An Open Letter of Hope for the Hopeless Believer

I remember the first time I met Rachel Cantrell. She hobbled on crutches into the Village Deli in Wake Forest, NC, for an interview for a position at the YMCA where I was working as the Director of Middle School Programs.

I don’t always remember the first time I meet someone, especially when the first time is a job interview, but since that spring day in 2007, God has knit our hearts together for mutual edification, accountability, encouragement, friendship, and partnership in what we’ve come to call “messy ministry.”

While there are no easy ministry jobs, we do jobs that even ‘ministry people’ tend to shy away from. Rachel serves as a crisis counselor for a suicide hotline and I serve with a ministry for people dealing with a variety of issues concerning sexual brokenness. Not exactly ministry work people that are clamoring to hear about.

Neither of us intended to be in these lines of ministry; but God knew His plans for us and equipped us for it long before we knew what He had for us.

For six weeks in the Fall of 2008, Rachel and I spent 12 hours walking through Ephesians together, two hours a week in a coffee shop. Those 12 hours taught me about life-on-life discipleship and community, and it has shaped how I do messy ministry to this day. Ministry is about stepping into the mess with the person and being willing to get dirty with them so that they can see they are not alone, that they have hope, that there is a way out. Those six weeks modeled messy ministry (which is, really, just biblical discipleship) for me, and have been the model I use to teach others how to disciple people through the messes we all encounter in this life. 

In recent months, both of our areas of ministry, mental health and sexuality, have been forced to the forefront of our society’s collective consciousness. From mass shootings to the political fervor surrounding the same-sex marriage debate, we’ve talked and processed through a lot of our “messy ministry” recently.

The church has done a poor job addressing depression and hopelessness in the believer, often prescribing a “here’s a verse, read it and pray more” approach to mental illness.

Or we go to the other extreme, focusing only on the mental health, outsourcing the hurting individual to a psychological professional to treat a disease.

Both extremes neglect the intertwined complexities of the human being, created in the image of God. Issues of depression and identity and hopelessness and despair are not “either/or” concerning the physical and the spiritual. They are “both/and issues”, and the whole person must be considered when wholeness is the goal.

The following is a letter Rachel recently wrote to believers who are facing the despair of hopelessness. We have both been praying for the right time for God to use this letter to minister, both to those contemplating suicide, and to those who are involved in the messy ministry of walking alongside believers who courageously submit their depression and their impulses of self-harm to the hope of Christ on a daily basis.

With the tragic news today of the suicide of Rick and Kay Warren’s son Matthew, the complex issues of depression and suicide will be discussed widely in the coming days in both the evangelical and secular worlds because of the high profile involvement the Warrens have in multiple areas of ministry and social awareness.

We are all praying peace and comfort for the entire Warren family, but pray also that even now, what the enemy surely meant for evil, God will use for good by providing opportunity for these issues to be addressed openly, in grace-filled and loving ways.

Dearest Believer:

Perhaps you feel even less than a believer today, feeling as if you have lost all hope in God, in people, in this life.  I am writing to you today to help you find hope again.  I am certainly not the answer, nor do I hold all of the answers to the sometimes debilitating and horrific circumstances one encounters or experiences in this life.  

You, yourself, can attest to these circumstances, can’t you?  They are overwhelming, consuming, and leave you feeling hopeless and helpless.  Sometimes you can’t breathe, and sometimes your body aches with physical pain because the emotional pain is too much to bear.  Some days you feel that your body or your mind may just explode, and you think, maybe that would help people understand.  

But most days, you feel isolated, alone, and afraid.  You are certain that no one knows your pain, and those who may know certainly have no real understanding of all that you are feeling and all that you have been through; and you have no words to even begin to explain what is happening inside of you.  It feels like words don’t exist to explain such pain, pain so deep that ending your own life feels like it must be the best decision.  

You tell yourself often that you should not feel this way.  You punish yourself for even entertaining the idea of suicide, because you are, after all, a believer who should have great hope in a great God.  But hope left a long time ago, and was replaced with sorrow, fear, and depression.  

Hopelessness is defined as having no expectation of good or success.  Your hopelessness feels deeper than this, doesn’t it?  You feel, as a believer, more like the third explanation of hopelessness in the vast list of definitions: “incapable of redemption or improvement.”  Incapable of redemption, that’s what you tell yourself, right?  How could God possibly redeem or rescue you from this, from what was, from what is, from what could be? Does He even know how you feel?  Does He understand?  

