By Wayland Shih
As I approached the holiday season, I remembered that it had been two years since I received news that one of my oldest and best friends found himself in the darkest of places that depression, fear, anxiety, and panic can take someone. I have been journeying with my brother the past two years as he fights to restore his faith, reconstruct who he is, and reclaim the hope in Christ.
My friend shared recently of how much he has been encouraged by my love for him, by our friendship, by the words of truth that I speak in his life, and that he wished he can bless me in the same way. The truth is, he has blessed me. He has reframed what I understand of what true faith means. He has taught me what it means to fight for faith, to still have faith even in the darkest and deepest of the valley of shadows. He has humbled me by his persevering faith. It is not an easy road, filled with doubt, filled with tears, episodes of uncertainty, anxiety, and fears, but it is a road that is bringing both of us closer to God.
I find myself often cynical at the end of Christian themed movies, often asking “What if they didn’t win that football game?” or “What if they didn’t become pregnant?” or “What if they couldn’t get that job?” or “What if their marriage did end in divorce?” or “What if their child died?” What does faith look like in those circumstances? What if God doesn’t answer our prayers as we expect? What if the journey that God has for us does include pain, loss, and heartache? Where will my faith be then?
I don’t have a clean answer for that. So two years ago, my friend and I made a promise that if he was ever in a place where he needed prayer, someone to listen, to talk with him, a sounding board, he would call me–any time, any day. We also promised each other to always speak truth even if it’s ugly. There are some weeks where we text and talk almost every day, and other weeks where it’ll be just a couple of texts.
A topic that has frequently come up is faith. He has shared often his fears that he is not the man of faith he used to be, that he is uncertain if he is leading his family spiritually, that he fears he is more of a burden to his wife and kids than an encourager, and his fear that if he doesn’t come out of this dark pit, he fears his kids will walk away from the faith and question what kind of example he is as a Christian man.
So, what does faith look like? Whether it’s the medication or the physiological status of his neurotransmitters, or a spiritual battle – or all three, what does faith look like when you do not feel connected to the One who you are putting your faith in? My friend does not feel the emotional connection to God during worship, during his daily devotions, during his time of reflecting on His Word. It has been more than two years without experiencing those moments many of us believers experience when His word convicts us, or a song grips us and moves us, or a truth is revealed to us. My friend is thirsting for an encounter with God as he has experienced before, but right now, he has felt this disconnect for two years.
What kind of man is he to his wife and to his children? My friend has asked me this multiple times, and through this journey with him, I can only make one conclusion: My friend is a man of faith. It is easy to worship our Lord, study the Bible, and sing praises to Him when life is smooth and when we experience prayers being answered the way we expect. It is easy to praise a God when I have an encounter with him that moved me spiritually and emotionally. However, I can’t imagine what it is like to be my friend, to worship and pursue God from the pit of despair. I can’t imagine what it is like to trust in a God when I myself do not feel connected to His presence. Wouldn’t it be so easy to give up and stop pursuing God?
This has been the life and journey of my friend the past couple years. While I am sitting outside of the storm, I am at the same time with him from the outside, if that makes any sense. My dearest friend and brother has not given up, by God’s amazing grace. Even with his struggles, he pursues God daily in soaking in His Word, His presence, in his daily life choices and living. He pursues God, choosing to hang on and placing his confidence in Christ. He pursues God by seeking his family and people, like me, to remind him of His truths and to keep supported in prayer and in love, and to renew hope every day that he will be healed from his anxiety, panic, fear, and depression.
Our brother Theo Kwong preached in our English worship service not too long ago about how we can turn to Jesus to see His example of responding when suffering comes, that suffering is not to be avoided – as we are promised suffering when we choose to follow Christ. This is how my friend has chosen to respond to his suffering – by faith, pursuing God, wrestling with God and not letting go and embracing the help from those close to him. I am confident his wife and children see him as an example of what a man of faith is, and that one day, we will all understand the strength and faith it has taken him to come this far and to understand how faithful our Father is. As I lead my family to pray for my friend, I hope my children will also see their “Uncle” as the epitome of faith, the example of Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
I had a dream early on in our journey. I dreamed that my friend was standing on the stage at his church, sharing his story, bringing people to light from their places of darkness, and I was sitting close to the front on the left side, and he looked good! I see this picture in my mind as if it has already happened. I continue to have faith that this is prophetic, that one day, we will celebrate this moment together. I am also hoping that my faith will mirror my friend’s as I continue my pursuit of God, that I can pursue Him with as much desperation as my dear brother. I am learning that faith is not clean, it is a messy and a hard-fought journey, and that sometimes, I will not know what is on the other side. I have been challenged to trust and place my confidence in Christ, even when things are so uncertain. So, please pray for both of us, that as my friend experiences those days walking through the valley of the shadow of death, God will assure him that he can continue to take courage and spiritual authority because He is right behind him, and that I can continue to live and speak spiritual truths that will bring light to places of darkness, and ultimately, my friend will experience the presence of God with him.