A Struggle to Hope
Rain fell quietly, gently, from an open sky of gray to the gray street below; rain that masked the tears on her face, but failed to wash away the hurt inside. She sat motionless on the curb, head down in her hands. She was soaked to the bone but she hardly noticed. She was lost in a cyclone of thoughts and questions, spinning round and round and never going anywhere but down. The pain stung her again and she cried harder. It was all she could concentrate on. It consumed her. The hurt inside her heart was so deep and seemed trapped, unable to find its way out of her cloudy, confused and blockaded heart, and the more she wished it would go away, the worse her desperation and depression got. It was squeezing all the life out of her until she could do nothing more but cry.
This was a hurt only One could take away and He didn’t even seem to care, much less come to her rescue. Her heart cried silently out for Him once more.
“Jesus, where are you? I don’t feel your presence at all. You said you would always be with me and that you are always there! Well where are you now? I need you Jesus, why don’t you come to me? Why don’t you take away my doubts and make me sure of You? Why don’t you just make everything the way it was before when You and I were so close and had such a great relationship? What happened, Jesus? What do I need to do to make it right again?
She paused a moment, waiting for an answer. Nothing. Again. Just that guilty feeling that never left anyway.
“It would help”, she thought, “if I had even one person I could really talk to about this, but counseling wasn‘t an option. Unless she was at camp, talking to a counselor there, it seemed too much of a burden to unload on anybody. Her parents couldn’t understand why she just couldn’t get over the feelings of doubt that plagued her mind and heart. Quite frankly, they seemed sick of hearing about them. And she loved her friends, but they were such strong Christians she didn’t know if they would understand even if she could clearly explain it all to them (which in itself was doubtful). They thought she was such a strong Christian; she didn’t want to let them down. And the one Person she had always been able to talk to about everything was who the entire problem was based around and her prayers didn’t even seem to be reaching Him. Many times it seemed she was talking to her 4 bedroom walls as opposed to the One she claimed as Savior. With nowhere else to go, she headed home to retreat into sleep…
The next morning, she awoke to the sun shining through her window and making prisms on the floor. “Maybe I won’t doubt today” she thought as she pulled back the covers. The thought made her excited and gave her a sudden burst of energy and invincibility. But the moment her feet hit the ground her hopes were shattered: “Is Jesus really the Son of God?” her mind questioned. She heart plunged back into despair. She’d been struggling with this question for days. Her mind knew the answer but she could neither convince herself nor make her heart FEEL the answer. She tried again: “Yes, He is the Son of God. He…” and went on to give all kinds of answers as to why He had to logically be the Son of God. Again, though her logic was sound she failed to convince herself or make the doubt go away. She shook her head. It felt so hopeless. Right now though, she didn’t have much else she could do about it and she forced herself to shower, get dressed, eat and put on a smile so no one would know anything was wrong and ask about it.
I grew up going to church every Sunday. I spent the first Sunday of my life in church. My dad was even an ordained minister. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about God, or didn’t believe in Him. When I was seven, my family took a vacation up to a small resort on a lake. I decided that week that I wanted to get baptized, so I was. I knew what I was doing and what it meant (I believed Jesus was God’s Son, and had died for my sins. I was declaring that I was going to follow God the rest of my life and let Him lead me. I knew He was coming to live in my heart and wash me clean), but I made the choice to get baptized because I wanted to be able to take communion.
I felt the difference as I rose out of the water. I felt new and clean and like I wanted to live a perfect life for Jesus. Of course, I was not perfect, but I did my best and never questioned my beliefs, until Jr. High.
In January of my 8th grade year, I was with my youth group at a Christian youth retreat. I don’t remember now what the subject was or most of what we did, but I do remember getting ready to crawl into bed for the night, dressed in my pajamas, straightening up around my sleeping bag, when the devil hit me with both the best and worst question of my life:
“How do you know Jesus is the Son of God?”
It hit me like a ton of bricks and I panicked. I could physically feel my heart starting to beat faster and my brain picked up the speed too, as I frantically reached for my Bible and began to read, trying to convince myself that what I’d believed all my life really was true. I paused for a moment. How did I know the Bible was true? I wasn’t sure. It was the lowest point of my life. From then through the next few years, I went through what I believe was a deep depression. I continually questioned everything about my faith:
Did God exist?
