Years of Doubt

I

I was four. I clearly remember standing in front of my bedroom closet. My mother and my cousin were about to make a trip to pick something up, and I had to decide whether to go or not. My fingers were knots, crawling one over the other as I stared at the clothes hanging there. I leaned my face into the soft sleeve of one of my winter shirts, but it wouldn’t comfort me enough to take the stress of the dilemma.

                                                 Should I go?

                                                                         Should I stay?

Cartoons would be on. But my mother would be gone. I saw myself in the floor, in front of the television. I saw myself in the backseat, behind my mother. I stayed. I left. My stomach was a fist. My mother walked into the room to ask if I was going. The dilemma came rushing to a fine sharp point. My mouth contorted, by eyes exploded into tears; I ran into her arms. “I can’t decide if I should stay home or go with you!”

It’s a strange memory, but a comforting one. It serves to pull me in close and remind me that I haven’t learned to be this way. It strokes my hair and whispers that this is how it’s always been. I haven’t become broken. I was born broke. Writing that, I can understand why you might think that’s not comforting at all. But there’s something restful in knowing that I don’t have to search incessantly to find where I fell apart. That my anxiety and needless worry over the everyday are a natural dysfunction. As natural as doubt to faith.

II

The bus window was half-down. It wasn’t particularly cool outside, but any air was better than the stale, warm air of a school bus. Screams, laughs, cries buzzed about me, but I stared out that window. Not at the freshly planted fields of soybeans and rice. Not at the green of new leaves on trees and bush. Just out. Do I love her? Do I not?

It’s a question without much actual existential weight for a fourteen-year old. What could a boy who played with action figures just a few years earlier understand about the intricacies of love? Meaningless or not, the question still burned both sides of my brain. A tennis ball of doubt bouncing around the inside of my head, breaking up the place. I slouched as I pulled my bag onto my shoulder and slunk off the bus. I was too old to burst into tears. There was no one to run to this time. No one to urge me in one direction or the other. I just knew I didn’t want to be alone. I prayed I could keep loving her so I could keep getting her love.

III

I was seventeen. I clearly remember kneeling down in the center of the living room in the middle of the night. I’d wrapped myself with the blanket from my bed and stumbled in the dark to that spot, slipping to my knees. Then I collapsed forward, weeping. The moon had set. The stars were clouded over. So dark, so quiet. My brain was the only noise, and it was loud. Louder than it had ever been. “Stop,” I said, elongated the word, grinding the heel of my hand into the side of my head.

I wept there, begging God to make it stop. Then a new thought occurred to me, and I gasped. My body froze. I realized I wanted to die. My head shot up, and I stopped breathing. “This is where I am, God!” In my head, I was screaming it. “I want to die!” Don’t you get that? Do you see me? “…Please let me live.” Years of this-the anxiety, the unwanted thoughts, the constant sound of a broken brain.

Do I live? Do I die?

There was no burning bush. No armor-clad angel of light. No glimpse of glory. Just a boy, empty of fight. I pushed myself up on trembling legs, the weight of the blanket almost too much to pull along behind me. I crawled back onto my bed. It’s the last thing I remember. Somehow I fell asleep. While I slept, He came. I don’t remember the warmth of His touch, or the weight of His words, but I know He pulled me close and whispered that this was not how it would always be.

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