Our Light Affliction

I Don't Care by Michael Nichols

Once upon a time, I found Jesus. More accurately, He found me. After spending a really long time not knowing how much I need Him, I finally saw myself for who I was, and I called out to Him in response to His call to me. That was almost seven years ago. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that I didn't love, not truly. I knew that in order to love, I needed to accept His. I needed to really believe He loved me. So I did. My whole paradigm changed that day.

That doesn't mean anything else changed. I was already on a trajectory away from Him. I was on a road I didn't belong on. As an excellent Wavorly song says, "Turning around was never so hard til I found us far apart." At that point, I was really far away, heading further, and had no idea which way to turn. Imagine yourself lost on a dark night with a broken light and a broken compass, and nothing but two ears and a voice guiding you home. Even better: imagine yourself in the Millennium Falcon, crashing toward Starkiller Base, unable to pull up, not knowing the defector storm trooper was a janitor and new nothing about blowing the place up.

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I had no idea what was in store. I really didn't. I knew things would be difficult, but I had no clue of the depth of it. I don't remember being as bombarded with temptations and heartaches as when I started following Christ. Yet I don't know that I've seen more personal growth happen in me than when I started following Christ.

I'm not going to blather on about all the things that happened between 2009 and 2013. If you've read my blog before, you know. If you want to know, read it.

In one respect, I'm glad for how far I've come, but it hasn't been without cost. That cost has been my ability to care.

I don't care.

Those are three words no one wants to hear. "I don't care" is giving up. On what? Anything.

Have you been told that before? It hurts, doesn't it? Knowing that you're not seen, not heard, invisible, inconsequential.

I hate that about me, which is great because that means all hope is not lost. But right now, that's a problem. The whole reason I decided to follow Jesus was so I could love, not so I could withhold love in apathy.

I'm not sure entirely how I figured it out, but I suddenly noticed lately how much of what has been happening in my life indicates that I don't really care.

The stagnancy of my romantic relationships?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My lack of reading scriptures or praying in a meaningful way?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My isolation from people I claim to care for?

Because I didn't care about anything but my own problems.

My inability to focus long enough to do successful studio takes?

Because I didn't care about them as much as I care about the things distracting me.

My inability to loosen up?

Because I don't care enough about living healthily enough to stop obsessing over the things I want.

My jealousy?

Because I don't care about much else than what I want.

Why I don't try hard enough to change any of this?

Because I don't care to keep failing or hurting, which is, by default, keeping anything good from coming of anything I'm going through.

I don't want to run away from my issues, but I also don't want to run into a worse place. Another song, by Linkin Park this time, says, "Sometimes I think of letting go and never looking back, and never moving forward so there'd never be a past."

Relatable? Too much.

Good way to live? Not ever.

The irony of the whole thing is that we tend to stop caring because of the weight that caring becomes. But to stop caring means your heart has to stop working, and if your heart stops working, you really can't go anywhere. You collapse. You stay where you are. You die.

When you stop caring, you are dead. And it definitely feels the part. At least pain lets you know you're alive, even though it means you're fighting to stay that way. When joy happens, you know you're alive and free.

That's what I think is so powerful about the "joy of salvation" that people talk about. Not only are you alive, not only are you free, but you are now set on a path of becoming more like Christ until His coming, when everything corruptible in us will be replaced with something incorruptible, and we enter eternal life and eternal freedom, where all darkness ends and the light only grows, extending into every corner of creation. It's unstoppable. It's unstoppable good, unstoppable beauty, unstoppable life.

That's something that's actually worth caring about. When we lose sight of that, it's not hard to stop caring about things, especially the more we know about evil and hurt.

I guess that's what I've been missing. With something lasting to care about, whatever else is valuable to us, whatever else brings joy, although temporary, finally gains its true meaning. We finally have a reason to care about it.

A reason to care about him.

About her.

About anyone, anything.

But without context to something eternal, how can anything temporary have meaning?

