If you're an NF fan then there is no doubt that today has been quite an exciting day for you. For those of you that don't know, the rapper just dropped his newest song CLOUDS, which is the first track from his upcoming mixtape that will be released on March 26th (YAY). I discovered NF when I was in a pretty low and dark place in my life. To listen and hear music from someone who got it, who understood, was a saving grace. NF's music is real -- real music til the day we die, ain't that the slogan, Nathan?
If you know, you know.
Anyways, Nathan's music is real. He's not only an amazing lyricist but also an amazing communicator of real, deep feelings. He puts words, music and identity to feelings that previously just bubbled and stirred in my spirit unattended and untouched. NF's music is a huge release for me emotionally. I know this isn't just the case for me but for his hundreds of thousands of fans around the world. He's real. He's relatable. I discovered this more and more as I listened to The Search, his fourth studio album, all the way through for the first time. It was actually the first album of his that I listened to. When the punctuating strings faded out at the end of "Let Me Go," I was surprisingly greeted by a conversational Nate in "-Interlude-". This is what he says in the 50-second vent about how he felt during the Perception period:
My most considered, like, "successful" moment of my life was the worst
The most depressed I've ever been
Literally feeling like I'd probably be happier if I was just dead
I got a number one on Billboard, my song is massive right now
Like, I may never have a song this big again
My tour, I think every date sold out except one date
So I literally had everything that I had always dreamed of happening (Yeah)
And I felt...I didn't feel happy at all
And so I think what happened was I spiraled really bad
'Cause I was like, "I'm here, and if this is it
There's gotta be more for me
'Cause if this is it, like, it's not gonna work"
That fifty seconds stopped me dead in my tracks because that's EXACTLY what I was experiencing at the time -- minus, of course, having a number one on Billboard and my song being massive. The most depressed I've ever been was at a time in which, outwardly, I was experiencing the most "success" I've ever had. And I literally had spoken those words in my mind: "If I'm here, and if this is it…what's the point?" I had everything I'd ever dreamed of and longed for happening: I'd been accepted to the Early Entry Master's Program at UNC Charlotte, I was executing my own research, I was regularly handling venomous snakes, I had spent a month in one of the wildest places on earth and I was a dolphin training intern at the Georgia Aquarium. If you've known me for any amount of time, you'd know just how much and how long I had longed for those things up until that point.
While there were a lot of contributing factors to my depression at the time, I think the greatest underlying problem was that I had everything I'd ever wanted and none of it was deeply satisfying in the ways that I had expected them to be. Everything that I had put my hope in satisfied me in an incredibly superficial way. In a way, I felt betrayed by God and by those things. One of the worst parts of the experience, however, was that I didn't even realize that I'd put my hope in those things. It was something so deeply rooted in me that I wasn't even aware that it was happening, this idolization of different things that I thought would satisfy me (I would often repeat to myself years before I even thought about going to Botswana, Just wait until I get to Africa -- then everything will be alright). I'm so grateful to serve a God who knows us, though, who knows me and who knows that I'll believe something until it's proven wrong. Who knows that until I experienced the degree of superficial satisfaction that being in Botswana would bring, I wouldn't actually believe it.
I was doing everything I ever wanted to do and my soul was still crying out for something deeper. This realization of dissatisfaction threw me into a spiral of depression. It was during this period of depression that the Lord stripped me of every idol that I had, tearing down each and every one of them at the same time: the hope of my relationship, my career, my future. All of it. I questioned whether or not my faith was even worth it. I questioned whether or not life was even worth it. Boy, was that a deeply painful season.
Then I heard a 50 second vent session from a rapper that somebody randomly recommended to me and I realized that I wasn't alone in how I felt. It didn't take away the depression or the pain. To have my feelings expressed, identified and named by someone else hit in a way that I didn't expect: somebody understood me.
Somebody else had experienced the shattering disappointment of their dreams not satisfying them. Somebody else had experienced the fear and distress and sorrow that accompany that sort of realization. Somebody else had experienced the heartbreak of being disillusioned for so long and then being jolted awake to a reality they never imagined. Someone else experienced a state of utter despondency from which rescue efforts felt futile.
NF helped me acknowledge my feelings and see God through it all. I wouldn't trade that season for anything, as painful and emotionally exhausting as it was. God tore down every idol I had in my life at that time and showed me that He is the ONLY thing worth hoping in. He is the only satisfying thing. Everything I loved and craved about my dreams, I later discovered, are actually attributes of God. I was unknowingly longing for God in all of that (I'll write another post about this later).
In God I experienced the satisfaction of my soul. I felt like I understood Psalm 42:7: "Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me." I now know that God is the only thing worth pouring every ounce of my passion into, as He is the only deeply satisfying thing.
