I'm looking forward to getting back to more traditional theology next week, but there's one more important question in all this monster talk:
What happens to the monsters when they win?
And the answer is: they get names.
They've always had forms. They've always had structures. But they've always been known by the trouble they cause, the trauma they inflict. We spend the night knowing our monsters by our sense of their presence but rarely, if ever, by name. Most of the time, we're afraid to name them. We're afraid to humanize them in any way.
When they win, when they pull us beyond ourselves, when they create the space in which we grow, we can't help but humanize them. We can't help but humanize them because it's very clear who the human is at the heart of this story. It's us. And when our monsters have taught us what we need to know, when they have broken us enough to heart truth, they become a part of our story, too.
That's why we name them. They are no longer terrors but characters. They are pieces of the growing narrative of our lives. No longer are they known simply by the pain and the fear; now, they are known by name. Anger. Depression. Abuse. Addiction. Arrogance. Grief. Shame. Fear. And so on. When we call them by name, we can start weaving them in.
Because by name, we remember our interactions with them like we do an old friend. I met Bill the other day for coffee. I stopped by Lisa's house for a quick chat. Fear came to me in the night. Grief once ripped my heart straight out of my chest. They aren't monsters any more; they're just characters. And they are helping to tell the story of us.
It's the difference between being hurt and being broken. Between being scarred and being wounded. It's coming to have this dynamic relationship with the very things that used to torment you because, in the light of day and knowing it seems you've lost the battle, you've also found so many better things. You've found a truer measure of yourself. You know where you end, and you know that somehow, you don't end even there. You know where God begins, and yet, He began long before even that. You understand how God is already redeeming your story, how the light shines on the monsters. When you see them for what they are, you see you for what you are and God for what He is. All of a sudden, what seemed so scary is just a good friend. A necessary acquaintance in the darkest night that led you back to God.
That's the rosy picture of it. In reality, it's a lot messier. It's messy because on most days, you don't really feel that grateful for monsters. You don't. You might, in a particularly poignant moment, have some appreciation of all they have done for you, but in general, you still think there was probably a better (read: easier) way to get to where you are. To have learned the things you have learned. (There probably isn't, by the way.)
It's messy because for awhile, and I can't speak to how this looks further down the road because I'm not there yet, but for awhile, the monsters are still more real than the rest of the story. They have names, but they feel like the primary characters in your story instead of occasional friends. It can feel for awhile like your life is telling their story. That does get better. I promise. It takes a very long time, and it's not easy. It's a whole new fight with them, but it's nothing like the fight you just got through. But I'm just being honest. Coming out of the dark, you know your monsters but it feels like you've more lost yourself. For awhile.
It's messy because they are still grotesque. (See Monday's post for the difference between gruesome and grotesque.) They still have seven eyes and sharp fangs and prickly green fur all over their bodies. They still have haunting voices and creepy smiles. They still feel incongruous with the life you were meant to live. And maybe they are, even though in a fallen world, I don't think we can get away from such a thing.
It's messy but in those rare and finest moments, you understand enough of the scary story to let that mess be a little okay.
And then something cool happens. Someday, somewhere, God is going to call your monsters by name. And He's going to introduce them to the monsters in someone else's life. New monsters that don't yet have a name. New monsters that are just starting to come out in the night. He's going to put you in a place where your scary story speaks light into a story that's just taken a dark turn. It is really, really cool when that starts to happen.
One caveat, and I say this because it's also true. Please don't misread me. God does not give you monsters for the sake of someone else. Your story is not preparation for what God wants to do with you. Sometimes, it is. Most of the time, it's not. You weren't abused because God needed you to be abused. You weren't depressed because God needed you to be depressed. You didn't grieve because God needed you to grieve. He wasn't setting you up for this. You did not fight your battles so that you could help someone else. That would be a bit sadistic, don't you think? God's not like that.
Rather, God uses you because you have fought your battles. God uses you because you can name your monsters. Because you've been there. He never intended for you to be there. Once upon a time, this world was "good." But you have been there and God is busy working "good" back into that because one tiny bit of good that could ever be is better than living a broken life in vain just because the world is fallen. He's working it out so that the story isn't limited to the corruption of this world; it is also infused with the promise of God. A promise for redemption. A promise for purpose. A promise for meaning in what so often feels like a meaningless place.
God doesn't make the monsters. He doesn't. But He does start writing them in. When you start calling them by name, they become characters in your narrative. Good friends (okay, contentious but sometimes appreciated friends) who are helping you tell your story. His story.
Seven eyes, sharp fangs, prickly green fur, and all.