For when they’ve left you all alone

Loneliness opens up like a sink hole in my chest. It sucks in everything; my joy in the small moments, my hopes for the future, the lessons I have learned from the past. It turns my whole body numb with longing and the desperate question—does anybody see me?

Suffering can be one of the loneliest places; there are many reasons for this; enough in fact that I could do a whole blog series on it. (And maybe I will, let me know in the comments below if that’s something you’d be interested in.) There are many reasons why the sufferer herself might be the cause of some of her own loneliness, but in this post I would like to examine what I believe is the central reason why other’s pull away from the sufferer in her hour of need: unbelief in the goodness of God, and the fear that comes from realizing the depth of our own unbelief.

The reality is that it is excruciatingly hard to look in to the eyes of someone tortured by the terrible illness of a child they love, when there is nothing they can do to make it better. It’s hard when they don’t know what to say, and the silence gapes wide like a chasm. They know if they stand of the porch a second longer and look into your soul-haunted gaze, they will have to reconcile some things in their faith that aren’t currently matching up.

Standing with those who suffer is sometimes like signing up for a weekly wrestling match with God. Because when you love them, and you look in their eyes, and you hear their hearts beating and breaking—you will howl right along with them: Why God?

These questions can be scary, and I believe they are the very reason that many shy away from sitting with someone who is deep in the midst of suffering. The greatest relief I have experienced though, as someone who ministers to those who suffer, has come through realizing that these questions must come.

In one of the great paradoxes of the world we live in, sometimes the quickest way to faith is through doubt, and so I have stopped measuring my faith by a lack of doubt, and instead have begun thinking only of how quickly I surrender to God when we wrestle—because wrestle, we will.

During seasons of suffering in my own life, I have felt the rage bubble up, as well meaning people tried to white wash over my pain. And it seems like an impossible ask, but here it is: I think sometimes God asks us, as ones who are suffering, to have grace on those that are less than helpful around us, and even on those who abandon us in our hour of need.

It feels like insult to injury I know, to say that as those who are hurting we might even have to forgive the well meaning friends who say all the wrong things, or the friends that once loved us and now seem to have forgotten us completely; but there it is. Because where there is hurt, there must be forgiveness. And we must entrust ourselves to the love of our good God, who will provide for us what we need to take the next step—the next breath.

As a survivor of sexual abuse, some of my deepest wounds are not from the abuse itself, but from those who should have stood in the gap for me. Those who claimed to be our friends, but who left us in our hour of need. Friends whose negligence led to my being abused in the first place; because they knew something was wrong, and yet they kept silent.

If you are reading this, and you were one of these people, I want you to know—I have forgiven you. Before the Lord, in prayer, by name. You are forgiven by God, and you are forgiven by me.

In turn, I’m sure I also have been a means of wounding some; maybe even some of you who may be reading this. Maybe it was a casual word spoken out of turn, or maybe it was the words I should have said but didn’t. If I have ever added pain onto your pain, I pray that you would also forgive me. I too am a work in progress, and have sometimes chosen wrongly. I do not get it all right. But I trust that even here, God will redeem.

Because here’s the really beautiful part: partially as a result of who God made me, partially as a result of the lack we suffered when I was a kid, God has grown me into a woman who cares deeply about the suffering and hardship of others. It’s a part of my story—that I am committed to the long road with people. That I will take the time to wrestle with my God for the truth that He is good even when circumstances seem to shout otherwise. In many ways that’s what this blog is all about.

This isolation––this loneliness––may feel like an insult to the injury of your present hardship, but this too will be redeemed by the God who takes every broken thing and makes it beautiful. And no matter how many people hurt you, abandon you, whitewash over your pain, or condemn you in the face of your suffering, you are not alone.

You are seen. You are held. You are loved. Even when the people who ought to be there, run away. Even when the family members don’t know what to do or say. Even when your friends withdraw and you come to that painful realization that where you are going, they cannot come…even then. You are seen, you are held, you are loved; by the God who paid everything to make you His. By the God who suffered also from loneliness in His hour of deepest need. By the Savior who was betrayed and abandoned by His friends. He knows. He cares. He sees. He has not forgotten you.

Dearest Reader, my prayer for you today is that the overwhelming peace and love of the Lord Jesus would surround you today, wherever you are. And through this peace, I pray we will be able also, by God’s power, to extend forgiveness and grace to those who have hurt us by their words, actions, or lack-thereof, in our hour of deepest need.


Do you need someone to kneel down in the dirt with you? To help you scatter seeds of hope in the midst of hardship? It would be my greatest honor and privilege to minister to you in this way; to give to you a little of the comfort with which my God has comforted me.