I write this as both an encouragement and a precaution to anyone who may find themselves longing for the future, telling yourself once you get to a certain place or job position or in that relationship that they'll be satisfied. That's a lie from the enemy. The satisfaction will not be deep, nor will it be lasting. So take it from both NF and myself that it's not worth it to put your hope in anything other than God. If you do find yourself in that place, I'd really encourage you to spend some time with God. Ask Him to show you the ways that you're putting hope in the future or in achievements. I trust that He'll bring those up. Then pray a prayer of confession and repentance. It could go something like, "God, I'm sorry for the ways I've knowingly and/or unknowingly put my hope in anything other than You. Please help me want to want to put my hope in you. Satisfy the parts of me that are longing for things other than You. Satisfy my soul -- overflow my cup."
I trust that He'll do it. You may not feel a change right away, but it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.
If you have any questions or want to talk more, don't hesitate to reach out to me on my "Connect" page or by DMing me on Instagram.
Also, go give CLOUDS a listen. :)
In a training this past Sunday, Brent reiterated the importance of setting time apart for God in every part of one's day. The mindset he offered was incredibly helpful in reminding me personally of one of the core reasons why I spend time with God:
"I want to be available to God and unavailable to the world so that I can recognize and hear His voice when it matters. Let me take this seriously, even if it means that for 15 minutes in the mornings I’m trying to not fall asleep. We want to get to a place where we have consistency in which God can intervene if necessary. We just want to be open. For x amount of time everyday for the first portion of the day, if You need to catch my attention or get a hold of me, that’s when I’ll notice."
My goal for this week has been to reengage with that simple practice. When I began to do that yesterday morning the Lord convicted me about how much time I've spent at the gym compared to how much time I've intentionally spent with Him this week. I felt His quiet voice say You're spending 2 hours at the gym every day and you can't set aside time to spend with me? It was accompanied by a warning about how quickly idols can take root in my own heart. Stop working out with your trainer, I felt like I heard. I was SO quick to say 'no' that it surprised me -- the Lord brought to my attention that THAT was the issue that He was concerned about: my adamant lack of willingness to give something up at His command.
I immediately knew I had a heart problem I needed to check.
It wasn't hard for me to diagnose the reason for my response, other than my humanness. I am SO happy right now with where I'm at in the gym -- I'm finally training at a high level again, I can genuinely say that I love my body and I'm making a lot of progress with my strength. I'm just really happy. The time I spend in the gym is truly an escape. The fact that my knee-jerk reaction to the Lord was a hard 'no' exposes the parts of me that still struggle to believe that God cares about my happiness and that He is a good Dad. On the contrary, deep down I fear that He'll take my happiness away and that, if I'm not in control of my happiness, it's not safe. Like any good father, though, once His child begins to have an unhealthy amount of a good thing, He'll take it away. It's all for the health and protection of the child, even if it doesn’t feel like that at the time.
The truth is, God wants to give us the best if we'd just get out of our own way and let Him. This is a truth that I constantly have to remind myself.
After spending more time in prayer and self-reflection, and after consulting a multitude of counselors, I decided that the warning came as a means of revealing what was in my heart, the potential for too much of this good thing to turn into an idol. In response, I plan to do a few things:
I love the Lord's intentionality, though. In the three weeks since I began being trained I have learned an incredible amount about my own mental strength and toughness. In a way, it has been revitalized. You learn a lot about pushing past your limits when you have someone standing over your shoulder telling you that you can finish out the third twenty-rep set before throwing more weight on the bar. I say this because it's applicable -- even when I don't think I can create a space for God, or even if I don't want to at the moment, I know I can do it, no matter how tired or uncomfortable I might be. I also know that I can be consistent if I really, truly put my mind to it. Granted, there's grace in all of this because God knows more than anybody how hard consistency has been for me in the past. However, what I've learned throughout the years, and what I will continue to learn, is that the Lord cares far more about trying and faithfulness than He does about the outcome. Did you fall asleep 8 minutes into your quiet time with Him? Yeah, but that was after trying everything you could to stay awake. Cool. Good sees and honors that.
Honestly, this blog post in itself is an attempt at me trying. I couldn't tell you how many times I've decided that "THIS TIME I'll start to be more consistent on my blog." It only takes a quick look at my archives to see how that has gone…
I'm very grateful that God is so incredibly patient, kind and merciful and that He cares a lot more about our attempts to be faithful than He cares about the outcomes. Is there any area of your life that you feel you have kept off-limits to God? Why do you think that is? What would it look like for you to respond in faithfulness? As always, feel free to share. If it's too personal for you to share here, don't hesitate send me a private message via the Connect Page or on my Instagram.
1 Thess. 2:2
"...but with the help of our God we dared to tell His gospel in the face of strong opposition."