Who do you live for?

I share a particularly close relationship with one of my students. Today, I asked him: “Do you think your life is valuable?” He answered, “Sometimes.” I proceeded to steal 10 minutes from my Geometry lesson plan to discuss this further. We arrived at a common realization we’ve both experienced: you can’t always live for other people. It’s not sustainable.

We have both been at rock bottom for different reasons. In the deepest throes of clinical depression, I’d found myself absolutely abhorring myself, to the point of emotionally abusing myself as long as I’m awake, and being unable to look at myself in the mirror. I tried to keep myself going for the sake of the people who love me: my family, my then-boyfriend, and my close friends. But as my condition got worse, I would often think to myself: “Sure they’d be devastated if I were to take my own life. But realistically, they’d move on at some point. They’re not going to grieve forever.”

My doctor once told me, “You’re right, you can’t live for others. You have to find it within yourself.” But that, too, isn’t a foolproof mentality. Like I said earlier, it was it was impossible to live for myself while severely depressed. I simply wasn’t a fan of me. While I often tell this student about all the ways he is amazing, about the importance of loving himself and seeing his own potential, at the back of my mind I do know he needs more than that. And I hope he finds it someday.

So who am I living for?

Well, I live for my God. The God who breathes meaning and purpose into my existence, my relationships, my career, my joys, and even my suffering. In Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. I could crack or crumble, but the mighty hands that hold me never will. May I allow the recognition of His unfathomable love to fuel my every breath, thought, word, and deed. I pray the same for you, my brothers and sisters.

I know I have readers who don’t share my Christian convictions. Regardless, I would love to hear your answer to the same question I had to ask myself: “Who do you live for?”

(Addendum: I know I wrote about the importance of pouring ourselves out for others in my previous post. I am not negating any of it. But all the reasons I have any desire to serve others are rooted in God: He created us all and He created us all to love Him and love one another. Without God in the picture, living for others eventually became exhausting and “hollow”. But the moment God becomes the source, His goodness animates everything it touches.)

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Related post: My students are helping me recover from depressionHow do you find your “passion”?

How do you identify your “passion”?

It’s no secret that I was, for a long time, feeling very lost in life. Unlike many people I know, I didn’t have an obvious passion or hobby, or something that’s enthralled me since childhood. This became a particularly huge source of distress during depressive episodes. If no one checked on me, I’d be confined to my bed for more than half the day, tormented by thoughts about being “useless”, “pathetic”, and “less than human” for not being driven.

Many people and many articles (like these) lead us to believe that our passion ought to be something in which we can lose ourselves, or something that allows us to forget everything else. And the appeal of distraction is particularly pertinent for those of us who are suffering. What helps me forget about my crippling insecurities? What helps me forget about all the craziness and pain in the world?

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But I don’t want that. And I don’t think anyone should. I am seeking something that, contrary to helping me forget the world, would help me understand my place in this world. Not something that blinds me to the suffering in this world, but something that allows me to understand suffering and play a part in healing it.

It becomes apparent that this becomes so much more than a search for a hobby. We are on a quest for Truth.

I don’t want to be protected from the anxiety of mortal existence, I want to understand and overcome it. I absolutely hate being told not to question things too much, not to think too much. Most people who say that are entirely well-meaning. They are worried that these thoughts would lead me down an abyss of hopelessness. But they’re assuming that these questions would lead me to a dark and terrifying place — perhaps the realization that everything is ultimately futile and meaningless.

But I believe that Truth is found where God is — and because the God I know is good, in Him I will find truths that are good and beautiful. Slowly, but surely, I’ve been grasping more and more of this in my journey of faith.

In some ways, I’m thankful for my depression. While it’s no fun being tormented by negative thoughts and emotions 24/7, being depressed forces me to beg for answers to questions that really matter. Why am I suffering? Why is there suffering? Is life even worth living? Why am I alive? What does this all mean? As J. David Franks puts it poetically (in the foreword to The Catholic Guide to Depression by Aaron Kheriaty and Fr. John Cihak): “…some are dragged entirely into the vortex of the world’s pain. To be depressed is to be a wound open to the stinging air of reality…The depressed stand on the marches of the world, where the waters of chaos threaten to overwhelm the bright little circle of life we enjoy.”

Unable to run away from pain, I had to (and am continuing to) seek to understand its meaning and purpose. And you don’t have to be depressed to seek as well.

Related post: Who do you live for?