Just click here to sign up to get the link to my FREE Ebook Download—

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD

The Gift of Presence

Ann Voskamp once shared on her blog about what it means to minister to those who have suffered so deeply, that is seems like there is nothing you could possibly say or do. She spoke about listening to the stories—about making eye contact—and then she used the phrase that has become a part of my own vocabulary: being a witness

So often when we see those that are suffering deeply our first response is to try and fix it. We want to make it all better, to make the pain go away. But these attempts are often not only futile, but damaging to the one who suffers. Like giving a makeover to someone with a bullet wound.

You would think that being one who has suffered, I would always make the right choice in this department, but I don’t. I am a controller by nature; a fierce and loyal protector. My first instinct is to make the pain just go away. My second is to go “mama bear” on whoever has hurt one of my precious ones. And if the thing is something you can’t actually punch with fists, like cancer for instance, then if I’m not careful my perceived helplessness can turn to apathy. As you may imagine, neither of these first instincts is particularly helpful.

But when I remember what it meant for someone to hold space for me: to be a witness to the way I was suffering and had suffered, to look me in the eyes and say, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” Then I come back to the power that is present in my presence alone: I get to be a witness.

As someone who walks often through seasons of suffering with others, this can be a dark task at times. But I don’t believe in a God who cannot take the darkest night and turn it into brightest day; so even as I stare into the black of present difficult circumstances, I imagine what God may do. Not to try and predict the future, or control it in any way, but, as Emily P. Freeman says, “to cast a hopeful vision for the future.”

With tears in my eyes, and my hands in yours, Dear Reader, I stand on tip toe and whisper words of hope: what might God do? How might he begin to redeem every broken piece of your shattered heart?

I am the little girl hiding in her closet, wondering what it would be like to be a “normal” child; wondering if God will keep his promise to work all for my good.  I am the little girl who at seven years old already felt like “damaged goods,” though I couldn’t have put it into words. I am the little girl who was hurt not only by the abusive actions of one, but by the silence and apathy of many, many, others.

Sometimes the wounds feel too deep for words.

I have been the one holding the box of tissues for the heartbroken wife. I have been the one sitting across from a friend discovering piece by piece, an abuse that so damaged her life that her mind tried to erase it. I have been the one in a hospital room, hearing the words, “it’s as we suspected. She has leukemia.” And how in the world do we go on living in a place where babies get cancer?

Sometimes all you can do is sit with a person. To hold their gaze. To not be embarrassed by their grief, but to enter in with them. To hold your friend in your arms and tell them that you love them. And though you don’t know what the future will hold, or if you should ever make any kind of comforts based on your assumptions of the future (I.E. “she’ll be fine,” “he’ll come back,” “that probably won’t happen”), you do know who is holding you both. The Lord of hosts. Who doesn’t promise us a pain free life, but does promise us always and forever, His Holy Spirit presence with us. 

I find it terrifying sometimes, the places God asks me to go, both personally and with others. But one phrase continually comes to mind, like a mantra and a command: Stare into the black, and refuse to be afraid.

I’m not sure where it came from, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. I don’t find myself all that bold or particularly daring. I’ve got fear riding like a tiny hitchhiker in my back pocket. Insecurities like radio static in my ears. My hands shake on these keys sometimes, and I am far from adequate for the task.

But God. How wonderful that He does not call the qualified, but qualifies the called. It’s humbling. I pray it may always be so.

For you, dear Reader; I stare into the black and refuse to be afraid. Because you are suffering, either personally or through choosing to enter into the hurt of someone you love, and it’s painful, and you need to know there is hope. You are not alone. While you mourn the loss of normal. While you suffer in the presence of pain, both that belonging to you and that which you bear with others. While you grieve the very existence of death, and sin and suffering; I stand with you. I weep with you. I groan with you and with all creation for that day when all will be made new. Wrong will be made right. Every tear will be wiped away from our eyes…oh how I long for that day.

Until then, I stand as a witness. I refuse to remain indifferent or apathetic, and instead choose to practice the with-ness of Jesus, trusting that it will be enough. I practice the presence of God with me, and with us, and I practice also giving the gift of my own presence. It is my greatest honor and privilege to hold space for you here in this corner of the internet. So come as you are. With all your broken pieces. With the darkness you feel that surrounds you. You are not alone. You have never walked alone.

Now I leave you with the words of the Apostle Peter. May these words point you to a hope greater than the worst thing that life could ever throw at you

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more previous than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

(1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV)