Dear Dido, Please Don’t Kill Yourself

Continuing my theme of classical literature and its contribution to daily life, I’ve come to the story of Dido.  Pretty tragic…and depressing.  Her story is short–after her brother murders her husband, she flees to Libya with her followers.  In Libya, she founds the city of Carthage and becomes its queen.  All is well and happy till this uber-perfect hero named Aeneas shows up.  For reasons that don’t interest us at the moment, Cupid is sent to make Dido fall for Aeneas.  And boy, does she.  After a couple months, Mercury shows up and commands Aeneas to fulfill his destiny of sailing to Italy and founding Rome.  (Evidently there’s no “Take Dido with you” clause).  Aeneas immediately prepares to leave.  Dido tries to guilt him into staying, but he leaves anyways.  As he sails away, she commits suicide.

I told you it was depressing.

These stories of overpowering emotion crop up routinely in classical literature.  And in modern movies too.  Although our culture doesn’t normally view suicide as an appropriate response to getting dumped, there is this belief that being relationally rejected is cause for despair.  (Why else would there be a whole genre of Breakup Songs?) Dido connects herself to wholly to Aeneas that when that love is taken away, she has no identity.  Forget the city she was ruling and building.  Forget her sister (who gives bad advice, by the way).  Forget the vivid person Dido shows herself to be in the first fourth of the Aeneid.  She loses love.  So she chooses death.

I will be honest.  I think the story of Dido is…extreme and even a bit inflated on the emotional level.  But this craving for love is universal.  And, unfortunately, I’ve seen people become so involved in their respective relationships that when that relationship is taken away (or obliterated by stupidity) they can no longer function.  Their main source of identity is gone.

Maybe it’s because I’m living in a girls’ dormitory and hear the weeping and gnashing of teeth when break-ups hit.  Maybe it’s because I have a semi-spinsterly urge to create commentary on the other people’s lives.  Maybe it’s too much classical literature (to quote Austen…”Is it possible to read too many novels?” Oh yeah.)  Or maybe it’s just observation.  Whatever the reason that I’m prompted to write about this, I hope you take it seriously and go beyond my light-hearted jests.  Think about the people around you.  How many of them were torn to pieces when a relationship bites the dust.  Think about the last TV series you watched.  Don’t the characters usually go through an identity/emotional/everything crisis when their love life stinks?

I think the cause of this trend is two-fold: 1) a misconception that love life=good life.  That to have a boyfriend/girlfriend/lover/whatever=to have success and happiness.  So when that piece goes missing, you’re incomplete.  This thought crops up in many circles of thought and worldview–the whole idea that everyone is incomplete without another person to fill that hole.  Phrases like “my other half” or “I’m incomplete without him/her” emphasize this misconception.

2) a genuine desire for lasting relationships.  The problem is we’re looking in all the wrong places.  We were made for relationships–and friendships are great and marriages are awesome–but even those good things will not give us satisfaction or identity.  The crux of the matter is we were made for knowing God.

How do I know that?

First, because the Bible says the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Ecclesiastes says that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commands.  Read the Gospels and Jesus’ teaching is overflowing with the appeal to know God–not to know the latest stock exchange rates, Hollywood break-ups, price of ground meat at Wal-Mart, or the square root of an imaginary number.  God’s primary concern is that we know Him.  Notice the number 1 command is not “Be good.”  I lived a lot of my life thinking that “being good” was the most important thing.  I had met God as my Savior and joined His family, but I didn’t fully understand that knowledge is supposed to deepen and grow.

Second, because I’ve tried to live my life searching for satisfaction in other people.  So when I looked to my friends to be my support and they failed, I was lost.  I looked at the wrong Friend.  God says He loves us with an everlasting love.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Do you think Jesus is important?  The reason He came was love.

God gives fulfillment.  We don’t have to be Dido–destroyed when people fail us or lost when we are betrayed.  Our identity and existence does not depend on what Vanity Fair says about our love lives.  Romance does not equal identity.  I have found my identity in Christ, the One who made me, loved me, gave His life for mine, and raised my soul from its sinful condition to walk in newness of life.

