There is something distinctively ugly about some Saturday nights, which only becomes apparent the next day in the late morning, when you wake up with a dry, cracked throat and a tangled set of memories. Your eyes blink open like the sun through heavy windowpanes and the dining hall is full of raucous stories.
Alcohol, and its suppression of inhibitions, is a way to escape the pervasive problem-setting and weeknight stress of a heavy courseload and excessive extracurriculars. Partying on weekends becomes almost as much of an expectation as overworking on weeknights, and the problems that arise from both are of the same cause.
Most people know intellectually the pitfalls of trying to escape through drinking and hooking up. But we keep on doing it time after time, night after night, weekend after weekend. We know inside that acing every test and turning in perfect problem sets won’t truly lead to fulfillment, but we continue to sacrifice relationships and sleep to achieve some fuzzy, unreachable goal. We study during the week and we numb our minds on weekends, maybe because feeling empty is better than feeling worthless.
And sometimes, the futility of what we’re doing suddenly becomes clear. We become immersed in the world, both in and of it, and come out feeling like we’ve just vomited. Eternity hits us with a vengeance, and suddenly the feeling is constant and consistent, not solely borne of shame, but from disgust of this culture and people, as if all our collective sins have been laid bare and writhe, white worms before the sacred light.
Humans are at the root of much of the world’s ugliness. Call it unethical behaviour, call it the suckiness of humanity, call it sin. Many of us come to college idealists; we want to be engineers and social entrepreneurs and doctors, to fix systems and to treat physical, tangible things. That’s almost easier: it’s straightforward. It’s sometimes harder to see the root cause: the spiritual and emotional darkness within ourselves and others. When it becomes clear, the vomiting sensation comes in. Our hearts are in our stomachs and our glory is in our shame. The solution cannot be within ourselves because we are empty.
Some people see the presence of God in the morning when the sun streaks through a crack in their shades and pristine snow falls outside of the window. But this view is unsustainable; life is not always going to be beautiful, and even the most privileged of us will feel lonely and do things he or she regrets. We cheapen ourselves here. We enslave our minds and bodies to a churn of essay-writing and weekend raging, and some mornings the snow is ugly, 6-inch-deep slush.
But God is there even when the sun fails to show its face. Seek, and you shall find, knock, and the door shall be opened.
What is our pain and loneliness compared to that of the One who died between two thieves, utterly abandoned by friends, society, and hope? What is our sacrifice compared to the eternal hours of excruciating pain given so that we mortals can have some hope for the future, so that emptiness and even death will not for us be the end? Those of us raised in the West have heard that our God is a loving God so many times that we see this statement as trite and contestable; we forget about the complete insanity in the extent of this love. My classmates and I have recently been discussing in a philosophy class whether we can truly imagine the infinite; how much less can we imagine an infinite being subjected to loneliness, despair, pain, and death—even death on a cross—so that we humans might live? This beyond reason, far beyond common sense.
We have been given a gift greater than we can imagine, and we routinely throw it away for lesser things, or worse, fail to see the gift at all. We are afraid of infinite love because it is something we cannot cognize, so we seek joy in competition and good grades and ourselves.
There is One whose judgment is better than the perfection that we theorize, who has gone through a loneliness so profound that He can promise us we will never be that way, enslaved to our own desires, addictions, and conflicts. Everything we treasure here is ultimately dust—even when we say we want to make a name for ourselves, we know it will fade away in decades. But we are immortal; we can live beyond what we can even imagine.
“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.”
This is the only way to be free: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:8). I used to question the Psalmist’s sincerity, wondering how he could talk constantly about his joy in following the commands of the Lord. As humans, we dislike being subjected to the rules of others. But if we do not follow the purposes and commands of One who is greater than we, we are subject to our own fluctuating desires and wants, enslaved by our own appetites and fruitless goals. This, to me, is a much more frightening thought.
“The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).
It is a Sunday morning. Our minds are fogged and our throats are cracked and parched. Someone beyond our comprehension is offering a gift we cannot deserve. What is there to do but take it?