Surely He could not, and He must only be angry at your sinful heart and all of its considerations of suicide.  Suicide is so stigmatic, isn’t it?  People say you’ll go to Hell because surely it’s the unpardonable sin.  Suicide is horrible.  It ruins lives, destroys relationships, and leaves quite a wake in lives left behind.  

But it seems right to you.  It makes the hurt go away, the problems stop, and it quiets your ever-so loud world.  Suicide is, in itself, the end.  It will be the last decision you will ever make.  It will be the final say in all of the lies, the voices, the pain.  And it screams loudly, doesn’t it?  Perhaps there are plans for how you intend to take your life.  Perhaps there are just thoughts, painful thoughts of ways to go about silencing this life.  Maybe you have tried before, unsuccessfully, and as a result, today, you know that you cannot make that mistake again.  Today, the choice is to live or to die.

Please let me help you make the choice to live.  I cannot make this choice for you, and I do not, and will not, feel responsible if you choose death; but I would love just a few moments, to share some words of life with you; one last chance to attempt to instill some real and lasting hope.  In this offer of hope, you will hear truths that you know clearly.  Let me ask you, while you read them this time, acknowledge them.  This is very different than just knowing them.  Let them confront and comfort your broken heart, your hot soul, and your chaotic mind.  This letter holds no magic pill, no magic words, and no hope within itself.  It will not heal you.  Hope is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Healing is found in His words, redemption is found in His cross, and life is found in His resurrection.  

“Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.  Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”  These are words we have all sung, and these are words that we know well.  Read them again.  “Sin had left a crimson stain…..”  Be it your own sins committed against our holy God, or perhaps sins committed against you by others (which also are sins committed against our holy God); they run deep, don’t they?  

You cannot atone for them.  You, alone, cannot rid yourself of them.  You cannot even stop thinking about them.  Chaos reigns in your  mind, day in and day out.  Sin is literally a crimson stain, a stain that you cannot clean from your soul.  Maybe it is blatant sin: alcoholism, the abuse of drugs, self-injury, promiscuity, pride.  Or maybe it is sin committed against you: physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape, betrayal, verbal abuse, bullying.  

How could you possibly atone for all of these things?  What inside of you is enough to clean such a stain from your soul?  The answer is nothing.  Nothing inside of you is enough.  But Jesus, Jesus is enough.  He took the weight that you feel, and more.  He bore that weight, that pain, that heartache, that sorrow, that trauma, that anxiety, that fear, that shame, that guilt, and He died.  

He was punished so that you don’t have to be punished.  He died, so that you don’t have to. 
He died.  

He willingly took the nails, nails driven deep into his hands and feet so that you don’t have to put that blade to your wrist.  He willingly hung and suffocated, so that you don’t have to do this to yourself.  He willingly was pierced for our transgressions, leaving his heart bleeding out, so that your broken heart could be healed.  

He died so that you could live.

It wasn’t suicide.  

It was sacrifice.

Sacrifice to buy you and me back from the grip of sin, death, and hell.  He knows the pain you feel.  He has felt it.  He felt it and understood that it needed to be put to death, and that you, a mere broken soul, certainly could not bear the weight of it all. The Scripture tells us that He was “sorrowful, even to death“ (Matthew 26:38). Be encouraged that He conquered such sin at the cross.  He put it to death so that you don’t have to.  This certainly does not mean that it ceases to exist.  You know this best.  

However, He conquered such sin, meaning he stripped it of its power over your life.  He conquered this sin, and He conquered death in His resurrection.  He rose in victory, giving us victory over sin in this life (1 Corinthians 15: 56-57).   You know these truths as the Gospel.  You trusted these truths, this God, this Savior to save your very soul from Hell.  Why not trust these same truths to save your life, yet again?  

This time, salvation is not needed to rescue you from Hell; no, that has already been accomplished.  Today, salvation is needed to rescue you from yourself, from the temptation to bring harm to yourself.  Think about it.  You believed that you could have done NOTHING to make yourself right with God, and thus, Christ died to make reconciliation between God and man possible. You believe that.  You needed a rescue, a rescue from separation from God, a rescue from death itself, a rescue from your own self, because you could not rescue yourself and come near to God. Today, there is One who can rescue you because you cannot rescue yourself.  You feel so far gone, and you desperately need a rescue from yourself, from your sin, from sins committed against you, and from this wild, messed up, crazy world.  

Oh friend, cry out to the same Jesus that rescued you from yourself at the moment of your conversion.  Just as you cried out to Him to save you, perhaps so many years ago, cry out to Him again!

