I’ve wrestled with writing this for quite some time now. It is a difficult and terrifying thing to open yourself up, to become transparent and vulnerable. We live in a harsh world that teaches us to be closed off, self-defensive, to keep our innermost parts hidden away. A world that tells us that we must keep up appearances at all costs, that we must be what everyone else expects us to be… That it’s not ok to be hurting, it’s not ok to have needs, and it’s not ok to need help.
But the truth is, there are so many people who are hurting and broken, and who are going through it alone because this world has told them that they need to keep their pain hidden. There are people all around us who are struggling, and who may be buying into the lie that there’s no hope for them. And it’s because of those people that I feel compelled to speak up.
If that’s you today, please hear me when I say this; it’s ok to be broken, and even in your darkest moment there is still hope. Throughout our lives a lot of painful things get thrown our way, whether we ask for it or not. Now I certainly don’t have all the answers, but what I do have I humbly offer to you; my story.
I’ve had a good life, blessed in so many ways; I have a wonderful family, I’ve never been without food or shelter, I’ve been given amazing opportunities for education and every advantage in life. I grew up in the Midwest, was home schooled through High School, and then attended a Christian University only an hour away from my hometown. I grew up in the Church, attending Sunday school, AWANA, youth group, bible studies, and playing guitar in a Youth for Christ band. I had everything going for me… But that didn’t stop my world from falling to pieces.
Around the time I started college, I started struggling with depression and anxiety. Negative thoughts began to consume my life at a startling rate, quickly spiraling out of control. One day I was an excited college freshman ready to take on the world, and the next I was laying in my bed wondering if anyone would care if I were gone. Isolating myself from my friends and family, I locked myself away with my own thoughts. The more the negative thoughts circulated in my mind, the more they became my reality:
- “You’re worthless… You’re a failure”
- “No one wants you around”
- “You’re a nuisance, everyone would be better off if you weren’t here”
- “If they really knew you, they wouldn’t be friends with you”
Although I had grown up in the Church, my faith was performance based; dependent on my ability to live up to a list of rules and expectations. For most of my childhood I felt like I was doing a pretty good job of following the rules, so it wasn’t hard for me to accept that God loved me. But as feelings of worthlessness and failure took over, my faith crumbled. I couldn’t believe that God could possibly love or accept me, so I ran away from Him.
Throughout my 4 years in college, the downward spiral continued. In an attempt to cope, I turned to self-harm, substance abuse, reckless behavior, unhealthy relationships, and just an overall destructive lifestyle. My world fell apart as I pushed away my friends, walked away from dreams, and fell headfirst into addiction. Hope was a cruel joke to me, joy was a thing of fairy tales; I was lost in the dark without the will to try to find my way out. Suicidal thoughts and desires were a daily reality for me, and as time went by I grew more and more frustrated with my inability to act on them. In the darkness of my own mind, I believed that each day that I was still alive was not a sign of strength, but of weakness. But every time I would decide that it was finally time to go through with it, I would hear a whisper of hope saying “just give it one more day, maybe tomorrow things will be better.” I hated that glimmer of hope, but it was enough to stay my hand.
One night in particular, near the end of my senior year of college, I decided that enough was enough; “one more day” had turned into years, and I was tired of it. Then that same voice whispered “give it one more year.” At the time I didn’t know why that voice was so compelling, but that night I made a deal with myself and with God; after graduation I would move to a new place and get a fresh start, leaving behind everyone and everything that I knew. I would give it 1 year in that new place, but if at the end of that year things hadn’t changed then I would finally end things.
So two months after graduation, I packed up my car and moved to Denver; a place where I didn’t know anyone or anything, and moved into a basement that I had found on Craigslist. I was hoping to escape my problems, hoping that a new place and new people would fix everything… but the truth is, no matter how fast and far we run, we can’t outrun our problems or our pain.
Fast forward about 7 months, and it was the same old story. Sure, I had gotten connected in a good church and made friends, I was holding down 2 jobs and getting settled into life after college. On the outside I was doing just fine, but on the inside I was still the same broken mess. Negative thoughts still controlled my life, and the only way to escape was to drown them out with alcohol every night. I kept my new friends at a distance, just hoping they wouldn’t find out who I really was… and all the while my one year countdown was winding down in my mind.
