It is a fact that approximately 4 billion people are singing Adele’s “Hello” in the shower at any given moment, somewhere around the world. Okay so it hasn’t been proven by scientists, but you know that it’s true. Sales of “Hello” went platinum only three weeks after its release. Something about this song has utterly captured and hypnotized us all. Just yesterday I was listening to it in the car and afterwards, my two-year-old son yelled from the backseat, “Do one more time!” with a tone of desperation I have never heard from him. The power of “Hello” is not lost, even on the male toddler. Maybe it’s just the sound of it – Adele’s deep, dreamy, yet potent vocals. Or a chorus that punches you in the gut like a bad breakup or a perfect marriage proposal; it’s hard to tell which, amidst the stirring this song inspires.
I think what really captivates us is all of it. This is a song about longing, regret, and separation – principal elements of the human experience that have left not one of us unscathed. Just walk into the lunchroom of any junior high school and you’ll remember what it’s like to feel utterly other.
Who hasn’t been on the unrequited side of a relationship, or yearning for a friend, or wondering if there’s anyone at all on the other end of your anguished prayers?
Hello, can you hear me?
Growing up, I always felt on the outside of something. And that applied to Christianity as well. Every Christian I knew looked like a walking Gap ad – perfect clothes, perfect life – the type of people who always seemed happy, the type of people who showered at least every other day. They had it all together. I, on the other hand, struggled with an often debilitating depression, and liked beer and cigarettes way too much to get in on that hoo-ha. I’m nearly three years’ nicotine-free and just writing that sentence makes me salivate a little.
Before I became a believer, it was me and them. They seemed well-bathed and well-behaved. I was on the outside – broken, flawed.
There’s such a difference between us
And a million miles
Hello from the other side
Then I became a Christian – not because I realized right away that they actually didn’t have it all together (which they didn’t), but because it occurred to me that if I even had a shot at getting it together, then I couldn’t do it on my own. I had all the strength of a corpse. I needed a God. Of course, now I realize that “having it all together” is an expectation of the human, not the divine. It wasn’t the sexiest thought process behind a conversion (and, as you might guess, the story is much more complex than the last few sentences imply). It wasn’t the whole tidy Gospel-package. But it was pretty close. It involved a profound understanding that I wasn’t enough and a deep, even poetic longing for something more to intervene.
Prior to that conversion, even when I “didn’t believe” God was out there or right for me, he was nagging in the back of my mind – like the ex in “Hello,” the shadow of someone you suspect you shouldn’t have said goodbye to, the phantom of a person who could actually be for you. He always seemed to pop up as if to say, “What if you’re wrong about me?”
Hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times
Yet even after I started to identify as a Christian I sometimes felt on the outside – not Christian-y enough. Hell, I still have those moments all the time, and I decided I believed in Jesus over a decade ago. I swear too much, eat too much, I sometimes wear the same outfit two days in a row, don’t get to church enough, or read my Bible as much as I should, etc. (This list, in its full truth and entirety would both bore and disgust you, as I’m sure yours would to me).
They say that time’s supposed to heal you
But I ain’t done much healing
I think a lot of people assume that after you become a Christian, you get better, easier, lighter, that surely you’re just on this fragrant “Jesus high” that never ends, footprints in the sand and whatnot. Not always so.
There was once a time when I was certain that God had left me. He either wasn’t there or couldn’t hear me. I was halfway through my pregnancy with my second baby. Over the course of a week, the darkest anxiety and depression took hold of me – like a Halloween mask I wore it, but couldn’t take it off. It seemed to become a part of my very skin. As the disease took over, my sanity shrank back like a limp balloon. I woke up on a Saturday morning and immediately burst into tears for the dread that overwhelmed my spirit. I knew something wasn’t right, felt it all the way down in my toes. So much of this day is a fog to me now, but this is what I do remember: I prayed frantically. I flipped through pages of my Bible as if I were looking for an answer, as if the action of turning pages alone would ring in the presence of the Holy Spirit and free me. But nothing worked. My husband drove me, with our one-year-old son in tow, to the Emergency Room, with little assistance there on the medical end. We came back home. I could feel my self slipping. In moments I’d be lost forever. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, I begged for God to show up:
Take this away from me. Bring me back. Don’t let me go.
All I felt in return was thick darkness and these snarling whispers running over and over again in my fractured mind, “This is the impasse. This is where people go when they end it all.” “Please don’t let this be my story,” I pleaded. I was terrified of what I could be capable of.
From my fragile perspective in those moments, God had all but turned away, left me and my unborn child to die as in Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
Looking back, the Lord carried me and my sweet Margot all the way through this hideous, gnashing season with the perfect tenderness of a loving father. On that Saturday I also happened to call my dad weeping. He knew something wasn’t right and immediately jumped in the car and drove six hours to our home in Savannah. (My mom arrived a few hours later via plane. She had been at a meeting in Virginia and dropped everything). They drove me back to Birmingham to meet with my psychiatrist, who put me on a pregnancy-safe medication right away. I met with an obstetrician, who is also my dad’s best friend (and ended up delivering Margot). He told me that this type of a depressive episode could sometimes be caused by pregnancy, which was comforting in a way. It would take almost two months for the medicine to really help. My husband bore so much of my burden during that time. The Lord had surrounded me with people who would carry me, care for me, and would not let me go. While I felt all but dismembered, separate from my self and the Lord, I look back and see that He was actually with me in a more physical and profound way than I have ever known.
What Tim Keller says rings so true, “The founders of every major religion said, ‘I’ll show you how to find God.’ Jesus said, ‘I am God who has come to find you.’” Our Immanuel. Our God with us. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
Every bit of “Hello” evokes a sense of longing for reunification with another. As I listen to it, scenes from my own life flash through my mind like a movie montage: crying about having no friends in my sixth grade home room – watching as the boy I liked held hands with my best friend – slamming the door on my mom, desperately wishing I could take it back, that she’d open it anyway – gazing out the window of my boarding school dorm room sophomore year, dreaming I had a boyfriend or the right friends or anything at all in common with these northern strangers – hugging the edge of my bed in anger, facing away from my husband, wondering who would budge first and apologize. Scenes from the outside.
Look at “Hello” from the beat down sinner’s perspective, calling out to God:
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart
Here’s where it counts:
But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart
On Good Friday, when a man named Jesus died on a cross, the earth shook and the curtain of the temple was torn apart from top to bottom so that, no matter what I do or don’t do, no matter how low I fall, I’ll never be on the outside again. Not ever, anymore.
Hello from the inside.