Your belief of the Gospel was not a one time event.  We, as believers, must preach the Gospel to ourselves daily.  We need to remind ourselves of the saving power of our God.  We must be reminded often of our redemption, our help, our promise of a future, and of life everlasting, free from sin. Believe the Gospel, breathe it in, acknowledge the Truth.  He will come and save you.  Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”  

Please acknowledge this wisdom.  Run to the Lord, stop running from Him.  You cannot do this life by yourself, it is too hard, too painful.  He is a refuge that you have sought safety in before, and yet now, you are attempting to leave the safety of this refuge.  He is a strong tower amidst the storm.  

Consider this analogy: You are in a small boat out in the Gulf, and there is a large tropical storm sweeping across the waters, soon to capsize your boat, leaving you to drown in the storm.  Waves are sweeping over your head, you are struggling to stay afloat, not to mention stay alive.  You are trying to cover your face, but you are unable to keep from choking on so much water.  You are certain that death is near.

And then you see a light, a lighthouse, a refuge from the insanity.  You steer your boat in that direction, begging God to help you get there, determined that you will make it if you can just get there.  Finally, after much struggle and effort, you arrive, climb the ladder to the top and race in the door, just as waves sweep over the entrance.  You are safe.  You turn and watch the storm all around, waves crashing into the tower, but it is not shaken, for it is stronger than the storm.  The storm doesn’t stop, but you are safe in this tower.  Would you consider leaving this refuge in the middle of the storm? You’ve finally found safety, and the consideration to leave such safety, to only return to fear, and impending death seems absurd, doesn’t it?  

Are you following me?  

Jesus has rescued you from the insanity that is this life.  No, this doesn’t mean that your world ceases to be insane, it just means that you are kept safe amidst the insanity.  He is the tower, the refuge, and yet, here you are, considering leaving such a refuge.  You are considering taking matters into your own hands by ending your life because you have stepped away from the refuge.  

You are back out in the storm, and you are drowning.  

He is calling you to return.  

The still small voice that we call the Holy Spirit; you feel it, don’t you?  That is what has kept you alive thus far.  That is our God, fighting for you and for your very life (Exodus 14:14).  

Do you feel it?  Something won’t let you give in.  

That something is our God and His great love for you.  

He has great plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11).  

He has gone before you in this battle, so that you do not have to be afraid (Deuteronomy 31:8).  

The road will be hard, and you will struggle, but you are not, nor will you ever, be alone.  You will grieve as you think and process your own sin, and the sins committed against you.  

You need to grieve.  

Remember our brother Jeremiah?  Oh how he grieved over the sin of his people.  He grieved and he lamented.  Just read the book of Lamentations.  “He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord’” (Lamentations3:16-18).  

These are Jeremiah’s words.  Can you relate?  Grieve my friend, but grieve with hope in a great God who will rescue you.  

Even Jeremiah recalled his hope: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:21-24).  

He is faithful.  He is still here, even in the midst of your wandering, in the midst of your wondering, in the midst of such pain.  

The choice to live is, in itself, an act of worship to your God.  

Choosing life is an act of worship.  You may have to choose each moment of each day, but choose to honor your God.  Choose to worship the One who made you, who knows you, who sustains you.  Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “…I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.”  

I pray that you would choose life.  

I pray that you would humbly surrender your life, your dreams, your hopes, or lack there of, to our good God.  

I pray that you would beg the Spirit for another moment of strength to choose life.  

I pray that you would consider the Gospel and its application to your life, today.  

I pray that you would acknowledge that “there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  

I pray that you would remember that you are precious and priceless to your Creator (Psalm 139).  

I pray that you would remember that you are precious and priceless to the body of Christ (Romans 12:3-8).  

I pray that you would remember that you have all that you need to live this life, in Christ Jesus (2 Peter 1:3).  

And I pray that you remember that you can do this life, because you have been given much grace to do so ( 2 Corinthians 9:8).

Choose life today, my friend.  Confide in a brother or sister in Christ.  Ask them to remind you of the Gospel.  Ask them to walk with you in these days, in this season.  

One day, our God will make all things new.  The pain will cease, sin will be no more.  But until that day, let’s walk together.  For you see, He is making all of us new, even now.  Let us walk together in newness of life.  We can do this life together, because He has gone before us, felt the pain, and made a way.  

I love you my friend.