"Our light affliction, which only lasts for a moment, is working toward an eternal glory that far outweighs anything else. That's why we look not on the things that can be seen, but the things that cannot be seen. Why? Because the things we can see are temporary, but the things we cannot see are eternal." --Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 paraphrase mine)

Heaven And Earth by Michael Nichols

For some reason, Heaven has been on my mind lately. I couldn't tell you exactly why. I could speculate. I mean, there are a lot of little details that are probably motivating me to think about it, but those aren't really important. What I want to work out is what's really happening. The world is full of confusion, disappointment, heartache, you name it. It's been this way as long as anyone can remember, yet a part of us remembers something better. There is a tension between living and dying that we sense as pain. If you know the passage of scripture in which the apostle Paul says, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain," that's what he's talking about. We're being pulled in two directions at the same time. During adversity, we are pulled toward death because we know that we finally be with Christ, with whom every sin and every burden is gone. But this feeling is not the case at all times.

One of the greatest tensions of a Christian is between the desire to live fully here and the desire for pure life with Christ outside of the fallen world. In other words, we want to be in Heaven, but we don’t exactly want to die. We want life here to be as it was intended to be because we know it was intended to be beautiful, not how it is, and not how it must be because of the fall. That’s perfectly understandable. It’s even okay, but we need to move from there into the reality that we now live in.

Things are far from okay here, even though there exist bubbles of isolation from the harsh outer world. Unfortunately, though, they burst. The tension is just too great for them to remain intact. Eventually pain and hope intermingle, but that can be a good thing.

Pain can be a reminder that you still know what hope is, even though it may seem far away. And hope can remind you to be grateful, humble, and reach out to those who are in pain, caught between worlds, looking for a purpose.

Hope is not lost. If you don't know what it looks like, look to Christ.

Have Fun With That by Michael Nichols

Okay, so when you guys read the title just now, did you feel the hint of "no one actually cares" that in my experience most people give when they say it? Good.

I don't mean "good because I'm a jerk and want to make you feel bad." ;)

I mean "good because you will probably completely understand where I'm coming from."

I have this one particular friend that says this a lot.

I have another particular friend who says something similar-ish, but what she says, she says from a different angle. It still kind of sounds odd, but the heart of it seems a lot different.

"That's no fun!"

It's funny (see what I did there?) to think that two similar sayings are usually meant so differently that how they sound. Both are light-hearted-sounding, but neither of them really are, given the context. The first statement seems dismissive while the other seems compassionate, though both have a lighter touch than the emotion they convey. A lot of times, it seems like the people who say those things are the people who are generally light-hearted yet have a depth that might not always be apparent at first glance.

So let's talk about fun. Wow. When I say that out loud, it sounds like a really lame discussion topic. I think my ears might be tricking me, though. I think people like me who often find themselves heavy-hearted need to understand the merits of loosening up.

A while back, I wrote about my first experience dancing. I remember it all. I remember how uncomfortable it was, particularly. I was in the bridal party at the wedding at which this happened. I remember my date partner telling me to loosen up. I remember that when I finally did, I had a blast.

I had fun.

Now, <sarcasm> God forbid that someone like me should ever do anything fun </sarcasm>. But that's something I would have believed at the time. That was toward the end of 2012. I was still dealing with resentment toward two people close to me who hurt me beyond belief, and I had just moved back in with my parents, which was humiliating at best. I was also dealing with the shame of choices I had made during that time. Everything that had hit me had done so one thing after the other, after the other. Suffice it to say that I was worn. Still am for different reasons. Kind of like the Tenth Avenue North song.

Nothing was fun. Honestly, that was the first time in a long time that I had actual fun doing anything. Fear wasn't an option. Nerves weren't an option. Locking up wasn't an option. This was happening. I could either run away or stay and break a cycle of misery that I let myself be a slave to.

It was completely uncomfortable. It was completely worth it.

You may or may not know that I'm making a record this year. Recently, I finished recording the electric rhythm guitars for the record. This may seem unrelated, but humor me, and you'll see. This is something I shared on Facebook about how one of those recording days played out.

I just wanna be completely transparent for a minute.

Recording was awful today. For the purposes of this project, my recorded performances will be limited to vocals, bass, and rhythm guitar. The latter was today, and thankfully, things got better, and I was able to wrap electric rhythm guitars for the record.

But I hit a point during a song that wasn't particularly difficult at all, and somehow I was failing again and again to transition my chords right, sliding too slow, etc. And I hated it. I hated looking in the mirror of my mind and seeing someone who is capable of doing a simple task as completely incapable.

