For the longest time I have been in the darkest despair. When my dad passed away early last year, I found myself ill-equipped to grieve graciously. I was already struggling, emotionally asphyxiating. Countless inner wounds had kept me tethered to periods of frustration, seasons of sadness, dark swirls of depression. I had plodded on – that’s what a good soldier does. I had learnt coping skills. I had kept my chin up. But losing my father sent me crashing into a wall of personal disorientation, my overwhelmed and crushed spirit unable to absorb the blow of death and loss.
I tried desperately to hang on to fraying threads of hope, but anguish pushed forward as a relentless surge, obliterating even the joyful landmarks of my inner landscape. Lifejoy died that day on the study floor as I knelt beside my father’s still frame where he had collapsed from a heart attack – my words to my aunt, when she arrived, ‘He has fallen down and he will not get up again,’ were meant for my heart too. Nothing would ever be the same again.
They say there are two kinds of people in the world – those who are wounded, and those who are liars. Twenty years in the church had taught me that even those who profess to love Christ would rather shout ‘hallelujah’, wear a plastic smile on the outside, yet miserably stuff their sin, shame and pain into the dark attic of their barely-alive hearts. When we misrepresent ourselves like this, we have no fear of God in us and we cause others to stumble in their faith and the world to call us hypocrites. I didn’t want this for myself. If Jesus came to set captives free, well then, I wanted my freedom!
I sought out some help and got down into the trenches of memory and pain, sorting through disappointment and doubt, grief and fear. It turned out to be the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Facing up to myself and the darkness that had hounded me for years took far more courage than I had. I hung on to verses like ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,’ (Hebrews 13:5) and ‘As for you, I’ll come with healing, curing the incurable, because they all gave up on you and dismissed you as hopeless – that good-for-nothing Zion,’ (Jeremiah 30:17). Yet, my terrors remained – looming large, springing traps on me. Sleep became a problem. I felt besieged, the enormity of my turmoil weighing me down.
As the weeks slipped into months, my self-frustration grew at my lack of progress and shame started building as I then blamed myself for not healing sooner.
But I kept on digging.
Sick, exhausted and heartbroken, I wrote in my journal: ‘Do my remaining years here on this planet hold any good? I DON’T WANT TO FIGHT FOR EVERYTHING MY WHOLE LIFE.’ And later: ‘The oppressive heaviness won’t lift. It just stares at me all day and I stare back, and so we sit, inert and lifeless, too worn down and weary to lift a finger.’ I recalled a line from a poem I had written many years ago at another low point in my life: ‘My dreams are gone, my hope is crushed / My aspirations turned to dust’.
I have a small book by Dutch Sheets called Hope Resurrected. I’ve read it several times. It is dog-eared, tear-stained, underlined. He writes that the giants we face today will always be the biggest we’ve faced – and nowhere in God’s Word could I see evidence in support of running away from my enemies (only running to God). So, I turned, planted my feet and let the fear and shame and pain and loss come at me. And come at me they did.
For some freakish reason, they had grown in size, they were worse. They were huge. My desperation and depression seemed out of control. I felt I had waded into hell.
I was encouraged to look up and see a world waiting for me, that I had something to offer – but I couldn’t lift my head, I just couldn’t. My eyes were glued to the horrifying sight of the ground giving way under my feet.
I read in my book: ‘You don’t have to be well to hope, but you do have to hope to be well.’ As terrified and crushed and depressed as I felt, I simply could not allow myself to give up. The stakes were too high.
Then one day, a very small and mundane thing happened. Crying in my kitchen, soapy water and tears rinsing my dishes, I came to understand the verse from Hebrews, that God is always with me, even in this deluge of misery. Holding my hand. Not letting go. And that others too had faced the losses I had experienced, and had somehow got through it. So would I.
I spilled my worst shame and pain to someone who would listen and came home later that evening to a dark and cold flat, still filled with so much hurt. The dam wall broke with such intensity then, collapsing on me, its waters drenching my cheeks, my clothes, my pillow. I sobbed and wailed into the small hours of the night, and much of the next day too. I couldn’t make it stop. Pain welled up from deep inside and I cried like I cried on the day we stood at my dad’s coffin and said goodbye. I thought the pain was going to kill me. This time round, though, I was crying over the grave of a lost childhood, wishes and aspirations, longings and hopes – all burnt to the ground. Curled up in a ball, I cried that no-one had listened to my dreams… but wait. That wasn’t true! It suddenly occurred to me that in going to Italy (a dream since age four), a loving God had heard a little girl’s sighs and made it happen for her.
It dawned on me.
I am his DAUGHTER.
He sits and watches me all the time. He dotes on me. He sings me songs. He teaches me things. I BELONG. I am HIS. My joys and my sorrows are all his. I have a place at the family table. I’m part of the party, no longer hanging around at the edges in shameful shadows. I have an EQUAL inheritance with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I don’t need to stand back for anyone or anything. I have his undivided attention when I speak to him. He spends time with me. He has not only saved me from my sin, but he has also saved me from my pain. Saviour.
Now my immense pain has a day and a date that I laid it to rest. I still cry, but the intensity is less, and I am assured that, in time, it will fade – eventually taking its proper perspective in the grand scheme that is my life. I am not swinging from celestial chandeliers just yet.
But I am walking towards the light.
Arise [from the depression and prostration in which circumstances have kept you—rise to a new life]! Shine (be radiant with the glory of the Lord), for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you (Isaiah 60:1 AMP).
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