9 thoughts on “An Open Letter of Hope for the Hopeless Believer

  1. This letter and post really hits a spot in my heart. To give you a bit of background. My husband and I were married 29 years ago, have 5 beautiful children (ages nearly 15, to 25) and 3 grandchildren (3,3 and 4). In the midst of preparing to serve in the US offices of a well known overseas mission ministries, there were questions raised by the missions directors, our home churches’ leadership, as well as some of the people he talked to about financially supporting us, as to his respect of leadership and authority. So, we were no longer going to be serving at this ministry. At that point, he, (my husband), began to change in ways that was really hard to pin-point, but were there, none-the-less. He forbade me from talking to anyone in any leadership position at our church, with no real explanation why.

    A couple of years later, I began emailing the husband of very close friends of ours, asking his thoughts about why my husband was acting as he was, etc….After several months of this, I asked this man a question, which was “if things were different and we were no longer married (for whatever reasons), would I be someone he could or would consider marrying?” His answer, which surprised me, was “Yes.” At that point our relationship changed to a very emotionally invovled relationship, over phone calls. Barely two weeks into this, much more wrongly involved relationship, my husband found out. Since then, (roughly 8 1/2 years now), my life has been extremely hard. He brought me before our church to confess to the children’s ministry pastor (whom we both had worked with a lot!), I apologized and asked the forgiveness of my husband in this meeting; as well as at other occasions throughout the last 8 years, but he insists that I have never asked forgiveness. He called into question my salvation, using Scripture; accusing me of things that weren’t true; following me secretly, lying to me about what he did or did not do, accusing me of adultery and saying he sent some of my clothes to be DNA tested for unfaithfulness (which would have cost a small fortune as I understand and would have taken several weeks at earliest to be completed, but the items he took were back to me within a week or so), having talks with one of our sons who was about 8 years old at that time, who afterwards came in telling me about talking about adultery – what 8 year old, never really exposed to that word, would talk about that on his own? My husband would sleep on the couch, on top of the bed, sometimes “accidently” lock the bedroom door when he went to bed before me; tell me that if I were the wife I should be, any problems any of our children may have had, or be having, wouldn’t be there at all; any time he wanted to “talk” to me alone, I dreaded it. It may have started off rather basic, but 99% of the time it turned into how bad I was, that if I would only repent and chose to love him as I used to, nothing would be wrong; almost every time I tried to leave the room or house during one of these discussions, he wouldn’t let me-either standing in front of the door so I couldn’t leave the room, or if I actually made it into my car, he would stand in the open door so I couldn’t back out of the driveway without hurting him-so I never was able to leave. If I took my car to the tire store to have tires/brakes/whatever else, checked, he said I was dishonoring him. (I had always done these things in the past, with no such comments from him). Over the last 2 years or so, he wouldn’t even give me money for grocery shopping, saying that I wasn’t wise in my shopping. I was in two car accidents within four months of each other and after a year or so of treatment, found I needed majof rotator cuff surgery on first one shoulder, then about a year and a half later, the other shoulder. Almost the only help from him after either surgery, was to drive me home. My kids did most everything else. He even critized me for going to physical therapy after these surgeries. I should just be able to do the therapy all on my own and not keep going there.

    Financially things have been difficult for us most of our married lives. He has been self-employed most of these years. Some years were just fine, but most were not. We were nearly evicted from one place because of lack of stable rent payments, then had to move from the next two lease to own places for not being able to secure a loan to buy them. The home we’ve lived in for the past 8 years, is now in default for lack of payment. He has voiced to me, that it’s my fault because he couldn’t focus at work properly. We had many other bills that were constantly late or never paid. (I used to handle all the bill paying up until my first shoulder surgery. After that, he never brought home an actual paycheck from his business anymore. He would give me some cash for groceries now and then, but that was about it most of the time.

    About three years ago, I was asking for a divorce, so he called a family meeting, in which it was my duty to tell all our children of my wish. Well, after a 5 hour or so discussion, they asked me not to leave, and my husband said he would really work harder on the finances. My mention of emotional/verbal abuse was laughed at by our oldest daughter, as being totally implausible. So I stayed. Things were still pretty much the same after this. The past August, I wanted to separate from him and started making the plans to do so. He started a converstation about this with our youngest three children one afternoon, and I ended up leaving for about three hours, our youngest son tried to hurt himself (he was already in counseling for depression). When I returned home, my oldest daughter (married) had arrived to take her only sister away for a few days. My middle son (16 years old then), has ever since that day, treated me with disrepect, condemnation, and basically ignoring me, wouldn’t let me do anything for him. My youngest son was the only one who still talked to me and showed me any love. When my younger daughter (18) returned home, she had also ‘turned’ against me. Not quite as bad as her 16 year old brother, but pretty close.