If He did, did He really create the world?
Did Jesus rise from the dead?
Could I believe the Bible?
Was I saved? I don’t even remember how many times I asked Jesus into my heart because I was scared I had lost my salvation.
I couldn’t control the questions popping into my head and them taking over. I began to obsess over them. They were all I could think about because I felt my salvation was at stake. I tried to rationally answer my questions but I couldn’t FEEL my beliefs and often my answers just led to more questions. I wanted to believe so badly it didn’t seem like I could. A huge brick wall had been set up around my heart and it seemed like nothing could get through it. Nothing could touch me way down deep. I felt desperate and was beginning to feel hopeless. I kept crying out to God to help me, but no matter how hard I prayed I never seemed to get through to God.
“And why should God be listening to you or answering you?” Satan taunted. “You have to believe in God before he’ll do any of that for you.”
Feeling like I was being yanked around in a vicious, never-ending cycle, I essentially almost became two completely different people inside. One part of me- the active, ashamed, put-on-a-happy face, strong part of me-tired to go about daily life as normal as possible. I think I became a little more quiet and withdrawn, but I kept things as normal as possible with my friends. They were Christian, but I was afraid of what they would think of me if I told them what was going on. I stayed active in my activities and my grades never dropped. I appeared normal, but I couldn’t stop what was going on in the other part of me- my mind. All I wanted to do was sleep. It was the only way I could escape the questions and torment that plagued me most of my waking hours.
I thought of things I didn’t try to or even want to, but I couldn’t stop the thoughts-they were almost automatic, like a movie playing in my head. I thought about suicide. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I was afraid of doing it automatically, unconsciously, not being able to stop myself- like another force was guiding me. I was afraid one day I just might step out in front of a moving car, get hit and die. Or, the one I thought about most often was getting up in the middle of the night, sleepwalking, going to the bathroom and overdosing. I was becoming obsessive about my doubts, questions, and my suicidal thoughts.
One day, I just about had a nervous breakdown at school. I went into a panic, my mind racing, and all I could do was pace back and forth, back and forth. I told my mom about it afterward, and she suggested that if this kept happening I should maybe see a counselor. Shame and panic hit me again, and I quickly played down what was happening to me. In my mind, needing to see a counselor was bad. It was a sign of weakness. People would look down on me for it. It was something normal, good, Christian people shouldn’t need to do. We never talked about counseling again and I went through three more miserable years of panic, terror, obsession, and depression.
Each summer, I would spend a week up at my church’s summer camp. Besides home and school, this is probably the place that has had the greatest impact in my life. I started going to camp the summer after 3rd grade and went every year up until I left for college. In the summers before I started struggling with my faith, I had just thought of my counselors as friends and role models; some people who had lots of problems would talk to them to get help, but I never had to do that- I grew up in a Christian home and I had already been baptized; I didn’t have any of those big problems people talked about.
During this time in my life, however, things changed. The week was difficult because it was so spiritually focused and made me think even harder about my questions and doubts. But, it was also the only place I could speak freely about what was happening to me, and that kept me mentally sane.
The first summer after this all began, I decided to rededicate my life to Christ. I figured that would fix my problem- I would be so close to God and the devil would have to leave me alone. It didn’t work. Even later that night I doubted my salvation again- had I rededicated myself with the right motive, did I say the right words, did I really mean them, and did I really believe? I didn’t know the answers. The next morning was our last day there. I knew I couldn’t go home like this- worse than when I came- and wait another year to get this issue straightened out so, ashamed and nervous, I asked one of my counselors if I could talk to her. We sat at a table in the dining hall and I finally blurted out that I wasn’t sure if what I had done last night “counted” and if I really was saved. She talked to me about it and assured me I was and I went home feeling much better. The better feeling didn’t last very long though.
