Feeling abandoned – but never alone
I dreaded my 30th birthday for a long time! I remembered how much I hated turning from 19 to 20 and I was sure changing from twentysomething to the big 3-0 would be even worse! It was actually a great day & I had a birthday barbecue & the sun shone!
Time has past & I have since turned 40 – & now I’m 40 till I’m 50! (It’s just a number) But no matter how bad any milestone birthday is, I am sure it will not be as bad as my 29th.
For 16th June 2003 was my worst birthday. In fact it was the worst day of my life so far.
On that day, I was admitted to Knockbracken psychiatric hospital in Belfast.
I had been struggling with severe mental illness for 7 months. I was anxious, depressed and even suicidal. I felt so alone. My husband was at home with my two small children, trying to explain “Mummy’s gone to hospital because she’s lost her smile” A lot of my family were away in America at a wedding. I felt so low as I looked around the grey walls of the ward, wondering how I was ever going to get out of this place. For the first time in my life I felt abandoned by God. The words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” echoed through my mixed up mind.
Yet even in this deeply dark time, God’s still small voice reminded me that Jesus knew how I was feeling. For on the cross, the cry from Jesus’ anguished heart was “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46) On the cross, to a much greater extent than we will ever know, Jesus felt abandoned by His Father God as He took on the sins of the world. And at that time, in the middle of my deep depression, I could take comfort from the fact that Jesus understood, that He could sympathise with my weaknesses (Heb 4:15)
The next day Pastor Baird came to see me and read Isaiah 43 and the Word of the Lord was deeply comforting :
‘But now, this is what the Lord says-
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour”
The Message phrases those words this way-
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end – Because I am your God, your personal God”
(Isa 43:1-3 – The Message)
No matter how hard life gets, no matter how down we feel, no matter how much we feel on our own, we are never alone. God is there with us – in the middle of our troubles, heartache and despair.
‘The Lord is close to the broken hearted; He rescues those who are crushed in spirit’ (Psa 34:18 – NLT)
Like the footprints poem reminds us, in our darkest hour, when there is just one set of footprints in the sand, we are not alone, God is carrying us.
Slowly and steadily over the days, weeks and months, I began to feel better – thanks to God and a very supportive family (and of course medication and my psychiatrist too!) Looking back, I can see God’s hand at work. I can see how He brought us through and I can see how He taught me to rely on Him.
There are some things that can only be learnt in the middle of difficulties. When our backs are to the wall, we tend to fall to our knees. Our heart cries out to God and He hears us. There are treasures of darkness – times of feeling God close against the odds – character building, spiritually defining times.
And these dark threads are necessary in the tapestry of life. God, the Master Craftsman is working on us, His work of art – and the dark areas are what give us depth and character. It’s hard to see all this at the time, but at the end, when His work is complete, we’ll gasp in awe and realise truly that our God does work together all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28)
It is in the valleys of life – not the mountain tops that the real fruit grows, and God wants us to be vibrant, productive, fruitful Christians. A diamond sparkles best against a black background. God the Master Craftsman knows that we, His precious stones reflect His glory best when times are tough.
Yes, we may feel abandoned, but we are never alone. ‘We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going’ (II Cor 4: 8&9 NLT)
Someone once said that it’s just as well we don’t know what is around the corner of life – and it is. But God knows, and He is holding us, leading us on. And all around, and underneath are His everlasting arms (Deut 33:27)
In the midst of all our trouble,
Heartache and despair,
We have a God who stands beside us,
A Friend Who’s always there,
A Hope when things seem hopeless,
A Faith when things go wrong,
A Love that will never fail us,
That’s never been more strong!
I wrote that poem when I was a teenager & its still true.
And so are the deep, painful truths in these verses:
‘But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold’ (Job 23:10 – NIV)
‘Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colours. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.’
(James 1: 2-4 – The Message)
PS This post originally appeared as a chapter in my book ‘It’s all about love’