At one point, I had run through that exact part so many times that I just threw my headphones on the ground and wanted to pack it up. Maybe that's my problem. Maybe I give up too easily. Maybe I don't see myself the way I should.

But in the middle of that rage, I felt something saying to me, not so much with words but with heart, "Seriously? You know this isn't the end of the road. You know I made you for more than this. This isn't about music. This isn't about performance. This isn't about you." And you know what? That Voice was right.

We don't always think of self-deprecation as narcissism, but it kind of is. It's self-focused. It isn't focused on God. It isn't focused on loving others. It's focused on separating a person from anything good.

Christ's plan for this record has nothing to do with me proving myself to anyone. It has to do with showing His love to everyone who listens. That's not the attitude I had in the studio. It's my desire to change that attitude. I'd rather not be bitter at myself for being imperfect as literally every human being is. I'd rather be grateful for the opportunity to be chosen to be used by God for a mission that is bigger than my understanding and power. I'd rather be grateful to all of you who have supported me and believed in me so far. So help me God.

I was really feeling decimated. I was so concerned with getting everything right that it was tripping me up. I was stumbling because I didn't want to stumble. See the irony? Because I refused to let go and loosen up and have fun with the process, I couldn't get it right. Music is something that I should enjoy. After all, I want music to be my job, second only to Jesus and my future wife. How exactly am I supposed to not have fun with that?

Not to blame my personality type, but since I'm somewhere in the realm of an ENFJ/ENFP, being around others does something special for me. I am an entirely different person at least in terms of negativity and positivity. For example, when I record alone, I'm more critical and tend to expect failure more readily, and when I mess up it tends to pile up. When I have someone pushing record and with whom I can interact, I just go for it, it usually turns out better, and it's less of an Armageddon story if I mess up.

But why? Why should it matter if I'm with someone or not? Should it matter? I don't think it should, yet it makes a difference for me. I shouldn't need approval. I shouldn't need anyone holding my hand through the process.

Or maybe I should. Maybe this has absolutely nothing to do with my abilities as a guitarist or as a vocalist, but everything to do with my faith in the presence of God and in the love that Christ showed to me and continues to show.

Maybe if my identity were more grounded in who He is and not what I do, I wouldn't be so prone to falling apart with my failures.

Maybe then, I would find it easier to loosen up.

Maybe then, I would have fun even if it's just me by myself.

My worth can't stand alone. Without something weaving all the parts of me together, keeping them a cohesive whole, I cannot stand.

My worth is defined by the way the Father loves me.

It's not defined by how much I get right.

It's not even defined by how well I let go of the things that upset me about myself.

His love is the only thing powerful enough to define me, making His love the only thing that can help me do better and let go of it when I can't seem to.

Motives, Jealousy, and Suicide by Michael Nichols

This year has been about purifying my motives. Actually, that has been the case for much longer. It has just become more obvious this year.

If you have been following the blog over the past few months, you know what I'm talking about. If not, here's what you missed:

The Dream

Walls Come Down

The Adulterer Who Destroyed My Ability to Live in Reality

A few weeks ago, I decided to be re-baptised for the same reason. Before I had truly ever come to trust Jesus, I was baptised once in order to satisfy the clique I was trying to fit in with. The second time was when I had been drawn into a legalistic church--actually, let's call it what it is: a cult. Yup. Legalism is a cult.

When I finally came to Christ, being baptised again came to mind, but it wasn't a priority. It had been done, and twice. What was more important was the actual strengthening of my faith in Christ. Considering that I'd just come from legalism, too, I wasn't exactly anxious to fill out a new list of things to do.

Prior to truly following Christ, I'd attended a pretty traditional Christian school, which is part of the legalism I had to break from to truly see who Christ is. But despite the legalism, I walked away with a ton of New Testament knowledge, albeit my conclusions ended up being different from the school's on a lot of points, and albeit I hadn't truly put my faith in Him beyond knowing the facts, not to mention my motives were so wrong. By the time I came to Christ, a lot of the questions I had were answered. The simple truth was that the lies still had to be purged. At that point, I was 17 years into believing a lot of lies about Christ, and while my false beliefs fell at His feet immediately for the most part, they left behind a lot of fears, and my new faith would have to take root before those fears could be cast out of me.