The next year was worse. The suicidal thoughts had gone away, but the questions and doubting my faith did not. That summer I lost 10 pounds in just that one week of camp. I was so nervous and worried about my salvation, I couldn’t eat hardly anything because I felt like I would be sick. Participating in the sports made me concentrate on something else and momentarily forget my spiritual problems so I played as hard as I could. Almost every waking moment my mind was pounding a question through my head, over and over and over again and demanding an answer and when I didn’t know the answer or wasn’t sure (couldn’t feel it or couldn’t make it logical) about the answer, I would question my salvation. Sitting in Vespers was almost unbearable. I felt like a liar and hypocrite singing praises to God when I wasn’t even sure I believed in Him and was having so many problems. I began to despise alter calls. We had two that week and I felt each time like I needed to go up and rededicate myself (or even just give my life to Christ for the 1st time since there were times I doubted I’d honestly even done that) but I couldn’t go up every time…people wouldn’t understand and I would look and feel like a fool. I knew from my past experience it wouldn’t help me overcome this anyway.
My counselor that week was Kim. One morning I just broke down and told her all the stuff I was going through- all my doubts about what I believed, wondering how I could know it was true, and I explained how my heart felt so hard. She asked me questions, helping me explain myself better, and she just let me cry, and then she told me one of the things that ended up helping me most throughout this whole ordeal. She told me I wasn’t alone.
She said I wasn’t the only one who had had doubts, and questioned their beliefs- that many people actually go through it but no one wants to say anything because they thing they are the only ones going through it. And, she said that I would turn out stronger because of it. At the time, I couldn’t imagine there being an end, but there was, and she was right.
Looking back now, I see there were a couple of blessings at this time: one was that I learned it’s healthy to share your struggles with others. The other was that while I couldn’t sing praise songs without feeling fake or guilty, the worship songs of prayer, confession, and asking for forgiveness had never meant so much to me as they did during those years of my life. I learned to pour my heart out to God and to be persistent about it even when I was exhausted or didn’t feel like He was listening.
One of the passages that gave me comfort during this time was James 1:2-4.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
This passage reassured me that it was ok for me to be going through this. It wasn’t something evil. I was not a terrible or un-Christian person. This passage encouraged me and helped strengthen me, even when I couldn’t see the end of my trial. I also held tightly to verse 12 of the same chapter: "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."
I can’t explain exactly how the doubts and questions went away, or how my heart healed, or how I was able to know and feel way down deep that my faith was true, except to say that God just did it.
If you are going through this, know that there is not an equation or a recipe to get out of this, but when God has accomplished the purpose He has for you (yes, there is one) He will bring you out of it. What may feel like the shakiest time of your life now will become a firm rock for you to stand on when anyone wonders what or why you believe.
This time in my life rooted me in my faith. I know it is true, and no one can convince me otherwise. When God brought me through this, it was also like He was reveling who He is to me: good, and true, and perfect, and awesome, and Holy, and all-knowing, and completely trustworthy. All my questions and doubts were answered or eliminated, though they have come back from time to time, and I’ve just had to wait on God again to bring me through it. Don’t give up. Keep praying and searching God, and His word.
Psalm 143 is one of my favorite psalms because during that time in my life it expressed how I was feeling perfectly when I could not find the words to explain it. I learned to pray this psalm, diligently.
"O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly , O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant."
In my times of trial, this is something I look back on. This was the first time that I truly realized God’s faithfulness for myself, and experienced what it is like to receive that blessing, instead of just knowing in my head the fact that God is faithful. It reminds me that God brought me through one of the toughest times of my life, even though it took about four years. Time is not an issue for Him- He will come through. I know that He can do anything, that He loves me, and that I can trust Him. The fact that God brought me through this proves His existence, His character, and it serves as great ammunition to shoot down any doubts that try to enter my heart or mind. This experience taught me what it is like to “pray without ceasing” and proved God does answer prayer. God can bring good out of every situation.
God has a purpose for my life and He has used the trial of faith I experienced to help fulfill that purpose. I was so grateful for all the help I received at camp, I wanted to help others that were going through the same thing I was. God has given me the opportunity to be a counselor there many times since then.
I still have that desire to help others going through similar struggles. That is why I’ve decided to write. I hope this has been a source of encouragement from God to you. Romans 8:28 says,
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
That is so true! Have hope!
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