Olive Green

IMG_2497The summer before my senior year of college, I moved from a very old, shabby house to another very old, shabby house, although this one was much bigger and I had my own bedroom.

I moved into a room painted yellow; the walls were pale, pastel and peeling. It felt a little bit like cheerfulness run out or happiness that was one or two shades off. Although I was only going to live in the room for a year, I knew the color had to change.

A few days after moving, I came home with two buckets of fresh paint. I put all of my furniture in the middle of the room, threw down some drop cloths and got started.

I painted my room olive green, and a pretty dark shade of olive green at that. I could tell that at least a couple of people who came into the room while it was still being painted weren’t being honest when they told me they liked it and thought it looked good. But I didn’t care – even with the room in shambles and paint and plastic everywhere, I loved it.

Like all rooms being painted, this one got put back together, and the shades of dark brown, purple, green and white all worked together to dissipate anyone’s doubts about what the room would look like – although I was told over and over again that only me and my stuff could pull off a color like this. No one else would have painted her room olive green, and whoever lived there after me certainly wouldn’t keep it this color (she didn’t – ironically, it’s yellow again).

Although I tried to brighten the room with a white comforter and some light wall décor, it was still undeniably dark. I embraced this, calling it the woman cave when I wanted to watch TV that summer and relaxing in the comfort of my olive green walls and the yellow light cast by my floor lamps.

That room felt more like a reflection of myself and what I liked than any other room I have lived in. My room back at my parent’s house was light blue and beach-themed, and although it’s now a darker shade of turquoise, it still doesn’t feel like mine. My freshman year roommate loved all colors bright, and my sophomore and junior year roommate took that love down a notch but still loved more cheerful colors than I did. This summer, I sublet a light pink room, and now I live in a room painted almost-white.

All of these rooms were mine and filled with my stuff, but they didn’t reflect me. They didn’t – and don’t – feel as comforting and enveloping and like home the way that olive green room did.

Last night, we sang Hallelujah at church during the Christmas Eve service. The rest of the songs were upbeat Christmas carols, promising hope and joy and love and all other things happy. But I only remember Hallelujah, in part because of its haunting beauty but also because I think it encapsulates what Christmas – and Christianity – means in the context of real life.

The verses we sang talked about a baby boy, born in a manger and come to die on a cross to save the world. And even that one sentence is such an amazing mixture of happy-sad that it’s often overlooked.

The manger, the cross and Christ himself mean nothing if not put in the context of a broken, suffering humanity. The hope given by a Christ come to save the world is nothing if he had nothing to save the world from.

And I can’t believe he only saves us once – I think Jesus saves us from brokenness and emptiness and hopelessness over and over again until the day we depart from this world.

I moved into that olive green room shortly after my only bout of depression, and I was still figuring out how to understand my faith in a way that allowed for Christian suffering. And my depression had not been, comparatively, particularly severe. Maybe that color was my first step into embracing a darkness I had previously tried to cover up and deny – a darkness that doesn’t make sense when evaluated from the perspective of the false gospel claiming that Jesus makes everything – and every Christian – happy, healthy, wealthy and successful until happily ever after.

Before my struggle with depression, I had fallen prey to the idea that to be a follower of Jesus meant that I felt happy – or maybe even more importantly, had appeared to feel happy – all the time. Unfortunately, in the midst of and after depression, my comfortable little black-and-white world had been smeared into hundreds of shades of grey, and I needed to figure out what all of that meant.

Maybe that room was trying to make the claim that in the midst of a darkness comparable only to death surrounding us, Jesus promises to make us come alive. Maybe it was an attempt at honesty; an honesty about who I am, including my darkness.

Maybe it is only by confronting, admitting, even befriending that darkness, we can fully appreciate the meaning of grace because we know the hell from which it saves us.

Or maybe that room meant nothing other than I like the color olive green and having a dark bedroom, but I painted it at a time when my faith was becoming more real than it ever had been before.

If you have suffered, you know how the Israelites must have felt while waiting in the wilderness of the soul for their Savior. And if you have experienced faith, you can only imagine the magnitude of hope the prophesies of Scripture gave them, promising them a Christ child.

If you have suffered, you also know what it feels like to wish for a day when all suffering ceases. And if you know Jesus, maybe you’ve had a glimpse into the wonder of hoping and knowing that day will come, yet you’ve also had the joy of experiencing snatches of that bliss-to-come.

Scripture promises us only that the light shines in the darkness and that the darkness will never extinguish it – it does not promise us a life absent of darkness. Although this darkness must be acknowledged to understand the purpose of light, we also must move past this darkness if we are to find life; we must experience the hope and life provided to us by the light.

If we paint our bedrooms olive green, we must remember that if we never venture outside of those rooms, no matter how much we love them, our lives will never be fully lived.

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