All or Nothing
I’m not sure where my all-or-nothing view of life started.
Was it growing up Lutheran? Things were pretty simple at my church, and people were basically good or bad. Mostly good, to be honest, because that’s how we saw the world. Bad guys were somewhere “over there” and not a real part of our lives.
Was it from reading all those comic books? I loved comics in the days before edgy superheros. The villains were bad. The heroes were good. The good guys faced terrible circumstances, but things always worked out in the end and they never sat around thinking “Oh, I am so tortured by my existence! I have a bazillion dollars and all the gadgets and toys I could want and yet… I am so SAD!”
Was it from television? Plots were simple, problems were more embarrassing than tragic, and everything was fine in thirty minutes. Probably less with commercials, which also showed problems being solved easily with the correct toothpaste, hamburger, action figure or pill.
It could just as easily be the way I’m wired. I was (am) a fixer by nature. I always prefered problems with clear parameters and obvious action points. I wanted situations to be good or bad. I would dive in headfirst to fix the problem, or I would run, avoiding the messiness if I couldn’t clean it up.
Peter and I would’ve been friends, I think. Leaping into the fray. Laying everything on the line. Making some grand gesture that would solve everything.
Falling apart when our masterful schemes didn’t work.
All-or-nothing described my emotions, too. When I was happy, I ignored any snags and complications. When I was sad, the waves overwhelmed me, and I was determined to escape the situation, whatever it was, so I could be happy again. That approach worked pretty well, and on most days, to be honest, I was happy.
Again, I think Peter could relate. He raced from astonishment to joy and from despair to fierce devotion and never seemed to pause anywhere in between.
All or nothing.
The last few years have been challenging. Darkness lurked beneath the surface, but I tried to ignore it. I kept my nose to the grindstone and continued pushing toward happy. My coping strategies began to fail, and I couldn’t pretend to be fine when I wasn’t.
I couldn’t see my own reality even though many of my closest friends have battled depression. I’d watched them, inspired by their courage, as they fought back. They sought professional counseling. They prayed. They used medicine to balance and calm their body chemistry.
Despite their examples, I carried so many wrong ideas.
If I were depressed I’d never laugh.
If I were depressed, I’d stay in bed all day.
If I were depressed, I’d feel as bad as _____.
If I were depressed, the rain clouds from those antidepressant commercials would follow me everywhere I went.
Wasn’t that how it worked?
This wrong thinking kept me from getting help. I minimized my struggles because they didn’t seem bad enough. I didn’t listen to the full range of my emotions because I was too busy trying to force my way back to being happy.
Through the wisdom and love of many, many good friends (I think it was the 13th person I dearly love and respect saying “You need to see someone” that finally pushed me over the edge), I admitted I was depressed. I admitted my all-or-nothing view was wrong. I showed God my ridiculous mishmash of emotions and confessed I couldn’t fix them on my own. He was not surprised.
I’m still not fixed. Who is? What would that even look like?
But I’m finding a rhythm. I’m learning to find peace in the balance of all the things I feel, not just the socially acceptable ones.
I’m learning that my mishmash isn’t bad. My emotions are a kaleidoscope. My happiness will always contain murky bits of glass and my darkest days will always have a few glinting pieces of hope. They all tumble together, and God’s light shines through the beautiful mess. Not all dark. Not all light. All me.
Maybe the “all” part of all-or-nothing is the part that’s true. Peter could deeply regret denying Christ and still feel joy and boldness in serving him. I can mourn my many mistakes and still serve willingly when called to action. Peter could hear Jesus’ words about his own fearful death, and still speak boldly with passion and courage. I can be gripped by fear and doubt and still step forward into the unknown. Peter could look with pride at a flourishing community of excited, growing believers and still miss Jesus’ voice. I can rejoice in the new people who are finding a home at Imago, and still carry my own sadness and loss.
I hope your kaleidoscope is full of light in this season, but don’t be afraid of the darker bits. Let them all be who you are. May God show you the beauty in your mishmash.
Bryan has no favorite sports team, but many favorite people, especially his wife Laura, and their suddenly grown daughters Lily and Claire. By day he herds third graders, and by night he solves the world’s problems in coffee shops, tackles his perpetual pile of half-read books, looks for the best in people and leads the Formation Team. He’s learning to speak GIF.