On June 2, 2019, Noa Pothoven died. Her death made the news around the world, all because of the circumstances surrounding it.
Noa was molested when she was 11 and then raped by two men when she was 14. Since then, she struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anorexia. As she struggled with her mental illness, her family looked for effective treatments, often admitting her into hospitals. They tried to get electroconvulsive therapy, but she was denied because of her age.
At one point she was so underweight that she was placed in a coma so she could be fed intravenously. She had, without her parents’ knowledge, approached a clinic asking to be considered for euthanasia or assisted suicide, but she was told she was too young. She then tried to commit suicide several times.
Pothoven, who shared her struggles in her book Winning or Learning, ultimately wrote a final Instagram post, which has since been deleted. In it she shared, “I have quit eating and drinking for a while now, and after many discussions and evaluations, it was decided to let me go because my suffering is unbearable.” A hospital bed was set up at her home, and her parents and doctors reportedly agreed not to force her to eat or drink.
As tragic as her story is, her desperation is not unique. A man named Asaph—a choir director for one of King David’s choirs about three thousand years ago—wrote very similar thoughts, not in an Instagram post, but in what is known as a psalm. In Psalm 77 he wrote about his suffering:
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted. I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. . . . My heart meditated and my spirit asked: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (verses 2-4,6-9).
Have you felt this kind of desperation too? The death of a spouse or child; struggles with addiction; the pain of not being able to have a child; the end of a marriage; chronic pain or illness or disease; coping with trauma; the weariness of depression, loneliness, and stress—all of these feel unbearable.
What Asaph did, however, when his suffering felt overwhelming, is a reminder for us all that there is a way to bear it:
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples (verses 10-14).
Looking to God doesn’t mean your circumstances change, but it does turn your eyes to your powerful, compassionate Father, who works miracles and who has been faithful for thousands of years. When Asaph did that, he was able to see clearly the way God acted:
Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron (verses 19,20).
Asaph was talking about when God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Still, the same applies to you. As you look through the fog of your suffering, notice the ways that God delivered you, even if you never saw his footprints. See the people he places in your life to lead you, to support you, to comfort you, to deliver you.
And then remember that because Jesus overcame, you will too. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor who shares her passion for both Jesus and for mental wellness issues on her Facebook page.