Who am I?  I am Specs, an adopted daughter of God.  And even when I’m rebellious, God’s love draws me back to Himself.  I am imperfect, awkward, and verbose.  I laugh too loudly.  But God loves me anyways.  God loves me in my darkness when my heart is filled with fear, when I just don’t want to do anything anymore, when I’m in despair.  God loves me in my awkward moments when my hair looks like an ill-used cotton ball, when I’m on a date and spill hot chocolate on myself, when I stick my foot in my mouth.  God loves me even though I have an ugly, selfish heart.

Who am I?  I am a saved sinner, and as Galatians says, if I’m a child of God, I’m also an heir of God.  Hallelujah!

And guess what?  My love life stinks…I don’t even have one!  But at this moment, I don’t really care.  Because God has made me to be friends with Himself.  How awesome is that?  So if there’s any Dido out there, rejected and in pain, please…don’t kill yourself, or gorge yourself on an entire tub of ice cream, or lose yourself in the fascinating world of Halo.  People fail you.  But God won’t.

P.S.  Please don’t think I’m trying to be condescending to anyone.  Everything I post are things that I’ve been learning myself. 🙂

I Will Try to Fix You

Another glass shattered on the orange tile floor of the kitchen.  That made 9 glasses, 1 plate, 3 coasters, and 1 bowl I had broken within a year.  (I guess that’s what happens when you have a clumsy pre-teen going through a growth spurt doing the dishes.)  I knelt to the ground and tried to pick up the big pieces–to no use.  It couldn’t be fixed.  My sister and parents good-naturedly ribbed me about my record while we swept the thick glass shards into our trusty dust pan and dumped them in the trashcan.

Flash forward ten years and I am watching a friend cry.  Her heart has been broken…again.  I listen to her.  I pray.  I try be a comfort.  But it’s obvious, she feels broken.

Three months later, I sit in a crowded cafeteria, spilling out my heartache to a friend who watches me across the table not knowing what to do.  I am broken.

You don’t have to be a psychologist or philosopher to realize that there’s something wrong with this world.  The headlines scream of scandal, murder, assault, war, corruption, and death.  It’s as if the world is falling to pieces.  Meanwhile in our homes and the homes of our neighbors, we cry silently.  No newspaper chronicles our struggles.  Estrangement.  Cancer.  Abuse.  Betrayal.  Failure.  The struggle to find purpose.  Illness.  And these are just a few of the indicators that something is wrong.

The problem is the world is broken.  It doesn’t work like it should.  We’re like a clock missing the main cog, turning in disorder and chaos.  And as a result of a broken world, we have broken people and broken hearts.

When I break something, like that glass on the orange tile floor, I want to fix it.  I look at my friends who have been wounded by betrayal, hardened by loss, and injured by selfishness–and I think of a song I heard about a year ago.  Street Corner Symphony, an a capella group, sang it on the closing show of the Sing-Off.  I don’t remember many of the lyrics, but after the singers sang plaintively of life’s struggles and pains, they would sing “I will try to fix you.”

We want to be whole and we need to be healed.  We look to our friends and they offer solace, but they cannot heal us.  I can share my grief with others, but they cannot make it okay again.  “Kiss it and make it better” will not heal a broken heart.  So where do we go?  Is there a way to be healed?

People have searched for healing for centuries.  Some have decided it doesn’t exist.  Kassandra, a character in the Greek tragedy Agamemnon, tells the audience shortly before her death, “There is no god of healing in this story.”  Others believed it was found in harmony of self and nature.  Others believe it’s found in the power of positive thinking (Oprah, anyone?).  Others are grasping at anything to fill the painful void–alcohol, good grades, social media, sports, sex–anything to forget the ache inside their hearts.  Others are still searching, grasping, and stumbling in a dark world trying to find a cure for what ails them.    The problem is all these things have their source in the same broken world we stumble around in.  What are we to do?

