Thursday, November 13, 2008

Young, Talented, and Depressed

Tenth grade was perhaps the greatest year of my pre-regenerate life. It seemed like everything I touched turned to gold. Academically, I was on top of the world. I got spectacular grades in all my courses (much of the time without even trying), which placed me tenth in my graduating class (of 186). I was now the head of the French Horn section in the school band, and got invited to participate in the All-County orchestra. Upon auditioning, I was named first chair French Horn player (which loosely equates to being the best in the county). The music department took notice of my leadership and talent and cast me as the lead in the school musical. The show immediately catapulted me into social renown among students, teachers, and parents. If that weren't enough, I also won a place of honorable mention in my school's Mark Twain Literary contest. It was quite a year. But it was awful.

Underneath the awards and accolades, I knew that everything I held in the palm of my hand was fleeting. And there was no way to stop the process. Being classified as one of the "music kids" gave me a sense of identity and belonging. But when I began to excel in other areas, I became extremely confused. Whereas other kids were discovering they had one talent, I had several. Other kids had the luxury of focusing on just one strength, and planned to make a career out of it. I, on the other hand, hadn't a single clue what to do with my life, because I had so many choices. In fact, I had too many choices, and knowing I only had one shot at life made the pressure to make the right decision positively frightening.

I opened to Ecclesiastes, and began reading, hoping to find some answers. But what I discovered in the pages of that book made me sick to my stomach.The only way I knew how to cope with everything was to embrace the expectations people placed on me to excel, excel, excel. As meaningless and stupid as it seemed, it provided me with a sense of structure and familiarity that gave me a taste of comfort in an uncertain world. The praise and adoration I was receiving from my teachers also supplied me with a temporary high that would distract me from the reality that each day time was running out on my life. But the high would wear off every night when I turned out the light and was left alone with my thoughts. Why am I here? Why was I born? Will people remember me when I die? What is the meaning of life? Then one day, my English teacher presented the class with a voluntary reading challenge. We were to be given extra credit for reading some of the greatest works of literature. The catch? We could only read what the teacher assigned to us. My teacher handpicked for me to read the King James Version of Ecclesiastes.

I was excited to actually sit down and read the Bible. From early childhood, I always had always had a curiosity about the Bible. I went to my local bookstore and bought a copy of the KJV for about six dollars. I opened to Ecclesiastes, and began reading, hoping to find some answers. But what I discovered in the pages of that book made me sick to my stomach:
There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after. (Ch. 1 vs. 11)

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. (Ch. 1 vs. 14)

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. (Ch. 1 vs. 18)
No! I silently prayed that there had to be some hope found in the pages of that book. But with each Chapter, Ecclesiastes just got more depressing:
The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool. (Ch. 2 vs. 14-16).
I remember looking up from the page and thinking, "There is no hope. Even God Himself thinks my life is meaningless!" My misunderstanding of the scripture at that time started a chain reaction. I began to devour works by Sartre and Camus. I also became completely obsessed with this song. Every now and then, I'd turn on the TV and see some news story about a high school superstar from a neighboring school district who was tragically killed in a drunk driving accident. While his death was mourned by those who knew him, my life continued, unaffected. And I knew that if I was in that kid's shoes, life would go on without me, too. All of my achievements would one day crumble with time and eventually amount to nothing. The more I thought about it, the easier it was to come to the conclusion that my life was totally unnecessary.

FAST FORWARD TO PRESENT DAY

Ecclesiastes is my favorite book of the Bible. Why? It reminds me how everything I held dear before my conversion - including my life itself - was nothing more than an idol. The book of Ecclesiastes helps me to remember that my talents were given to me by God, not for my own glory, but for the express purpose of glorifying Him.

For people who do not know Christ, there is only one truth: existentialism. All of their toil and accumulation of wisdom, wealth, and pleasure is nothing more than vanity and chasing after the wind. The world offers many suggestions for dealing with an existential crisis. But truly, there is only one solution to this problem:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

I thank God for the example of the Apostle Paul. Truly, the praise of men cannot compare to that of the King when He says, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant!" Nothing is worth doing unless it is all for Him, even if it is done well.

1 comment:

Caren or Danielle said...

Jennifer ~ Your mature meat-of-the-Word insight and articulation, is feeding my soul on this beautifully snowy Saturday. Wish I knew you up close and personal ~ like say, next door. Thank you for your obedience.

The Lord is near ~ Care MacMurchy
South Dakota resident