    My husband had told me several times that any decisions he made, were now made without me being factored in-I was no longer a viable entity in his decision-making. The first part of Sept. he took our 16 and 18 year old on a trip to the coast of Washington State, never minding the fact the the mortgage on our home was over a year behind. The money he spent on the trip was more important than taking care of his/our financial responsibilities. After they returned from this trip, and over the next 3 or 4 weekends, he took those two (and asked our youngest, who always declined), to go to a movie and one time to a “Scarywood” halloween theme park-never once asking me. In mid-October, right at the end of this time, I decided to overdose on some medication. I just wanted to go home to be with Jesus-no one else seemed to care. Well, this was about 11:30 pm or 12:00 am., I changed my mind-I didn’t want to leave that as a legacy to my family. I tried to call me husband, he’d gone back to work, but he never answered his phone. So I finally called 911 myself and was taken to the hospital. The hospital got ahold of my husband somewhere around 2:30-3:00 am and he came to take me home. When he got there, he never came into the room, but waited outside in the hallway. When I was discharged, he didn’t say a word to me, didn’t offer to help me walk since I was rather shaky. All the way home (20 min.), he never said a word. I did say I was sorry and apologized, saying it was a stupid thing to do. I waited for him to want to talk about it, but he never did. It was brought up by me twice I think, between then and January 2013, but he still wouldn’t talk about it. As part of my discharge from the hospital, I was to seek out and get professional counseling, which I did and am still doing. At my first appointment with my counselor, I poured out much of my story and part of her response was that in her 20 some years of counseling, I was the most, or one of the most, emotionally abused women she had ever seen. Also saying that I should plan to get out of my home as soon as possible-I was dying emotionally and spiritually. Well, in mid-January 2013, I did move out. My husband tells me, with the kids there, that I can’t possibly love my children because if I did, I wouldn’t do this; that he could think of no reason why I would leave…..

    Now, almost three months later, not a single one of my children will talk to me. Two have said to never contact them again. My youngest, who had a cell phone on my cell plan, has not used it in over a month. I saw him walking the other day and pulled over to say hi and he just ignored me and kept on walking. I have many, many, many people who support me, and believe in me and my decision and that in time, my children will come to see and believe why I left. Even my pastor encourages me to continue praying and asking for God’s intervention. In January, I also began a bible study that our church calls “Set Free” using the book The Search for Signifigance” by Robert S. McGee. It has been a wonderful tool and study for me and the other women who are in class right now. My counselor also has me reading the book “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” by Patricia Evans. A very enlightening book. I feel very much like the frog put in the pot of cool water and had the heat turned up gradually, not even realizing that it was being boiled to death.

    If I had my thoughts really “lined up,” this would all probably make more sense….Thank you again though, for this letter and all the wonderful support therein.

    • Cindy,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I know it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and be vulnerable about the hardest parts of life.

      I am also glad that you have removed yourself from such an abusive situation and that you are receiving good counsel. I have used “Search for Significance” in counseling before and it is a useful book in reminding us of our worth in Christ, especially when we have forgotten due to the hurtful words of those who claim to love us.

      I would love to suggest an online outlet of support for you. The blog “A Cry for Justice” ( is a community of believers who write about and support one another through situations of domestic violence and abuse.

      I will continue to pray for the healing of your heart and your family. And I will pray that you will always see the hope we have in Christ, even in the darkest days in this life.

  2. sweet girl I have tried to read your friend’s letter this a.m. but cannot see for the tears. will have to read it later. Please don’t mention this to Kate just pray for me. Many thanks, Mama Bailey

    Sent from my iPad

    • Yes, and continue to pray for them, and for families like yours as well. Grief does not end with the funeral. As a the body of Christ, we need to be sensitive to walking alongside the grieving at the pace they are being led by the Lord.

      Thank you for sharing.

  3. What about when God himself inflicted the soul tearing wound? What if I’m not interested in his forgiveness but rather feel a return to faith would require mine?

    • Jodie,

      Those a good, honest questions. Some may think they are sacrilegious or heretical; I think they come from an honest heart that, deep down, knows God is big enough to handle it.

      Trust me that you’re not the first person who has experienced tragedy that has led us to feel we are entitled to an apology from God.

      This is a good thing to think/talk through, but I don’t know that it’ll work very well through blog comments. If you’d like, I would be honored to continue talking through this with you via email or phone.

      Feel free to email me if you’d like. Praying you find the peace you are searching for.

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