand things I never had before. I now understand that He was holding out His hand every time I fell down—whenever I wanted to cut myself, kill myself, write angry poetry, lust after women instead of Him, or live selfishly instead of seeking something meaningful in life to pursue (like loving others through Jesus)—and it was me who never reached back out and grabbed His out-stretched hand. 

The most important thing I’ve learned that applies to me about my parents’ divorce is that their marriage ending doesn’t define my present or my future, and so it doesn’t define me. My response to what happens to me defines me, and even more so, my faith defines me. Jesus defines me. Everything I’ve experienced and learned from has led me here, to this blog. Here, writing gives me one a way (of many) to use my pain to help others like you.

See, I experienced pain I would never want others to experience, but I believe pain is not a curse, but a blessing; a tool, if you will. If I had never experienced the pain that I did, why would I want to help anyone based on what I learned from it? How would Jesus have shown Himself to me if everything was always as idyllic as it had been?

I write this article to encourage you to look at pain and recognize it with a different perspective. We never “defeat pain,” we merely recognize it’s there and apply ourselves to what must be taken away from our experience. Through Christ, all things are made new. If my parents’ debilitating divorce didn’t ruin me, then the trauma you have experienced can help you to help others through Christ also. We can come to see how God works through suffering by understanding the purpose of pain is not to hinder us or to destroy us, but to develop our sense of reality and to teach us to live more boldly, confidently, and with a more sincere, genuine intent to help others who are suffering in their lives. 

THERE IS HOPE

I hope that in reading this, you can understand that pain is not something you need to hide from, but something to embrace:

(John 16:33 MSG) “I’ve told you all of this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

If you resonated with this article and would like to read more, please follow this blog, and please share this with anyone. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. If you have any questions or thoughts, please share them with me in the comments below. May God bless you today!

Father and Son: What Matters Most

My dad reads my blog, and that alone makes me a very proud writer. I don’t think I’m perfect, and I know I’ll never be perfect (I’m always rewriting, editing, changing, and rethinking the changes and re-edits). But my dad reads every word and always has positive feedback. He always has encouragement to give me, and words of love and wisdom; extensions of himself which allow me the space to both be myself and to extend beyond myself in my own choice of words. He knows the purpose of my blog is to proclaim the Truth of Jesus, and he knows how important it is to me to reach readers, whether Christian or not. And when he speaks to me in that space, he speaks into my most deepest desires as a writer with compassion and concern. There is nothing held back, but there is nothing to hold back; he loves me for who I am and why I do what I do. He knows that the reason I want to write is not about popularity or fame, but to extend myself to every person so that they might be inspired and encouraged to find the love of Jesus in their hearts. And, because of this, he wants me to succeed. He doesn’t want me to succeed just to become popular; he cares to see that I become the best at what I love doing.

That… is what a father does.

I love my dad. Many years ago, when my parents divorced, our relationship was strained. There were many, many years that passed that I could only describe poignantly in hindsight. Our relationship was, in my words: stagnant, and unprogressive, and unnatural. That is not to his fault, since I know he was going through so much already as a man. But, you see, I was able to see that after looking back on that time, when I became a Christian.

For the longest time, I didn’t feel anything for my dad because I didn’t feel emotionally engaged with him. There were many years that passed before that aspect to our relationship began to show itself. During the in-between time, he tried to get me to church just so that I would keeping the concept of God in my heart, but I was very defiant and obstinate with regards to faith. God didn’t make sense: why would a God give me parents who weren’t meant to be together just so they could divorce, ruin all that I was used to and cherished as a happy life, and then say, “Come on back to worship me, the one tearing your life to shreds.” If that was God, then I was having no part in it. Atheism set in and, needless to say, at the time, made perfect sense.

Mom and dad raised all of us kids Catholic (I have three older siblings), putting us all through the same Catholic elementary, middle, and high schools. That experience was utterly exhausting, excruciatingly judgmental and non-accepting of the transitions I was experiencing at home. My favorite moments of each day, no idioms here–were walking from my car to the school in the mornings, and my walks back to the car from the school in the afternoon. That was it. Everything else faded away in the gloss of agony, despair, rage, depression; the atheistic back-drop of my disappointing existence.

During this time, I didn’t feel like my dad was really there. I believe he was doing what he needed to do to continue on the journey of life he was on, and he didn’t know how to respond or reach out to yet another child’s response to family drama. Honestly, I don’t blame him, because I believe everything happens for a reason. I had to grow into the man I am today in a different way than other men do. My dad was never absent or ever abusive, he was there every day; but I chose to go in my room and close the door. Do I wish he would have come to me and tried breaking in to my bubble of darkness? Yes. I can never blame my dad for being a bad father, or claim he never tried to love me. What I can say is that it took me about 15 years to understand and comprehend his way of loving me, and to step into that understanding and embrace the way he had always loved me— so that I could feel it for myself as his son. That was the most precious part of our relationship, for me, as father and son: learning to feel loved by him when I had felt so distant for so many years before.

