Did you ever have one of those days in which the sum of your deficiencies adds into one huge indictment against your worth? Or perhaps even a whole phase in which the negative side of your personal ledger seemed so disproportionately stacked against the positive that ruin/shame/disgrace must be the logical conclusion?
I’ve definitely had those days – and even longer phases – but I have always survived them. I know a girl who had one of those days – maybe even weeks, months, or years – and she did not.
Anna* was a lovely, quirky, wry girl. She had grown up in our church and remained connected for most of her twenty-seven years. Sometime after high school, she took on the job of managing our church nursery – I’m told that she was giddy with excitement every time she heard of a pregnancy, and she’d begin the countdown until the next baby was due to arrive into her care. She was a beloved part of our church family. She was our kids’ first real babysitter, too, and the boys would look forward to her visits and the fun books she’d select from her Mum’s daycare to bring and share with them. Although ‘quiet’, Anna was not devoid of character; in fact, she had a large group of friends, plenty of flair, and an awesome secret identity as a roller-derby queen.
April 12th, 2013 was a cold, dark day. The wind howled and the rain lashed the streets. I was in a melancholy mood, because that day one of my dearest friends was leaving Vancouver and moving all the way across to the East Coast.
But nothing – not the foul weather, not my own sadness, not the malaise we sometimes feel on those somber, wet days in early spring – could have measured the depth of Anna’s grief; because that day she took her own life.
I have had few real shocks in my existence. But that night, as we got ready for bed, West’s iPad indicated an incoming email and out of habit he flicked it on and had a look. When he gently guided me to the living room to sit down, I knew that the news couldn’t be good. My thoughts flitted between friends and family members here and there, wondering what had happened, and then I read…
The words I saw were beyond my comprehension. I struggled to make meaning of the news, begging West for answers he didn’t have, asking with broken sentences about how, why, and were they SURE… I wondered, pleaded, prayed that it might be possible for her to have survived the fall…
I tossed and turned that night, praying endlessly for her, for her family, for meaning… I felt trapped in a living nightmare, and I could only imagine what those nearer to her must have been going through. And of course I wondered:
Did I miss the signs?
Was there any small way in which I made her feel unloved, unlovely, unimportant?
What could I have done that might have prevented her from such a drastic and final step?
I was haunted by the thought of her falling, her long dark hair trailing behind her, feeling the vast and frightening emptiness surrounding her…
The next morning, the sun rose – how strange it felt to me that this should be the case, that something was still normal. And we had to sit our kids down and tell them that we’d lost her.
West and I had discussed the daunting task of informing our kids and concluded that we would tell them only that our sweet Anna had fallen. They were just too young to know more, and we wanted to spare them some pain and confusion – it was enough that everyone around them was reeling with the news.
Two days later it was Sunday, and we entered a church that was – appropriately – utterly unlike the sanctuary we’d entered just a week before. The atmosphere was hushed, funereal; our collective grief was palpable.
I don’t remember the first part of the service; all I remember was feeling numb. That surreal sense of being stuck in a bad dream made it difficult to focus, and around me I could hear that others were struggling. I kept praying for her closest ones, who were in our midst that morning as they were every Sunday – praying that they were feeling buoyed by God’s love and comfort during this darkest time.
And then the sermon began.
Our pastor spoke of this loss and our grief, and gave voice to the anxieties we were feeling. And something amazing happened. His words, undoubtedly chosen carefully and prayed over, transcended the bitterness of our anguish – and those words poured a healing salve over our raw and broken hearts. All those thoughts and worries and sorrows that had been reeling in my head were quelled and soothed and comforted. The oppressive atmosphere lifted and Truth breathed hope into a room that had, just moments before, been filled with despair.
We were reminded of the girl we knew and loved, and we were counselled to remember her as such.
We were assured of God’s presence in her life even in her darkest hour when she must have felt far from the truth of it.
We were woken from the nightmare and encouraged to take shelter in the wings of our Lord.
The truth is this: there’s no such thing as an ‘unforgiveable sin’. If there were, grace would be a lie. Even when we would forsake the world and the pain therein, God never forsakes us.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house there is more than enough room.”
Anna had made, our pastor told us, one terrible, fatal mistake. She had been blind to the love and care that surrounded her, or so overwhelmed by her internal suffering that she lost sight of the Truth. But God never lost sight of her. She let go – but God never let go of her.
Were all our questions answered? No. How could anyone measure the depth and breadth of the suffering that would drive a beloved friend, daughter, and sister to take her own life, or give full meaning to it?
Were we immediately free of the pain and grief that had so ensnared us since hearing the terrible news? No. We have all been indelibly changed by it. Four years on, the scars remain. The scars will always remain.
But the Truth remains, too. Grace saves us. Grace saved Anna; death does not hold the victory in her story.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
We all have times in our lives when our sadness, guilt, or shame consumes our thoughts – and sometimes threatens to consume our souls – but God has the final word. And that word is grace.
God said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
-from 2 Corinthians 12:9
God’s grace is sufficient for us. God’s grace is sufficient for me – and it is sufficient for you. God’s grace was sufficient for Anna.
When we fall, we are not lost forever. God catches us.
*Not her real name
Please know – if you are in the trenches, He may feel far, but God is there. He loves you, cares for you, and he wants LIFE for you. Find someone to talk to – call your local Crisis centre, a friend, even your doctor, and tell them how you’re feeling. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
With Love (Truly),