Sometimes a friend will ask me for advice because they feel like they’re going nowhere in life. They tell me their whole story, whether for two minutes or two hours, and I listen.
I can see they’re totally dead inside. Their eyes are hollowed out. Their hands shake. They have that numb zombified look of giving in to lesser things. They have the desperate look of the Reaper coming to collect their corpse.
It’s always because of a boyfriend. Or a lack of purpose. Or terrible parents. Or a ninth year in college. Or an addiction: porn, heroin, meth, weed, people. Or a low-grade haunting fatigue and depression and cynicism with no discernible cause.
It’s all these things but none of these things. It is emptiness, and we try to fill it by finding a god in things that are not God.
At this point, I tell them:
You stand on the precipice of a very difficult decision, where you can let go of your dead-end self-induced slavery and turn away from everything that is draining the light out of your eyes. You can walk away from the wreckage. A clean break. You are young and it’s not too late. Tomorrow can be a different day. A fresh start. A new you. A rediscovery of who you are and who God made you to be.
Because I’ve seen your story a million times. You have fun for a little while with semi-interesting people in dimly lit venues putting things into your veins while saying popular catchphrases to win your cultural zeitgeist and you’re certain that this pseudo-rebellion is everything you’ve always wanted.
Except here you are with me, asking me for help, because on some level you know you’re settling for less and selling yourself short and doing nothing valuable and you’ve become this fake version of you, and time is running short and your friends are getting younger and you feel creepier and cheaper and lonelier everyday. You’re tired of being someone else’s boredom-filler.
I hate to be a jerk about it and I know it’s hard: but I think you already know the answer. I think you know there’s no easy way to do this except to crawl out of the burning building and to be free of all this stuff that is less than you.
It’s going to suck, but unless you walk away, you will end up right back to this seat in front of me and ten years will have passed with the same story and the same emptiness.
I just love you, and God loves you, and we don’t want you to fake it anymore.
I don’t know what it will look like for you to turn. Smash it to pieces. Tell it goodbye. Throw it in the trash. Get your friend to stop you. Go to rehab or turn yourself in or get a therapist. It will probably be drastic and dramatic. You’ll hate giving it up, because it’s your baby, your god, your idea of you.
You might have to leave people behind, mostly people who want to stay there. Some might follow. It might feel like you’re killing a part of yourself. You might fail to get away for a while. Your “friends” will hate your guts. You’ll think I was wrong, that you were wrong, that you were crazy to ever think of walking away. You might go back and it could even be okay, if you’re really lucky.
But sometimes I see the other end of this story. I see people who really make that hard decision and really persevere and suddenly find out there must be more to life than self-entertainment and preservation.
They find a purpose and their God and their meaning and their value and dignity and self-respect, and the light comes back on in their eyes. They actually start doing something worth a damn.
They drop the zombie look. They take big risks with charity and generosity and big ideas and grand visions and care about all those things we always wanted to care about.
They get to “help people” like we said we would when we were six years old dreaming of being firefighters and doctors and superheroes. They get to be on those exciting adventures like the ones we read about in those inspirational articles we share on Facebook that we could supposedly never do ourselves.
And there’s nothing wrong with “partying.” You’ll outgrow all the old stuff but you can be around it without being controlled by it: because it doesn’t hold weight anymore. You actually learn how to celebrate for real: because there’s a direction, a richness to your one God-given life. I think what you think is partying right now is actually just little kids playing grown-up, and real partying is what grown-ups do when they see their ideas come alive.
If you decide to wait it out: I think your existential itch will keep bothering you. The cognitive dissonance will be too much to bear. But what will hold you back from moving forward is the fear. To be honest, it’s scary as hell to leave all that comfort and your cute friends and your whole escape-routine. Everyone likes mindlessness. It’s easier. So we just keep being afraid. I understand that.
I just don’t think it’s worth it.
But hey, God has grace for you whatever you decide to do. I just think that for one type of person, God’s grace sort of gets them out of trouble and helps them barely make it. That’s for mostly all of us. But for the other person: God’s grace actually empowers them for something more. It drives them to a real life. It gives them a soul. Their eyes quit being dead.
I don’t mean you sell your stuff and move to Zimbabwe, unless you want to. I don’t mean you go to church nine times a week and lead the choir, unless that’s your thing. I just mean: you make a difference in your corner of the universe.
That’s probably really corny and it sounds like a bumper sticker, but it doesn’t mean it’s untrue. I bet you’ve been waiting for it your whole life. You’ve been thirsty to do something else. And I hope you let go of whatever you need to so you can make it happen, so at the very least, you can move on and stop feeling this way.
You can get out of this fog and feel like you’re breathing your own air. You can finally feel like a real human being.
This is morbid for me to say so: but I think you’ll look back from your deathbed on this day and you won’t regret letting go. It’ll be the day you said —
“I was living however I wanted, but I knew something had to change, and as hard as it was: I walked away. I chose something better. It was the day I really became free. By the grace of God, I made something out of my life. I made something. And it was a good life.”