Holding On To Hope During Despair

Inching my toes closer and closer to the edge of the steep cliff, I peered down the mountainside. The valley floor was obscured by ancient trees reaching their evergreen branches toward me. Imagining myself tumbling down the side, I wondered if I would feel the punishing blows of each tree on my way down or if I would pass out before I hit the bottom. Numb. No longer caught in the suffocating grasp of anxiety or my own self-loathing, unable to feel any of that ever again. How I ached to feel nothing.

As I stood there contemplating how it would feel to step off that edge, a thought flitted through my mind. I wonder if they’ll ever find my body? Will my family think I just disappeared? That I left them? I sucked in my breath and stepped back, crushed to think they might believe I’d abandoned them. I never wanted my kids to experience the weight of that rejection, because I knew exactly how it felt to be abandoned.

In the months leading up to that moment on the side of a mountain in India, our family had moved halfway around the world with two toddlers to pursue a call on our lives to be missionaries. And after a short time in an isolated Himalayan village, I was suicidal, experiencing regular panic attacks and feeling like God had brought me there only to leave me all alone.

Each day my heart broke a little more as I cried out to God, only to be answered with silence. 

Sinking deeper into despair, I lost all hope that things could ever change. It wasn’t one thing, it was a thousand little things, washing over me like a wave pushing me under, refusing to let me come up for air. And in the absence of that life-giving air of hope, the injustice and poverty that surrounded me only confirmed my ever-growing doubts and questions about the character and love of God.

Maybe you’ve been there before, too? So lost in your pain and heartbreak that you can’t see a way forward and you feel like you’re stuck in an endless groundhog’s day, repeating the same frustrating cycles. Wondering if God even notices or cares.

As I look back on that season, I realize that just as it was a thousand little things that tore my faith apart, it was a million small ones that God used to stitch it back together—stronger than it was before.

The words of my counselor started the trickle of truth and hope that slowly began to fill the empty places in my heart. Pouring out my anger, disappointment and disillusionment to her, she wasn’t shocked or flustered. Instead, she surprised me by saying, “I think you’ve been given a gift. We just need to figure out how to unwrap it.”

That one statement ignited a tiny spark of hope that began to smolder like an ember in my heart. Taking me on a journey that would have many twists and turns, not all happy or easy, but without which I never would have seen the faithfulness of God at work in my life to grow the roots of my faith deeper and stronger in him. 

In the glorious and mysterious ways in which God works, the season that I thought had broken me and my faith, was actually the catalyst that he used to make me stronger.

I able to say with a certainty that I never had before that He is good and His love is better than life.

If you’re in the middle of what looks like a hopeless season today, find encouragement in this truth:

Isaiah 54:11-12,14

“Afflicted city, storm-battered, unpitied:

I’m about to rebuild you with stones of turquoise,

Lay your foundations with sapphires,

construct your towers with rubies,

Your gates with jewels,

and all your walls with precious stones…

You’ll be built solid, grounded in righteousness.”

God used this passage to remind me that He would take the rubble of my life and make something beautiful and sure, rooted in Jesus—the one who never changes.

My friend, if you’re hurting today hold on to hope and know He will do the same for you.

Erica Barthalow is an author, blogger, church leader and former missionary to India. She loves helping people wrestle well when faith is difficult. Because of that mission she writes and blogs about topics that are seldom talked about in church. Her writing has been featured on relevantmagazine.com and influencemagazine.com.

When she’s not writing you can find her running with her daughter or cheering at her son’s football games and rugby matches. A Midwestern girl to the core, Erica and her family live in northeast Iowa where she and her husband, Jonathan, planted a church and she enjoys extended winter seasons every year. Find out more and connect with her at www.ericabarthalow.com or on Instagram or Facebook.

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