This was written to link with #LiveFreeThursday at tsuzanneeller.com
The prompt today is “when you’ve done all you can” and it touched a nerve, but I have been feeling for a while that this is something I should write about, so it seems to confirm that I should.
I have a wonderful friend who I’ll refer to here as Kate (that is not her real name.) We have known each other for over 20 years and she is intelligent, beautiful, brave and one of the kindest, most thoughtful people you will ever meet. I have lots of happy memories of time spent together and she is like a little sister to me.
But Kate has struggled for several years with various mental health issues: anxiety, depression, self-harm, anorexia, attachment disorder and multiple suicide attempts, and the situation has worsened over the last couple of years.
In place of memories of fun and laughter are memories of hospital visits and suicide threats and long late night conversations filled with heart-breakingly graphic descriptions of how awful and hopeless she feels, memories of times when she isolates herself from me, and from everyone, and any attempt to contact her is met with refusals or excuses.
She has become almost unrecognisable as the friend I knew. Occasionally there are glimpses, but mostly the illness consumes her, and one of the hardest things for me has been to face the fact that there is a limit to what I can do.
I want to fix it. I want to take away her pain and heal her and restore her to who she really is. I want her to believe in herself- to believe that she’s beautiful and precious and worthy of love. I want to see her set free.
But I am powerless.
I can love her and be there for her. I can speak words of encouragement. I can pray for her. I can cling on to hope and encourage her to do the same, but I cannot save her.
When you’ve done all you can, and it’s not enough, where can you look but to God?
That raises its own issues. If God loves her, why does he allow this suffering? How can he let it be so bad for so long? How is it going to end? What if she attempts suicide again and this time she succeeds?
This has tested my faith more than any suffering I have faced of my own and I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but I have learned a few things about what to do when you’ve done all you can.
- I think the first step is to accept that- to accept that there’s no more you can do, except to keep loving and keep praying. I wasted far too much time wondering if I could have done something differently, wondering whether I should be praying more, or “better”- just wanting to fix it somehow. I had to face the fact that I can’t, and that fixing this situation is not my responsibility.
- Keep doing what you can. Even if it seems to be making no difference at all, keep loving and keep praying. It probably matters more than you realise. At least it lets them know they’re not alone.
- Give it to God. Be honest about your feelings and your fears and your doubts. Accept that your feelings will be messy. In some ways for me it has been like moving back and forward between the different stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). I suppose in some ways I have been grieving for the friend I knew, although I hang on to the hope that she is not gone forever.
- Leave it with God. I still struggle with this at times. Accepting that I can’t control the outcome and that it may not be what I would choose is hard. This is not a nice story where I can tie it all up with a bow and say that God healed her in the end. She is still struggling. The last time I chatted with her she had begun abusing painkillers again after stopping for several months. It scares me to think of the irreparable damage that has already been done to her body and to wonder what the future holds, but mostly I have reached a point where I have surrendered it to God. He knows her better than I do, and he loves her better than I do.
- Make sure that you have support. It is too big a burden to carry alone and it is unhealthy to try. I like this quote from Frederick Buechner who writes about supporting his daughter through anorexia. “If your daughter is struggling for life in a raging torrent, you don’t save her by jumping into the torrent with her, which leads only to your both drowning together. Instead you keep your feet on the dry bank-you maintain as best you can your own inner peace, the best and strongest of who you are-and from that solid ground reach out a rescuing hand.”
- Hold to what you do know. I may not know why things are as they are or what will happen, but I do know God is good. I do know he loves Kate and that he works all things together for good. I do know that he has power to heal. I do know I can trust him.
I want to have the same attitude that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had as they stood before King Nebuchadnezzar: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
I want to say that, whatever the outcome, I will continue to trust in God.