Once there was a man, an exceptional man.  No one ever lived, or died, like He did.  He did nothing but good.  This teacher preached from the Bible and performed miracles.  He made the blind to see and raise the dead.  But He was misunderstood, misjudged, and mocked.  Finally, He was betrayed by one of His closest friends and condemned by His own nation to death by the hands of a foreign army.  During His execution, the religious leaders mocked Him.  “He healed other people, but He can’t even save Himself,” they laughed.  And He died…an awful, painful, heart-wrenching death.  Beaten, jeered at, mocked, forsaken, whipped, scourged, and nailed to pieces of wood where he hanged from three nails and slowly suffocated to death.  He was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.  And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him.  And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (from Isaiah 53:3 and 6)  You see, His name was Jesus–Jesus, the most wronged Man to ever live.  He came to save the world and the world killed Him.  This Man is our hope.

Why do I put my hope in a dead man?  Because He is not dead.  Not anymore.  “He was buried and that He rose again, the third day.” (I Corinthians 15:4).  See Jesus was not like other men.  He was God.  And as God, He was all-powerful.  And He knew we needed healing.  And He knew the source of all the brokenness is an awful word–sin.

Whether our own sin causes our brokenness, or someone sins against us, or we suffer heartache because of the broken world (which is broken because two people decided to sin a long time ago, but that’s another story), the root is the same.  But God heals.  The passage I wrote earlier, Isaiah 53, says, “upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with His wounds ye are healed.”  I Peter 2:24-25 says, “By His wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying sheep, but now have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  Psalm 103 says, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:  Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, Who healeth all our diseases.”

God heals our brokenness.  He loves us.  He allowed Himself to be broken, so we could come to Him.  Our friends can listen to our troubles, but our souls crave to be made whole by Christ alone.  It is more than just an attempt to “fix us” like the song I referenced.  It is a sacrificial love that says, “I understand.  I was broken too.”  And as I scramble to reassemble the shattered pieces of my life, eyes blurry from the tears, my Jesus takes my hands and says, “I have come to heal you.”

A Song for Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day.  🙂  Hope all my readers are having a pleasant Tuesday/Singles Awareness/Valentine’s Day.  As I pondered what to write about, I turned on Grooveshark and started listening to whatever songs struck my fancy.  My playlists are normally a mish-mosh of Josh Groban, movie soundtracks, broadway musicals, Hayley Westenra, and hymns, depending on what I’m doing.   I listen to hymns for pretty much any activity–writing letters, doing homework, reading my Bible.  Movie soundtracks are normally the accompaniment for homework while Josh Groban and Hayley Westenra sing along with my computer work (i.e. checking e-mail, facebooking, paper-writing…blogging).   And Broadway musicals energize my exercise time or invigorate me while I work on different projects.

It never ceases to amaze me how music affects us.  Music has the power to stir our emotions, to entertain us, to provoke us to thought, and to engage our imaginations.  A poignant song that does all of these is “Nuvole Bianche” by Ludovico Einaudi.  Its whirling melody, though simple, emits a bittersweet aura–a melancholy pathos combined with a struggling wonder at something not-quite-understood.  It’s the kind of music I like to sit and think to–just letting my thoughts dance with the music.  Last time I listened to it, I thought of the verses in the Bible from Psalm 139:

“O LORD, Thou hast searched me, and known me….

Whither shall I go from Thy spirit?  Or which shall I flee from Thy presence?

If I ascend up into heaven, Thou are there:  if I make my bed in hell, behold Thou art there.

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

Even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.”

God’s love for me holds for me that struggling wonder.  I don’t understand, but I sit astounded in its presence.  God will never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5 in the Bible).  And He loves me.

That’s wow.  No words suffice to describe the wonder and the power of God’s presence and God’s love.  That’s what makes Valentine’s Day great.  Not receiving red roses from a boyfriend or going on a date.  God’s abiding, eternal love is something worthy to be celebrated.  Something to be shared with friends, family, and even enemies.

So as you wind down this Valentine’s Day, think of God and His love for you.  He loves us when no one else does.

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”–I John 4:10

P.S.  “propitiation” means “appeased the punishment in the place of someone else”