There is nothing of blame here—I absolutely love my dad, words could never capture adequately enough the love I have for my dad. Do I wish he had broken through the wall of my rebellion and stepped into my struggles more intimately with me while I was in them? Sure. I often wonder what may have changed for the better earlier on in my life if he had. But that is not regret or resentment speaking. That is an observation I’ve made after accepting that there was a reason why my dad operated the way he did as a father during that season of my life. There are reasons for our relationship making the twists and turns that it did in order for it to arrive where it is today… and where we are today, I am more grateful than I could ever explain.

For the sons out there—- if your dad left before you were born, or if they were too busy to give you a few moments of their time to let you know with their love, patience, smiles, hugs, and time spent wrestling or playing ball outside (my dad taught me to ride a bike and throw a ball–) just how much you were always loved, and how much you deeply mattered to them– I am so sorry that you never experienced manhood from your dad. That is traumatic, and wrong. Fathers are meant to embrace their role and carry us through all our childhood years by their presence, love, confidence, emotional dependability, wisdom to answer our struggles with compassion, and simultaneously feed us the zeal to overcome our fears and bullies. Fathers are the ones who teach us how to stick it out to the boys who try to tear us down. They lift us up when we are sad, and they give us a reason to want to keep going when the world tries to tell us to forfeit all of our will.

They are not meant to leave you to become a man on your own, and they are not meant to leave you to define your own purpose in your life, nor leave open the void of validation for others to fill; such as women, sex, drugs, alcohol, workaholism, materialism, and self-doubt. If this is all you know, you have my sympathy. You also have my extension of courage and motivation to not let that be the end of your story. When I had had it with not only Catholicism, but all religion, I became an atheist. For seven years, I looked at the world and saw darkness, loneliness, hatred, and disgust. They were very, very dark, saddening years; empty of all passion for life. I was fragile, sensitive, stubborn, and overly analytical. It’s not a big mystery to me that my dad didn’t seem to reach out more when all I seemed to want was space.

But that wasn’t the end of my story. After those seven years, I was even more tired of the absence of meaning in my life than I had been the betrayal of the image of a happy life with one, undivided family. As a 21-year-old, I was curious. Not seeking the Jesus I was raised with in Catholicism, but curious. I had been reminded of in a cacophony of guilt, shame, and accusatory insinuations that people– including me–were the cause of Jesus’ death. Therefore the main point of Catholicism to me, from where I was standing as a young adolescent with a divorcing family– was that I was to blame for Jesus’ crucifixion, and that I should seek forgiveness for something I never understood. That was Catholicism for my entire childhood, and by the time the divorce happened, I didn’t feel any love of God. I just felt blamed. Atheism made much more sense. I didn’t need guilt about a God that didn’t make any sense to me having died because of me. That was the final straw for me, and the beginning of seven years of denial.

After that, God Himself led me to Florida, where I met a man of God who was open and inviting about faith. Jesus met me in Florida, because He knew I wouldn’t meet Him in Michigan (where I was born). It was there that my faith began; from just the seed of mere curiosity, and not for anything specific, but just for something to fill in the blank; a generic response to a vague concept. Funny, what I received in response to the desire for something so simple and undeterminable was the most complex, sophisticated, intricate, and satisfying (over the course of 8 years and still going) answer I could have ever tried to imagine. And it was in this Godzilla of a response that I discovered, through much difficult question and answer sessions with friends, spiritual guides/mentors/pastors/prayer partners/life groups, that a father like mine could love me the way he did. God revealed to me, after taking me out of a place I was refusing to see Him in and placing me in a location much more stable and rectifying of my anger and doubts– that not only had my dad always loved me, but that–just as I was blind to see God in my life through the work of Jesus Christ for all those years–I was just as blind to see my own father loving me on earth despite my walled-up presence and desire for isolation.

What a miracle that was! Imagine my response when I realized that not only was there a God (who just so happened to become flesh, die, and resurrect so that I could be with Him in Heaven when I die), but that my earthly dad loved me for all the years when I was hiding in my room hating life and all the pain that was driving me away from joy.

Now, today, in 2016, Jesus is my joy. I’m on fire for God, ready to accept challenges and always pondering what He’s doing each and every day. And along the way, I have a blog where I can share myself with others, asking questions to the world that I have also faced at one time or another–or may still be facing now–to inspire people to better their own spirituality, knowing full well how my own story could easily relate to others who have experienced trauma, and turned away from theology and Jesus. My dad knows ALL OF THIS, and he loves me for why I do what I do.

That… is what a dad does.

Does your dad do that? If he doesn’t, could you bring that to his attention? If you are a believer of Jesus, have you tried talking to you earthly father about your Father in Heaven? If you aren’t a Christ-follower, even in your unbelief, can you speak the truth to your dad that you need him to show you how he really feels, so that you can feel whole as you confront a life full of unknowns? If your dad has abused you, can you turn to a healthy father-figure and ask them to be your inspiration, your role model, your word of wisdom and crutch while you don’t understand life quite yet? This is what a father does. If your dad can’t or won’t, will you find one who will?

God the Father loves every single human being, because He uniquely made each and every one of us. Jesus died for you so you could live in radical joy of the hope to come. Will you lean into that promise, that love–that joy–and express it to others around you?

Fathers, will you lean in to your children and love them in every way you have read about here, and more?

Dad, I love you. Thank you for being a dad I can love with all my heart, pushing me to the next step. I’m very thankful for you.