Everything in me wanted to escape. I squeezed my eyes, hoping I’d awake and find this to be nothing more than a nightmare. But a knock at the door jolted me into reality. It was a nightmare, but one I was actually living. The nurse walked in and did her check to make sure I had kept my breakfast down and wasn’t hiding any sharp objects. As a patient on suicide watch and under evaluation for an eating disorder, I felt far more like a prisoner than a patient.
I was seventeen and my world was falling apart.
I stared at the four stark white walls surrounding me, convinced the room was getting smaller by the minute. With nothing but the clothes on my back and an uncomfortable bed to sit on, I was left alone with the ache in my gut and tormenting thoughts of guilt, shame, and accusation.
You did this to yourself, I thought. You used to have things to be proud of, but now you have nothing. All you’ve worked for is gone; you’ve pushed away everyone you love; you’ve made countless bad choices; and you put yourself in vulnerable places and paid for it. Could God really love and accept someone like you? No, certainly not. All you have now is the pain of what you’ve lost and the shame that you’ve gained.
As the tears began to flow and the ache in my gut grew, a nurse opened the door and called me into the foyer. A pastor is here to see you, she said. You have fifteen minutes. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but since friends and family weren’t allowed to visit, I knew this was the only familiar face I’d see, so I hesitantly agreed.
We sat across from each other at the table and before he could get a word in, the words flew out of my mouth – I don’t want to be here! He nodded with compassion in his eyes and gently replied, “I’m sure you don’t. I know that you’re hurting. But you’re here for a reason, so maybe, instead of resisting and gaining nothing, why don’t you ask God what he has for you here. You might be surprised.” He stood up, handed me a Bible, and left.
I walked back to the lonely white room, sat down on the bed, and stared at the Bible in my hands. I had been floundering, striving, searching for a place to belong and I didn’t feel worthy to be accepted by a God whose standards I couldn’t live up to. And yet, on the other hand, where else could I go? To whom else could I run? Maybe what I needed really was in the pages of this book.
As a child, I had been taught the Bible and believed it to be true. I worked hard to do what was right and, if I’m honest, I didn’t think I was all that bad of a person. Deep down, I believed God loved me because I was doing all I could to obey him. And because he loved me, I assumed he’d protect me and allow me to succeed in life. I wanted to “follow Jesus”, but I also wanted to live my life as I chose to.
Then life began to unravel. What I enjoyed and found confidence in was taken. I was deeply hurt by someone I had looked up to and had worked hard to please. I was sexually harassed publicly by boys in school and privately taken advantage of by others. My physical health declined and my emotional and mental health quickly followed. I wanted to do what was right, but I also wanted to be in control of my life, and this is not the way I had hoped or planned for it to go. I had been taught that I was a sinner and that Jesus, the Son of God, loved me and had died for my sins. But if Jesus really loved me enough to die for me, why would he allow all of this? And even if he really did love me at one point, could he still love me now?
I was at a crossroad. On one hand, I wanted to feel in control of my life. On the other hand, I no longer wanted to live it. A battle was waging within me and I knew something had to change – but I felt helpless to do anything about it.
In that moment, all I could do in my desperation was to say through tears, “Jesus, I can’t go on like this. I feel broken and hopeless inside; I’m angry at those who have hurt me; I feel ashamed of who I’ve become. I don’t know if you can really love someone like me, someone so needy and shameful, but if you are who you say you are in the Bible, rescue me from the darkness of this pit.”
Little did I know, he already was.
I opened the Bible and found these words in Isaiah 55:1-2,
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
As if I was the only one in the world, those words seemed personally for me. I was empty, grasping for anything that would last. Not only because I had lost so much, but because my pursuit to fill that void with success, praise from others, talents, appearance, relationships, or anything else that would satisfy for the moment, only led to a deeper thirst, hunger, and emptiness than ever before.
But how can God fill this deep empty cavern in my soul?
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live…
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked (sinner) forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:3, 6-7).
Like an arrow that pierced my heart, I knew – God was holy and I was not. No matter how much I tried to convince myself that I was good enough or excuse my selfish, prideful, and destructive thoughts, behaviors, and choices, I fell short of his holiness. Because if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). Had I been hurt by others? Yes, deeply. But did their sin against me make me sinful? No. Deep down, I knew that I was sinful all on my own and I felt helpless to change that reality.
