WR Retold: Cynicism and Despondency

There were things that happened on the World Race that we just didn’t understand at the time. Or, they were too embarrassing, too vulnerable, too complex for me to have the language to convey them at the time with any honesty. So, with the clarity of hindsight, I want to open up some old memory boxes here.

Today I will attempt to distill a big transition that happened out there, which took half the Race to make sense to me.

It was month 6, the midpoint of the Race, when my team arrived at a missions base in south India. I was tired and confused, and was chewing on a lot. I was seeing for the first time that just doing and speaking were not enough, that somehow there was an inversion in progress inside me … but it felt stuck.

Thus, I decided I would stop doing for that month, and just sit, rest, listen, and internalize. My teammates went out each day to do their work around the city, and I stayed at base. Most mornings I woke up slowly, tried to resist the urge to jack around for too long on the wireless internet (a rare luxury), and then made my way up to the rooftop patio before the day grew too hot.

There was solitude up there like I’d never known — three weeks of essentially nil responsibility, each day just aiming to be quiet for several hours, pray for my team, listen to my God, and figure out what the hell was going on inside me. It was a good time … but only in retrospect. During those weeks, it was rough. Frustrating. Boring. Nervous. I couldn’t be still. I would have to wait and sit for a period of about 90 minutes each day just to let my mind spin itself out of ideas, before clarity and calm finally set in.

Those weeks were surprisingly difficult. In my blogs I referred to those weeks as a “crucible”. I saw for the first time that my mind was like a hyperactive child or a demanding tyrant, endlessly casting schemes and ideas, incessantly requesting stimulus, or inventing cures for the boredom … no, it wasn’t just boredom — cures for the apathy and depression that was starting to boil up in me. But I didn’t quite get that, yet.

I finished three weeks of stillness without any great solace, resolution, or sense of comprehension. I had come face to face with my own inner turmoil, but still felt lost. I was still pissed off, and I never wanted to come back to India.

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The next month, Ukraine, was even harder. We arrived in western Ukraine and found that our contacts had far less for us to do than we imagined. We would need to set out on our own in the city each day and see somehow if we could share the gospel with someone, somehow. There were members of our team that responded to this lack of structure with energy and excitement … but I responded less positively.

I had been told before entering eastern Europe that there was an attitude of hopelessness and apathy in the air there, and to be careful with that. I got hit with it. Bad. I lost hope that any of our work there would have any effect or benefit. I wondered how we’d bridge the language gap to communicate anything at all to these people. I became moody and depressed. I remember there were a couple of mornings when Jake had to actually convince me that it was still worth getting out of bed that day. I got hit.

One day, I went on a jog through the city with my team leader Janina. Something happened there. Through our conversation, she managed to suggest to me, gently and carefully, that she thought I was depressed — not just that month, but perhaps had always been.

That idea rocked me … not because it was weird, but because I knew immediately that it was true. I looked back and saw that my melancholy had begun when I was a kid, and later grew into a kind of chronic low-level cynicism, a despondency that showed itself intermittently through seasons, but was too amorphous to warrant any attention as “actual” clinical depression. I had lived with this, and grown familiar with it, even comfortable.

A couple of other things happened that month. I came into the possession of Your People Shall Be My People, and I cried, cried hard, as I read it and realized how I had turned my back on my own heritage. I had let scorn and bitterness dominate my view of my Jewish roots, but this book pried open those scabs and invited me to rediscover what was good and beautiful about this ancestry. It was a pivot point in my story.

Finally, another conversation with my Janina helped me realize that there were hurts that had been propagated through generations of my family … and if I wanted, I could mark the end of the line for those abuses. In the charismatic world we would call that a generational curse, and Jesus was inviting me to become the answer, or the end, of that particular succession.

In spite of all this, when we moved from Ukraine into Romania, I was still hurting, still confused, still cynical — more than any other time on the Race so far. I didn’t know how I was going to last another month in such a state.

This story will continue (and resolve) in a day or two.

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