What words from Scripture and other sources do you need to remember in this season of life? Diana Gruver shares her story of finding inspiration.
Hope in the Sticky Notes
By Diana Gruver
I suppose you could track the story of my mental, emotional, and spiritual health by the notecards and sticky notes plastered on my walls. Each year in college, they slowly built up over my dormitory-issue desk and the surrounding wall space. They were snippets of Bible verses and song lyrics and poems, which I carefully wrote out on colored pieces of paper. It was a mosaic of truths—ones I needed a constant reminder of.
Back at my childhood home, some of them reappeared on the bathroom mirror, a steady reminder each morning and evening. I stared at them as I brushed my teeth, mentally speaking back their words to myself. In Central America, they appeared again on my walls of my small apartment, speaking truth not only to me but also to the children and teens who looked at them curiously when they came to visit. These days, though some still appear on post-it notes amidst to-do lists and reminders on my desk, they are more likely to appear, carefully chosen, framed and hung on the wall.
Years later, I still have some of those paper slips. They’re bundled and marked by year, in Ziploc bags in a storage box. They tell the story of heartache and hope. They are words that kept me anchored in a season of life when it seemed each semester brought with it a new form of trouble. They carried me through mono and grief and my mother’s cancer. They spoke to me in the midst of depression and loneliness and distorted views of my body. They were there as I relearned the meaning of grace and came face-to-face again and again with the God who kept company with me in the dark.
I remember some of them now. “The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still,” from Exodus 14. “Go in the strength that you have,” from the story of Gideon in Judges 6. The lyrical words of Isaiah 61, that Jesus repeats at the beginning of his ministry, promising beauty from ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. Others, I know, would come rushing back with meaning as I looked through those the bags in storage, reminding me of the ways God’s Word and promises faithfully met me.
With such a personal history, I was immediately drawn to the last few pages of Hannah Allen’s autobiography when I first read it. Hannah Allen was a wife, mother, and everyday Christian in seventeenth-century England. She wrestled with depression as a teenager, and then again, deeply, after the untimely death of her husband. Her autobiography tells her story of depression and suicide attempts and reveals a complex web of melancholy religious thoughts—and eventually her process of healing. After telling the story of her experience with depression, Hannah lists the Scripture passages that helped her through her dark days. I could imagine her repeating them to herself, much like I did, trying to internalize the words—and the hope they offered. Sadly, the last few pages of her list are lost to us. How often I’ve wished I could see the other words from the Bible she held particularly dear.
One, though, did stand out to me. It was one of the ones that appeared in that ever-evolving collection of paper slips on my walls. It’s one I still hold dear:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:1-2).
They were words of comfort to God’s people as they faced the horrors of exile. They promised God’s presence and care in the midst of pain. They promised redemption and healing in the face of unlikely hope. Hannah saw in them a comfort for her time. And I’ve found in them comfort for mine.
The Bible did not cure Hannah’s depression, and it did not cure mine. But in the words of Scripture, we both found promises to anchor us when we faced grief and depression, sickness and uncertainty. We needed to repeat them, to keep them close, as reminders of hope as we waited, once again, for the light to dawn.
Diana Gruver (MA, Gordon-Conwell) writes about discipleship and spiritual formation in the every day. She recently released Companions in the Darkness, a look back into church history and those who have struggled with depression. She serves as a writer and communications director for Vere Institute, and lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and daughter.