I was never one to thrive off of isolation. “A spry little spurt who’s never met a stranger” is a succinct summary of many an individual’s perception of me as a child. I lived and breathed on the social interaction that I could find. Old people were fun to joke with, adults were cool to talk to, and kids my age were naïve enough to be my friend.
I grew up in a pastor’s home. Social interaction kind of came with the territory but I was perfectly fine with it. I found outlets to express my inner nerd, girls to chase around the church parking lot, and reasons to tag along on youth group events, even though I was only eight.
I played baseball. Well, tried to play baseball. Little league was the thing to do in my town and both my father and I signed up. He coached, I played. A power duo, I suppose you could call it. I wanted nothing more than to make my dad proud. He had played baseball in his high school years and turned out to be pretty good. I thought that if I could only catch the ball better, hit the ball harder, or run the bases faster, he would tell me those five words: I’m proud of you, son.
I developed a propensity, in my younger years, towards the pursuit of perfection. I didn’t want to disappoint those around me, I didn’t want to make my dad upset with me, and I didn’t want to fail at anything I did. Unfortunately, there were times that I disappointed those around me, made my father upset with me, and failed at the things I did. In fact, those occurrences of failure became more consistent the older I got and the harder I tried.
“God” was the thing to do; believing in Him, that is. I mean, I was a pastor’s kid. I pretty much had to. I also felt the need to be perfect in this area as well. The moment you step through the door’s of God’s church it seemed as if every pair of eyes were on you. Some of them were loving, some of them speculative, and others were simply mean. One slip up in the church world and you created a mess for daddy to clean up. I felt that any mistake on my part would make my dad look bad. Be good. Keep your mouth shut. Smile and wave.
That’s what I did. I believed in God, tried to be good, tried to keep my mouth shut, and I tried to blend in. I was a free spirit when I was with my friends but I never felt like I fit in. The kids around me were all older and weren’t appreciative of my attempts to “be cool”. Skateboarding and long hair were the cool things to do but I couldn’t do either of them. Making jokes that had the entire group rolling on the floor wasn’t my forte. What was I left with? Star Wars action figures and muddled hopes and dreams of being accepted.
Fast forward through my teenage years. Ages 11-16 were pretty much the same story. Go to church, be a pastor’s kid, learn to preach, and try to have friends. In the midst of all of this my family had decided to be missionaries to Australia. Deciding this meant that we had to raise monthly support. We spent two years on the road travelling from church to church with very limited success. I lost a lot of the major contact I had with my closest friends because I was constantly in the back of a mini van. 25 states and two years later my mom and dad felt that the Lord was calling them to instead move to Georgia to be a youth pastor.
I didn’t blame them. I didn’t hate them. At this point moving was normal and home was relative to the place I laid my head down at night. Just another day in the Malin family.
We moved to Georgia right at the start of my Freshman year of high school. I was roughly 14-15 years old, 6 feet tall, looked like Harry Potter (glasses and all), and about a hundred pounds wet. Why do these things matter? I got picked on mercilessly at my new high school. Verbally abused. It came to a point where my dad even told me he might let me fight these kids. I was ready. I had never been in a fight but I was dying to prove my worth.
I tried my hand at baseball but sat the bench the entire year. I started working out but could barely lift the bar. Kids at church all thought I was obnoxious and tried to avoid me. Pretty lonely life to begin with but now it was setting in: I didn’t measure up.
Want to know what changed people’s perception and ability to accept me? Getting rid of my glasses. Yeah, that’s right. The culture of that town was so shallow that a simple addition of contacts to the daily life opened up a plethora of doors to friendships. At the time I didn’t care. I was finally accepted. People were my friends again!
Then we moved.
This time to Michigan and this time a little more painful than the last. Halfway through my sophomore year I found myself sitting in a new classroom with new opportunities and new fears. Instead of having to fight for my relationships, the relationships fought for me. It was a small town with a small school and I instantly became the hit attraction. New kid on the block meant lots of attention. Yay me!
We spent two years there and I grew immensely. I travelled to South Korea on a mission’s trip where my view of God was radically changed. I started dating girls and learned that my heart could be broken beyond what I already knew. I started playing the guitar, drums, piano, and began to sing. I wanted to excel. I wanted to conquer. I wanted to finish my high school years on top of the world.
Then we moved.
Halfway through my senior year I’m back in the town I was born in and lived in before we moved to Georgia. This time all of my childhood friends were gone. The church wasn’t the same. I had walked into a radically different place. I was pissed. I had six months of my high school career left and here I am going on to school number three.