I knew my motives had been wrong for a long time, but I had no idea how deep they ran. I had no idea how many layers there were to it. Through all the complications of a messed up home, a messed view of people, a messed up view of family, a messed up view of love, beneath it all there has always been this messed up view of myself, of God, of His love. And that's the simple part.

The more messed up experiences I had with family, with classmates, with relationships, the more layers separated me from being able to see God clearly, even though I had a ton of facts about Him rattling around in my head like beads in a shaker. I wasn't capable of having the right motives because I spent all my life separated from He who is the source of all good things. The more separated I was from the truth, the easier it was to blame Him and seek out other solutions. If you've read The Adulterer Who Destroyed My Ability to Live in Reality, it'll start to make sense how I was able to rationalize the place I put myself in. But in the end, my motives were shredded. I no longer cared about what love really is, and settled for merely satisfying moment-to-moment cravings for a good feeling that is expected to come with love (or maybe not love, but with things going right).

I already knew things were messed up, but until that situation imploded, I wasn't able to see what was really wrong. No other situation reached down to touch the very core of my identity like that. Beneath it all, I was just a jealous kid.

Jealous that others had what I thought I deserved.

Jealous that others felt what I wanted to feel.

Jealous that others could go where I wish I could have.

Jealous that others were seen when I was invisible.

Jealous that others... all of it.

Jealousy is pointing the finger at someone else and pointing the knife at yourself.

Jealousy is crazy.

But jealousy was real. I hate that it still is my reality sometimes (read: a lot of times).

There are a lot of ways to kill yourself without committing suicide, and jealousy is one of them. You blame others for your possessiveness over things you have already taken possession of in your heart, even though nine times out of ten, you have no actual claim to them. Actually, make that ten. Ten times out of ten, because (I hate repeating myself, but it's appropriate here) everything good comes from God. So if God didn't give it to you, and you've got acid burns through the walls of your heart because someone else has what you want, then it's probably not good for you to have it.

His timing might be different.

What He wants for you might be different.

But if it's making you jealous, it's time to start looking at your heart more than what you're jealous for.

That's if it's jealousy. I know sometimes we have longing that isn't jealousy, but we need to acknowledge our jealousy when we're doing it.

Of all the things to kill you, Jesus doesn't want it to be you. He created your emotions so that  you could live out His plan for you, not so that jealousy could burn you up before your time. Sometimes the fire of our souls gets out of control. So call upon the God whose fire cleanses and purifies, not destroys.

 

Love And Fear: Instagram Interview by Michael Nichols

Hey everyone! Thanks for your continued support of my new record Love And Fear! I was recently interviewed by my awesome friend Maggie Holman, also known as Instagrammer @shinejesus_. I was surprised and so grateful for the opportunity.

She's also an amazing devotional writer. So much of what she talks about has encouraged me on days I desperately needed it. She's such a sweet soul and so obviously has God's hand upon her. So check her out on Instagram, give her a follow, and be blessed.

If you haven't checked out my campaign to fund my new record, we only have until May 17, so now is the time. And please continue to pray for God's hand and guidance in the making and in doing His will in Jesus' name!

https://igg.me/at/loveandfear/x

https://www.instagram.com/p/BEKXyLbthq-

https://www.instagram.com/p/BEUDwPONhvp

Head Shot: Miraculous Agony by Michael Nichols

"God will never give you more that you can handle." I've heard it a thousand times, but it's a lie from hell. It's a false hope against trouble in your life. Jesus promised there'd be trouble, but He said to take heart because He has overcome the world. There's a passage of Scripture that says that God chooses the weak things of this world to show His strength and upset the wisdom of those who think they're wise.

It's really funny. Isn't that what He did with Christ? He chose a weak form to show His strength in living sinless, paying the punishment for sin, and overcoming the grave. It was by becoming weakness Himself that He carried out the greatest miracle to this day.

But no miracle is possible unless He gives us more than we can handle. We have no reason to trust anyone else unless we're allowed to see that, no, we don't "got this." God doesn't tempt us, but He does give us opportunities to build our faith in Him. That can only be achieved by extraordinary circumstances and an extraordinary God.