A Year I Don’t Want to Remember

At the start of a new year, I like to reflect on the previous twelve months. This usually involves pulling out journals, going through photos, and texting my friends to remind them of all our adventures. I also like to remember all the ways I’ve grown, and give thanks for all the ways God has worked in my heart and life.

This year, I’m a little scared to do my annual review. Because 2021 was hard, and I don’t want to remember much of it. I went through a devastating breakup, my dad ended up in the hospital for a week with a massive blood clot, I crashed my car, and I had to remove myself from an unhealthy friendship. It felt like a constant string of traumatic events that I did not have the will or capacity to process.

If you asked me how I was feeling at any time during the past year, my top answers would have been “numb,” “empty,” “dissociated,” “alone,” and “unmoored.” I floated through my days hoping that nothing else would come out of the woodwork to break me more.

I described it to my therapist as carrying a cardboard box in front of my chest. I could feel things bumping into the walls of the box, creating pressure and discomfort in my body. But as soon as I felt the pressure, the feelings bounced away. They never made it inside the box, so I could never catch them or hold them long enough to see what they were.

The box protected me from catching the bad things, but it also prevented me from catching the good things. I couldn’t process, couldn’t feel, couldn’t understand, and nothing was getting through. Especially not God.

In fact, I have never felt farther from him. And I’ve never felt less like myself. It is terrifying to realize that you are afraid of the very one who once made you feel the most secure. It is heartbreaking to miss your relationship with God, but to panic every time you try to get close again.

It Felt Like God Betrayed Me

Earlier in 2021, as the breaking began, I read the book of Hosea. Hosea was a prophet who was directed by God to marry a prostitute, to endure a faithless marriage, and to let his life be a picture of God’s pursuit of his beloved, yet faithless, Israel. Even though my boyfriend hadn’t cheated on me, I thought maybe God was asking me to faithfully wait for him to come back to our relationship, because that was a test I was sure I could pass.

Strangely, as I look back, I think the lesson buried for me in Hosea was more about the difficult task of resting in and trusting God’s love for me, and his pursuit of me. He slowly began to whisper words of restoration and life over me, and I did not trust, or believe, or even want him. I felt like God betrayed me, and that he continued to do so as the summer went on. I wanted to hide from the world and from God, because everything hurt so much.

I can’t help but wonder if the people of Israel might have felt betrayed at times, too. In Hosea’s day, God allowed Israel to be captured and sent into exile by the Babylonians. They were removed from their homeland, separated from their families, and faced unimaginable suffering, loss, and pain. But the book ends with the promise of restoration and healing for God’s people. This idea is also echoed in Psalm 147:2-3:

“The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.”

I imagine that when the Israelites were finally able to return home, the first thing they felt was relief. Their suffering was over and now they had time and space to heal.

I also felt relief when God began to restore the things I had lost. My boyfriend did come back, and God has done a miracle in our relationship since. My dad made a full recovery from his week in the hospital, and you would never know anything went wrong. I was blessed with my dream car to replace the one I wrecked. I instantly felt lighter in those moments, and so thankful.

Pain in Healing

What I didn’t see coming, and what I assume the Israelites were also surprised by, was how much pain there is in healing.

A literal wound is healed in a variety of ways. Most wounds require some sort of sanitation, and that can sting. Some wounds require pressure to stop the bleeding, and that can hurt. Deep wounds may even require stitches, opening smaller wounds to close up the big one. This pain can cause the wounded to be hesitant or afraid of healing.

The most critical element to healing is time, and that can be the most frustrating and heartbreaking piece of all. I feel like I should be further along than I am. I don’t want it to take too long to be okay again.

I want to tell you that everything is better now, and that my relationship with God has never been stronger, that I don’t still waver or question or fear. I want to leave you with a word of hope based on personal experience of radical restoration.

But that wouldn’t be honest. Thankfully, there’s grace for that.

Here’s what I can tell you: There have been little moments. A surprise from a friend, an extra sunny day, a song that played at just the right time. Those are moments of joy and relief that remind me God has not given me up. They assure me that I am his, that he sees me, that he loves me, and that I won’t always feel this way.

These moments can sometimes be uncomfortable, as I often don’t feel like I deserve them. But maybe that’s the process of healing: receiving little mercies and eventually trusting that it’s good for you to hold on to them.

If you, too, find yourself thinking, “I feel broken and far from God,” I can assure you that God hasn’t given up on you, either. You are his. He sees you. He loves you, and it won’t always be this way. I hope you can find plenty of little mercies and hold on to them tightly. He will heal the brokenhearted and bind up our wounds.