I’m a devout Christian, but that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. The friends I have now probably think the Akil they know has always existed, but that’s not the case. Most of the people I hang around now have no idea that I used to be suicidal. Almost none of my friends know that I used to curse like a drunken sailor with Tourette syndrome or that I used to smoke. And no one, not even my family, knows that I used to think God hated me.
Going Through the Motions
My parents are both devout Christians, and even though they did their best to teach me about the Bible, Jesus, God and everything Christian, I never entirely grasped it. I remembered all the Bible stories that most Christian parents teach their kids (David and Goliath, Moses, Noah’s Ark, etc.). I heard them when they talked about this Jesus guy and how he died on the cross for all of our sins and everything, but I never really gave much thought to what any of those old stories really meant. Like so many Christians, I just drifted through the motions of my faith.
For years, every Sunday morning, when my parents woke me up and told me to get ready for church, I started to float through my routines. I’d float over to my closet and get dressed. I’d float through breakfast and float through the trek to church. And once we got there, I’d float all the way through the service, and only once I had gotten home again would I become grounded. To me, being a Christian didn’t mean much besides saying that I believed in God, going to church every week, and saying the occasional prayer whenever I was in trouble — and the older I got, the more trouble I got into and the further I floated away.
When I was younger, I was bullied pretty often. I have an eccentric and energetic personality, and growing up, people called me “weird” and picked on me because I was so different. Eventually, I became quiet and introverted, and my self-esteem plummeted. By seventh grade, I flat out hated myself and everyone around me.
By eighth grade, life got really bad. I started to hear voices in my head. The voices told me that no one loved me, that I was worthless and that I would die alone. The voices told me that my life wasn’t worth living, and my mere existence was a burden on everyone’s lives. I felt habitually depressed, and I blamed God for it all. I cursed at God for allowing me to go through everything I went through.
When Doves Cry
Whenever I felt depressed (which was just about every other day), I would cry and ask God why he hated me. I would pray for him to send me someone who would love me unconditionally. For a long time, nothing changed. After I started high school, I still felt depressed, delusional and self-conscious. I kept crying and praying. As time went on, the voices gradually stopped, and I felt less depressed.
I met a girl — someone very special to me. Our relationship never had any romantic intentions; we were just good friends. What we shared was a different kind of perspective on the world and the people who lived in it — hers being even more elaborate and eccentric than mine. Her personality was biting usually, but her complexity, uniqueness and unrivaled intellect kept me intrigued.
Her friendship, however, exposed me to a kind of lifestyle and society I was unfamiliar with. I met punk rockers, emo kids, skaters, anime lovers and social outsiders. Their company made me feel safe — like I had finally found a place where I could belong and feel wanted. Along with her friends, I took up one of her casual habits: smoking. I never smoked as much as she did or enjoyed it as much (although, if you understood what she’s been through, you’d understand why she loved such distractions).
Before all of this, I was a bit of a virgin to the kind of excitement she introduced me to. In fact, trying smoking made me realize it was too much excitement for me, and I eventually quit. We stopped hanging out so much for a long time. I didn’t like the way smoking inhibited my ability to think clearly; I’m a detail-oriented deep thinker, and smoking ruined a very large part of me. I couldn’t stand to lose that, so I quit. This sensible decision led to some self-evaluation. Among other things, I thought more about God.
Eventually, I made friends who embraced me for who I was — eccentricity and all. I still wasn’t really living by Christian principles (which I now understand are centered on trust, faith, and a wholehearted pursuit to know God), but all the suffering started to lighten up. Then it hit me — this is what I’d prayed for. When I realized that, I cried. I gradually became more thankful for everything I had in my life and dedicated more of myself to my faith. Since I’ve done that, my life has gotten much more enjoyable and simpler.
Even though I cursed God’s name and showed nothing but contempt for him, he still forgave me. Even though I hadn’t been living by the principles I was taught growing up, God heard my desperate prayers and revealed his unconditional love for me by answering them. What I’m trying to say is that, to me, God isn’t a cold, unfeeling king who kills and punishes anyone who criticizes him and his judgments. If that was the case, then everybody would be dead. According to Romans chapter 3, verse 23, “all fall short of the glory of God.” No one is perfect. Jesus died so my imperfections won’t count against me, as long as I wholeheartedly pursue God and embrace his idea for how my life should be lived.
I believe he’s a loving God. He hears my crying pleas. He sees and understands my pains. But he puts me through them for a reason. If God hadn’t allowed me to suffer, I wouldn’t understand the emotions of people who deal with extremely low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts or how I could possibly aid them. Because of my experiences, I now have an inexorable compassion for people, an insatiable intrigue for their thoughts, and a never-ending desire to help reveal to them the truth and unfailing love of God.
There’s a scripture in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that simply reads, “Love never fails.” If for no one else, that’s been true for me. Because of my tribulations and many imperfections, I thought God didn’t love me at all. From what tiny faith I had in him, I mustered up the humility to pray to him almost every night — even if most of the prayers were out of anger or more like desperate cries for help. From that tiny faith (the Bible says Jesus called it “mustard seed faith,” because mustard seeds are so incredibly small), God was able to hear my prayers and was moved to pour his unconditional, life-transforming, mountain-moving love onto my life.
Akil, 17, is a senior at Riverdale High School.
It’s not easy asking for help or talking to someone about problems. Check out these two religious and non-religious resources and check the VOX Resource Guide on the VOX website for even more resources in our community.
- St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church offers pastoral counseling for individuals and families. For more info, call 404-634-3336.
- Visit atlantacounselingcenter.org or call 770-396-0232 for non-faith-based resources.
— Resources by Corinne Klibanoff / VOX Staff