I was on a path of destruction – and I knew I couldn’t save myself. But these words began to spark a small flame of hope that I desperately needed.
God wasn’t looking at me in disgust, he was looking at me with eyes of compassion, mercy, and love as a Father looks at a prodigal child who’s experiencing the pain and consequences of rejecting his Father’s instruction and protection.
Although I couldn’t fully understand it all in the moment, it was if God was saying to me, “Sarah, you feel shame because you see your sin. And you feel pain because you live in a world that is broken from sin and you have looked for your hope and purpose in places that can’t satisfy and won’t last. But I created you in my own image and have known you and loved you before you were born (Psalm 139:13), even though sin would one day separate us. Sarah, I love you with such a profound love that, in my great mercy, I sent my Son Jesus to live the perfect life that you could never live to die in your place on a cross as a sacrifice for your sins (Hebrews 4:15). You can do nothing to earn my love and you can do nothing to stop me from loving you. I have offered you forgiveness because Jesus has already paid the penalty that your sinful nature and sinful choices deserve. But you must choose who you will follow. Come as you are, confess your sin, and trust me as Lord of your life (1 John 1:9, Romans 10:9). You may feel dead inside and see nothing but the pain of this world, but I came to give you life eternally and a hope that will redeem every pain and tear (John 10:10). Stop striving, stop searching for life in other places, and stop living as if this world is your home. Follow me, trust me, rest in me, and I will give you all that you need.”
I didn’t fully understand everything and I didn’t know what that would mean for the future, but in that moment, I knew that I had found what I had been searching for. My eyes were being opened to the truth that I couldn’t be good enough or save myself but I had a Savior who loved me and had given himself for me – even when I was his enemy.
Jesus wasn’t looking down at me in the pit with a look of contempt or anger; he loved me enough to pursue me, descend into the darkness of the pit with me, draw me out, forgive my sin, and give me his righteousness in its place. The hunger, thirst, and emptiness in my soul couldn’t be filled by anything in this world because it could only be filled by the presence of God.
I didn’t know how I would walk out of that hospital with the wreckage that still remained, but I knew that I wouldn’t be walking through it alone. Although the pain and sorrow of life remained, I was filled with a new hope, joy, and power to walk forward through it. If God loved me enough to give his own life to save me, surely he would be with me and provide for whatever lay ahead.
For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace (Isaiah 55:12).
I walked into that hospital, lost, broken, hurting, and dead in my sins. I left that hospital found, hopeful, forgiven, and alive in Jesus Christ. The road ahead would be long and hard, but I would no longer be walking alone and I knew my tears would not be wasted. I was a child of God and my name was written in his book of life.
He Holds Our Tears
There are still days when my tears and restless tossings over the past two decades feel pointless and hopeless. They hurt and I can often see no earthly way that they can be redeemed or used for good. But since that day in the hospital, I have the promise that they are not pointless or hopeless, for God has promised that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Does that make it any less painful? No. But it gives me the strength to press on, knowing that God is at work in ways that I often can’t see – and he promises that none of it will be wasted.
Friend, your tears and tossings may feel pointless, but they do not need to be hopeless. Whatever burdens, griefs, guilt, pain, shame, or uncertainties you may be carrying, Jesus loves you and wants you to bring it all to him. He felt the full weight of your grief and pain on the cross so that he could not only walk with you through it, but so that he can give you hope within and beyond it.
If you’ve already turned to Jesus as your Savior and Lord in faith and repentance but are struggling to see beyond the circumstances that keep you awake at night and wet your pillow with tears, remember and know that this promise is true for you –
You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
…This I know, that God is for me.”
Not only does your Heavenly Father see your tears and tossings, he remembers them in his book. They are not ignored; they not are not void of purpose; and they will not be forgotten. They are doing something. Believer, your sufferings are not useless, they are storing up for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17). So let the tears fall – trusting that they are seen and remembered by the living God.
God of Redemption
Life is hard. I will be the first to acknowledge that. But from the moment I left the pediatric psych ward at the age of 17, it has no longer been hopeless. The years since have been filled with hardship and heartache, and grief is a frequent visitor, but I continue to experience the peace, joy, comfort, and compassion of God in countless ways. And he has been faithful to carry me through.
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you…: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Do you know this peace, joy, comfort, and compassion of God? If not, don’t wait – come to him today in faith. He has called you by name. You are his.