"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
It's a cry I often prayed through several years of long-suffering. Growing up, I don't think I really understood why Jesus said this while he was dying. Didn't Jesus know and anticipate this kind of pain? Didn't he know his death would bring glory to God, and save humanity from eternal punishment? Little did I know that my struggle with borderline personality disorder would render me so hopeless that these words of Jesus would become my daily cry in the midst of my darkest seasons. I was grasping for any relief from my psychological pain. But most of the time, I felt like I was drowning, and God was nowhere near.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by the intense fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, and impulsive behavior stemming from the inability to cope with strong emotions. Having grown up in a fairly fundamentalist, Asian immigrant church context, I didn't feel like I could be a good Christian while also struggling with BPD. After all, I often blamed my friends for not caring about me, and attempted to manipulate them by exaggerating the depths of my woes to force them to show me an even greater extent of love and loyalty. I harbored resentment towards people I loved, and confused them when I pushed them away even though I wanted them to stay. It felt like I was riding a roller coaster, my mood constantly swinging, and my "frantic efforts" to avoid real or imagined abandonment became my new obsession.
In the first few years of my struggle with BPD, I found no relief in Christian faith. Honestly, I didn't try because many Christians would "comfort" me by saying that I just needed to trust in God more, perhaps believe in the "peace that surpasses understanding," or focus on the joy of the Lord. It wasn't until my senior year of college when I went through one of the darkest periods of my life that I finally cried out to God, blaming him too for abandoning me. I poured out my anger, my bitterness, and all my resentments towards God and asked him, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I was so expectant of abandonment from all those I loved, that it seemed as though God finally decided to leave me too.
Admitting to myself and to God that I was angry was the moment I now recognize as my first step towards recovery. In my anguish, I found relief. In my bitterness, I found understanding. As uncomfortable as it was engaging in my deep anger towards God, I felt a freedom to be completely naked before Him, my heart and my mind pouring out laments everyday. He is, after all, my God. He is my God.
Using this very prayer gave me great comfort knowing that Jesus enters into my loneliness and fear of abandonment. It felt like Jesus created this prayer for people like me- people plagued by fear, anger, and confusion. More importantly, it seems that Jesus prayed this prayer because He needed it. Up until the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had never been separated from His father throughout eternity, before time and space. Can you imagine the kind of anxiety Jesus had while he prayed, sweating blood and tears? Can you imagine the heaviness He felt while carrying His own cross up the hill, knowing that Father was nowhere to be reached? Can you imagine Christ in shock and disbelief that His own Father actually turned away from the Son in his most excruciating, painful hour? Perhaps Jesus was unprepared to accept the reality He had theoretically understood before agreeing to suffer for humankind.
God did not answer Jesus' tireless supplication. Defeat is on its way, and God appears to have abandoned His one and only son. And yet, as much as Jesus feels indignation towards God, still he uses a personal pronoun “my” to describe the Father, demonstrating that the relationship with God still exists and has significance despite the fact that God will not save him from his suffering and imminent death.
Of course, we know how the story ends. But if we skip over the significance of Jesus' lament on the Cross, the resurrection loses its compelling power to transform lives. As the Church, we need to be able to sit in the discomfort of lament in order to become more human. That is, Jesus's death on the cross reveals that the goal as Christians and as humans is not to be joyful, peaceful, or strong all the time, as many of us grew up believing. Rather, allowing ourselves to change in thought, in emotions, and in resilience brings us the freedom to accept seasons of adjustment in our relationship with God. We can be filled with joy before the Lord, or sit in anger. We can hold both peace and anxiety. We can live in doubt and in faith, hold lament in one hand, and hope in the other. This is humanity the way Christ has exemplified for us. This is beautiful.
What a relief to be at peace
with the reality of warring virtue and vice,
Spirit and demon,
voice of God and voices of untruth,
anxiety and serenity,
depression and joy.
To live in the in between,
the already not yet,
is the path that leads to sanctification, to healing
to full freedom
I am looking forward to those very things.