Archived: By His Grace by Hannah Friis-Hansen

Trigger Warning: self-harm, depression, suicide

I think it’s safe to say the past two years have been complete chaos. Between Covid-19, social division, and unrest throughout society, it has made some people question if God is even real. When I started high school in 2017, I struggled with anxiety, depression, and some pretty dark thoughts. I had recently just moved to Colorado from my home state of California and I hadn’t found a home church, which led to my fall. Through the next four years, I would continue to struggle with my mental health and watch myself hit rock bottom as the Covid-19 lockdown began. Throughout my years, I have questioned my faith in numerous ways. I had asked myself “if God is real then why am I going through this” and “could God really change my life”. I found my answer on a November day in 2021. I remember crying on my bedroom floor to my mom trying to explain to her how I didn’t want to live anymore. She insisted that I go to church with her on Sunday and I’m going to be honest, I turned my nose up at that idea. She told me to think about it and to let her know my decision. So, I sat in my room all alone. I had felt so alone for so long yet at that moment I felt like I wasn’t, like maybe He was truly with me. That upcoming Sunday, I dressed the best I could and tried to put on a brave face as I walked through those doors. I met the Pastor, who had a couple of daughters close to my age. As I began talking to his eldest daughter, Thea, I felt I had finally met someone who had the same ideas and beliefs as me. As we’re talking through Bible study her mom immediately interjects, inviting me to a youth retreat in January. I immediately took the offer. I wanted a way out, a new life, I needed to be inspired by something. Little did I know, my ‘inspiration’ would come much later.

Friday, April. 15, 2022- Good Friday

Eli, Eli lema sabachthani; My God, my God why have you forsaken me? – Mark 15:34

I rushed out of work, a half hour early. Good Friday service started at 7, and I got off at 7, meaning I was leaving at 6:30; you see my time crunch here. I walked as fast as possible out of work, my hair a frizzy mess, jeans and sweater covered in dust, I can’t even recall if I had make-up on that morning. I said goodbye to my coworkers as my ‘mom’, Lidia, kicked me out the door. I got in my car and drove to the church. Of course, the parking lot was packed with seasonal churchgoers. The younger me would have turned my nose up at them, older me understands the one time you may go can change your life. I kept my silence and walked towards my friends in the front pew. We quietly whispered and bitched about our day, hunched over in our seats trying not to make it evident that we were speaking. I look up at the altar, the altar that is typically so beautiful and alive, filled with solitude and remorse. The beautiful stained-glass mural of Jesus on the cross is covered by a black sheet. Typically, the black sheet is not present. When it’s removed, Jesus looks out onto the congregation and upon a closer inspection you can see the holes in His hands and feet; a reminder to walk by faith not sight. The banners that hung from the two walls making a U were removed and both pulpits were covered in black cloth as well. I crossed my right leg over my left and leaned my head on my hand, resting on my knee. I remember feeling so exhausted, both emotionally and physically. You’re supposed to pray and think about your life during this time, hence the silence in the church. I never understood why I never do, I realized later that year it’s because I feel at peace. I’m resting at His feet. The one time during the week my head is cleared, my anxiety and depression aren’t consuming me, and the little voice inside my head finally shuts up. Just simple blissful peace.

At seven o’clock, our Pastor appears and gives us the rundown for the rest of the week. Saturday vigil tomorrow night at 8, Easter Sunday at 8 am, not the typical 9 am service followed by a potluck. We sang the opening hymn and worked our way through Vespers (a shortened liturgical service for the evenings) and listened to the reading for that night. As Good Friday follows, the typical Gospel is read, Peter denies Jesus three times before the rooster crows, Pontious Pilate convicting Jesus despite knowing His innocence. Jesus on the cross crying out My God my God why have you forsaken me? I tear up a little bit hearing the passage every time, hearing the words a thousand times, thinking I fully understood what it meant. We sing a couple more hymns and liturgical verses and finally get to sit down for the sermon. Now, could I tell you word for word what our Pastor said during that sermon? No. He’s a very passionate preacher, putting not only us but himself as well on the verge of tears through his thirty- forty-five-minute sermons. Here is what he said during that half-hour-long sermon, or at least what I learned:

Eli Eli lema sabachthani, My God, My God; why have you forsaken me! I’ve heard these words a million times, words I’ve cried out a billion times. As I sat curled up on my bedroom floor, crying, hyperventilating, taking a razor blade from a pencil sharpener to draw perfectly straight lines on my wrist and thighs, poorly attempting to feel something again. My God My God; why have you forsaken me? I thought as I sped down a county highway, thinking about wrapping my car around a telephone pole. My God My God; why have you forsaken me? The same words that Jesus cried out on the cross were the exact words I cried every day of my life. I had never felt more alone in my life than I did that year. I always said I wanted to kill myself but never actually thought about it and having a plan to until last year. I used to punch brick walls or pinch myself till it hurt but never in a million years did I actually think I would take a blade to my skin. I couldn’t see the end; I didn’t trust in God at all. That makes me a bad Christian right? Aren’t we supposed to trust in Him even if we don’t? My God, My God; why have you forsaken me? The only difference between me and Jesus is that I don’t know the plan and He did. Jesus knew Judas would betray him for thirty pieces of silver, He knew that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crows, He knew that Pontius Pilate would convict Him, He knew they would nail Him to the cross with a crown of thorns, selling His clothes in lots, and nailing the sign above His head that read Here lies the King of Jews. He knew the plan from the beginning, yet He still doubted God, His Father, on the cross. Jesus was made man to walk the perfect life, so we didn’t have to. He was a sinless man in a world full of sinners yet took every single one of our debts up on that cross for us. Our anxiety, depression, addictions, vices, and every other sin in between have been forgiven. We can rest at His feet now because ‘it is finished’.

By the end of the sermon, I was crying. I’m not talking about a little tear here and there, full-on crying. I never fully understood what I was missing in life before that moment. I don’t know how to explain it but one day my coworker explained it so perfectly that I finally understood. When you’re struggling with your mental health, having some sort of spiritual guidance is great. It controls that part of your life that you can’t control; and an OCD control freak that tries to fix everything on my own, that’s what I need. Someone to take every single one of my flaws and problems and carry that weight so I don’t have to. HE is the only one to forgive me when I can’t even forgive myself. That night, I finally found the answer I had been searching for. I found the peace in my violence that I had been needing.