I’ll be honest, every fiber of my being wants to delete those words, to re-write and put a better face on them. But unless we face the darkness and acknowledge its reality, we lock it away where the light of hope cannot reach it. But when we open those doors, the light shines through and the darkness cannot stand against it. In order to speak of hope, we must be willing to expose the utter darkness that makes our hope so powerful, so compelling.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
One night, on March 5th of 2014, I got off work early and pulled up Facebook on my phone. One of the first things I saw on my news feed was a reminder for a prayer night at my church, and for some reason I knew that I needed to go. I didn’t know anyone there that night, so I sat by myself and listened as one of our pastors got up on stage and started talking about grace. Having grown up in the Church my whole life, it was a familiar message to me, so familiar that for the most part I just tuned it out. Then the pastor said something that struck a chord in my heart; He said, “there are some of you here who don’t like yourselves at all, and you can’t accept God’s love and forgiveness because you think that you have to earn it.”
It felt like someone had punched me in the gut, and I knew that God was speaking to me. For the first time in my life that I can remember, I had an honest dialogue with God. I told Him that I couldn’t do it anymore, and I was so tired of trying to fix things. He told me to stop trying to do it on my own and just give it to Him, to trust Him. I argued with Him (strong headed as I am), and asked Him how I could trust Him when it felt like everyone I’d ever turned to and trusted had let me down. His response came in the form of a single verse:
“God is not a human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19, NIV)
I had a choice to make, and it needed to be made right then and there; I could take a risk and trust God in a way I had never done before, or I could walk out and keep doing things the way I’d been doing them. I stood up and started walking towards the door, but before I could walk outside I felt God calling me to simply walk back to the front of the sanctuary and ask someone for prayer. After a few deep breaths, fighting back tears and staring intently at the floor, I walked up to the front and approached one of the pastors of our Young Adults ministry for prayer. More than anything it was a time of admitting that I wasn’t ok, that I couldn’t do it on my own, and that I needed help. I walked out feeling more broken than I could ever remember feeling before, but in the midst of it there was a glimmer of hope like I’d never experienced before. When I got home that night, I picked up a journal and I started to write. I’ve journaled every single day since that night, and the pages of my journals chronicle an amazing story of redemption and transformation, written by my Creator.
March 5th was only the beginning of the story, and I could probably fill hundreds of pages with the amazing things that God has done in my life since then. I can tell you that today I have a joy that I never thought possible. It’s a joy that’s not dependent on my circumstances, but is predicated on the unshakable belief that, in spite of my failings and shortcomings, God loves me! It has been a long journey, with months of counseling, tough and vulnerable conversations, and countless hours spent in the Word and in prayer… but God has been with me every step of the way, and true to His word He has brought healing. Now, about 19 months later, depression and negative thoughts no longer control my life. I have real, authentic, and meaningful relationships, and for the first time in my life I feel whole… It’s a feeling I have yet to find the words to describe.
A few years ago I wasn’t planning on still being alive today, because I didn’t believe that hope was real… But I’m still here today because I found a hope so compelling that it saved my life and altered the trajectory of my life forever. That same hope that whispered to me on my darkest nights now shines bright and unquenchable in my life. I can barely fight back the tears of joy and gratitude as I step back and look at just how far my Savior has brought me.
I tell you all of this because I know that God’s not finished writing my story, and He’s not finished writing yours either. A little over a year ago my church’s young adults ministry put on an outreach event called “The Meetup,” and in the intro video it said;
“Could it be that Jesus has arranged my whole life, my last couple of months, my last few days, just to meet me? Could it be that He has taken every wrong turn that I’ve made, and made sure that He was at the end of it? Could it be that Jesus would do anything to meet me?”
No matter what’s going on in your life, there is always hope. No matter what you’ve done, God hasn’t given up on you, He hasn’t turned His back on you… He’s pursuing you right now, whether you recognize it or not. And just like we can’t run fast or far enough to escape our problems and pain, we also can’t run fast or far enough to escape His love.