2016 in review: the year of loss

I started 2016 with a brand new job that I love, in a field that I really enjoy, with my own office (huge windows!), and pretty decent coworkers. The year 2016 was a big, successful step in my career. I bought a house, too, and locked in a low rate just before the Fed (et al.) finally raised the interest rate. It’s a nice little home in an established neighborhood near an area of excellent development, so I’m reasonably set to enjoy rising property values. I completed some courses and finished some books that had been on my list for a while. I even did a bit of art.

In many ways, this year was a success. But other things happened that left permanent scars. These marks are now, irrevocably, part of who I am. But don’t think that I end the year with a gloomy disposition and a bitter heart. Mingled with the sadness there is a greater hope.

The first half of the year was spent agonizing over my decision to separate myself from friends who had been a huge part of my life in the previous year. I formally left their fellowship because the leadership was engaging in behavior that would have been construed by unbelievers as sexual immorality. Although this knowledge was public, it took me a long time to consciously acknowledge that the situation was so reproachable. I think this was due to confirmation bias: I was refusing to believe the evidence that there was a serious flaw in my group of friends. I really, really loved my time with them. I didn’t want to believe there was an issue so reproachable that I might have to separate myself from them. It took many months, but eventually I did come to terms with what I had to do for the sake of the name of Christ. With guidance from my church, I made the decision to leave. Some civil conversations were had, and I am happy that I don’t regret how I conducted myself (if you know me, you know how I tend heavily toward harsh words). But I do regret that nothing much came of it. My friends acknowledged what I saw, but they didn’t call it sin, and they wanted me to have forbearance and stay. This was in May.

I spent the second half of the year in a strange state of limbo, neither in denial nor acceptance of what had happened, trying to make sense of what I was feeling. The fact of the matter was not difficult to understand: I lost most of my friends, by my own choice. But I didn’t understand how I felt about it. In this confusion I acted strangely and felt horrible. I told my friends that I wanted to remain friends, and we really did try. I invited them to things, they invited me to things. I discovered, disturbingly, that the mere thought of meeting them made me feel dread. I was so confused! These were the people I had loved seeing. We had texted every day. They had been a Godsend to me: many friends in a city where I had so few. Well, maybe they were just tired of someone that was always unhappy to see them, but they stopped contacting me. But by November I finally found words to describe what I felt.

The friends who were close to the leader displaying poor behavior did what they could to encourage change in the situation, but to me they ultimately seemed resigned to tolerate his behavior in their church. The church’s top leadership knew about it, and allowed him to remain in their fellowship without changing his behavior. I didn’t want Christian fellowship with them. I spent many months being uncertain because of the harshness of this judgment. But my church supported me in this decision; I did not take it alone or without many months of counsel. The reason at its core was simple: Christ did not die to harbor unrepented, ongoing sin. I personally did not want to be associated with it, and I did not want anyone else to think that I accepted or tolerated it. Maybe this makes me a hypocrite. Maybe I was free to leave their fellowship, but wrong to judge them for the actions (or, as I saw it, lack of action). Maybe my church leadership encouraged me to leave not because it was necessarily right, but because they thought separation was the best way to avoid adding fuel to the fire.

Confidence notwithstanding, the loss of friends made me depressed and angry for a long time. I couldn’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted at work because I couldn’t stop obsessively thinking and raging. I was depressed for five months. Only in November did I finally start coming to terms with these new permanent marks on my life, and I even began to forgive. Forgive the leader, forgive my old friends, forgive myself. I remember the first time it happened, too. It felt like a cloud had passed and the world became brighter. Life had taste again.

It’s still a work in progress. I keep having to forgive and move on, and often it has to happen multiple times per day. I saw a great deal of hypocrisy in me as well (as if someone’s open and willful sin were less offensive to God than my private, less obstinate sin). I was forced to come to terms with the fact that everything that had happened, including the pain, was in great part due to my actions and my failings; I was no innocent victim. Acknowledging my need for forgiveness toward the end of the year is what finally let me begin to forgive others. He who is forgiven much, loves much. Writing this year-in-review is a part of this recovery process; it’s part record-keeping and part confession. I’m looking forward to being done with it. I have most of the answers, and am beginning to feel no desire to think on them any more. I’m reminded of this whole mess of feelings when I think of custard, and white chocolate, and pickles, and cheese. When I think of the renaissance festival, and McDonald’s, and Cookout, and houses, and night shifts, and Japan. I remember everything when I notice it’s Tuesday. Tuesday! An entire day of the week, recurring for the rest of my life! I’d like to have all of those things back without having to suffer a sudden bout of guilt and a flash of pain. The events of this year are now so deeply a part of me because I shared so much of my life with these friends. Without a doubt, this saga has been one of the most significant events of my life, and this is what 2016 means to me. I want to move on; take what I learned from my hard-earned lessons and leave the rest behind.

The year 2016 was the year of loss, but my attitude is one of hope. The fact that I can look beyond this suffering is a huge victory. And this victory is won by faith that my Father in heaven works all things for the good of those who love him. It has always been true in my life. It is a huge encouragement that I can clearly see how all my past suffering has been worked by God to benefit me, both now and eternally. I can’t see it yet, but believe that this year’s events are the same. I’m not happy about 2016, but I am hopeful that the Lord has my life well in hand and is using this for his glory and my betterment.

I wish the year had gone differently. I wish there had never been cause for division. I messed up a lot, and I’m guilty of a lot. In this coming year I just want to do right, honor God, and not be stuck in the misery of the past. Through the awful experiences for 2016 I hope that I am being transformed into a better person because of it. I hope 2017 proves it.

This blog post was originally written on December 23, 2016 and updated on February 2, 2017 with confessions of my own failures to correct the perception that I view myself as blameless victim.

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