I was fed up. I was tired of having to be on the receiving end of pain from my parent’s decisions. I didn’t hate them. I didn’t blame them. I simply didn’t like them. My heart was ready to be on my own and to make my own decisions.
I had a grand total of three friends my last six months of high school. I was miserable. I went to a small bible college in the fall and immediately started dating a girl who tore my heart inside out within a month of our being together. It was here that I saw people’s true colors. It was here that my depression began.
I spent six months at that school and made a lot of bad decisions. I turned my back on God and I turned my back on the people who had hurt me. I hated what I was going through and I couldn’t even process it. I left the school after six months. I came home and started working for a temp agency…Fired after two months.
Fired? I’m a pastor’s kid.
I don’t get fired.
I don’t get fired.
I spiraled down into isolation and hatred. I burned any bridge that stood to be burned. I made the ashes my home. Day after day I slipped deeper into depression and I didn’t even realize it. I justified my anger. I thought that it was a good thing. Meanwhile, my father, the very man I wished to never disappoint, was always at my throat. We couldn’t stand each other. My mom stood in the kitchen bawling one day. She begged me to fix my relationship with my dad. Whatever love I had left in my heart tried but I believed it was too far gone.
I gave up.
Suicide came to mind. I struggled with the apathy towards dying. I didn’t care if I woke up the next day. There was no one to help. Everyone had turned their back on me. The very thing I placed all of my hope in had crushed me. I couldn’t trust anyone anymore, not even God.
I laid in bed one night and entertained the thought of death. I could’ve swore that there was something in my room. A presence…Whatever it was, I can tell you that it wasn’t Jesus.
Soon enough, the grace of God came flooding into my heart and opened my eyes to the hell that I was living in. Something inside of me awoke and began to scream for help. I can’t tell you how, nor why, nor for what reason. All I know is that my eyes were opened and I was scared. I was scared because I knew who I had become and I knew just how far I had run from God. I had nowhere else to turn but to my dad.
After a hard, long conversation with him I learned that he had been going through the same things. I couldn’t believe that after all of that time thinking that I was alone, there was someone within arm’s reach of me thinking the very same things. Funny how the devil blinds you to the help you need. From that day on, my relationships with all of my family members have been restored and healed.
To make a very long story shorter, fast forward 3 years and I’m learning. Some days I’m learning how to thrive, some days I’m learning how to cope, and other days I’m simply just surviving.
But that’s ok. God has brought me to my knees on more than one occasion with reminders of His immaculate love and forgiveness for me. In fact, not but a month ago I sat on my couch weeping over my losses, my hatred for myself, and then I finally let it all go.
I became a free man.
I learned that it’s one thing to forgive others and it’s another thing to be forgiven by God. Those things are a must in this life. People are going to hurt you. You’re going to hurt people. It’s a fact. There’s no escaping it. You can’t change it. Do their attacks mean that there’s something wrong with you? Not all of the time. If you ever mess up and hurt someone else be quick to ask for forgiveness and be quick to admit that you were wrong. If someone else hurts you then be quick to forgive. It’s a give and take relationship. To be forgiven you must forgive.
I learned something else, though. We spend so much time trying to forgive others that we forget to forgive ourselves. My 23-year pursuit of perfection left me hollow, dry, and hateful. Not just towards other people but mostly towards myself. It wasn’t until God opened my eyes to it that I found complete wholeness inside of Him. The fact that Jesus sacrificed His life for me on behalf of my sin rattled my heart to the core. I finally understood that He loved me and wanted nothing but the best for me.
Do people still hurt me? Yes. Do I still hurt people? Unfortunately. Will any of that change? No. What can and should be said of our lives is of the willingness to forgive. Whether you believe in a God or not doesn’t change the fact that you and I have been forgiven of much. It is in this knowledge that we should be ready and willing to forgive just as deeply and even quicker.
Easier said than done. It’s a process and you have to be willing to let yourself go through it. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t come as quickly as you’d like it to. Make mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and never give up.
Don’t just cope with your depression. Beat it. Show it who’s boss.
You have value. You are of worth. You are loved.
May God show himself real and faithful to you.
Special thanks to Matt for his incredible entry into our Coping series. Some of the photos included in this post were from his photography project,”Confession Through Photograph”, which we featured here last month. Be sure to check out more of his writing on his blog Confessions.
Always remember you are not alone.
You are loved.
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