Sunday morning, eleven o’clock. I slipped into the church just before the doors closed. Perfect. I won’t have to talk to anyone. Bellevue United Methodist was right behind our house, but the only time my husband, Michael, and I usually set foot inside was to vote since it doubled as our polling place.
I’d told him I was coming here today. What I didn’t tell him was that this was my last stop before I ended my life. I was done—with our unhappy marriage, with my misery, with the pain of living. I sank into an empty pew and stared at the floor. How had things gotten this bad?
Michael and I had wanted to see what life was like outside our home state of Mississippi. So three years earlier, we’d moved here to Nashville. Things started off great. We landed jobs at a local TV station—me as a copywriter, Michael as a cameraman—and settled into our new house.
Living next to the church brought me an inexplicable sense of peace—inexplicable because I wasn’t a churchgoer. And the God I knew didn’t evoke feelings of peace and comfort. No, the God I learned about growing up was vengeful and angry, waiting for me to mess up so he could punish me.
“If you sin,” my Sunday school teacher warned us, “God will send you to hell.” I wanted to hide from a God like that! As soon as I was old enough to have a choice, I quit going to church. Luckily, Michael never had any interest in going either.
From the outside it looked like we had it all—a nice home, great jobs, the perfect life. Not exactly. Once the newlywed euphoria wore off, reality set in. A reality neither of us wanted to admit: We were better off as friends than as husband and wife.
Our differences, which hadn’t seemed like a big deal when we were dating (“opposites attract,” we used to say with a laugh), drove such a wedge between us that I couldn’t remember what we had in common besides not going to church.
The more I tried to talk to Michael, the more he withdrew. We’d blow up at each other over superficial things, masking the real issues in our relationship. “It’s always messy in here!” Michael would bark. “Can’t you clean up for once?”
“Deal with it!” I’d snap. “Not everything can be perfect all the time.”
Depression, which I’d battled on and off since I was a teen, came back like a tidal wave, knocking me lower than I’d ever been. I couldn’t find joy in anything. Not my marriage, obviously. Not my work. Not even a sunny day. Snap out of it, I’d tell myself. But I couldn’t.
Michael and I fell into the habit of coming home from work and tiptoeing around each other. Guilt consumed me. I’d seen so many other couples go through problems and come out stronger. What was wrong with us? With me?
We hadn’t made any friends in the area. I had no one to turn to except a God I had convinced myself was a cruel tyrant.
Lord, are you listening? I asked desperately one night maybe three years into our marriage. Do you care about me at all? I can’t keep it together anymore. I’m exhausted. Please help. What was the use? I’d fallen so far off God’s radar he probably thought I was a lost cause.
I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. There was only one way out: I would take a whole bottle of painkillers and slowly drift away. Like falling asleep, closing my eyes and never opening them again. My plan filled me with relief. But Michael…how would he handle things without me around?
My gaze drifted to a soft glow outside my window. The lights in the steeple of the church next door. The church! That was it. Maybe if I could get to know a few people there, especially the minister, my funeral wouldn’t be presided over by a total stranger and someone would bring Michael a casserole.
It sounds crazy, but I couldn’t end my life unless I knew he’d be taken care of. At least fed.
So here I was on Sunday morning, sitting in a pew. The minister was an engaging speaker, warm and witty—just the right person to deliver my eulogy. When the service was over, I got in line to meet him. “Welcome,” he said, shaking my hand. “You don’t look familiar. Are you new here?”
“Um…sort of,” I stammered. I wasn’t about to tell him the truth.
“Great!” he said. “Why don’t you come to Sunday school class next week? You can meet some other members.”
“Sure,” I said. Wait! I meant to say no! I only wanted to introduce myself so he’d know my name for my funeral. Now I’d promised to go to some class? Part of me didn’t care. I was going to take those pills tonight, so what did the class matter? But…I might meet a few people there who’d look after Michael.
I decided my plan could wait for one more week.
The next Sunday, after the service, I walked into the classroom. About 10 men and women sat in a circle, chatting. “The Corner Seekers,” the sign read. That’s me, I thought. I’m just going to sit in the corner and get this class over with.
“Hi, there!” a woman said. “I’m Laura. It’s great to have you here.” Everyone else welcomed me too. Class was pretty informal. People traded stories from their own lives and discussed Bible verses. “God is always there for us,” one man said. “He wants to help us, not judge us. We need only ask.”
My mouth dropped. God was there to hear us and help us, not punish us? That’s not what I’d heard. Class ended and I sensed myself wanting to know more. Maybe one more week wouldn’t hurt.
I told Michael about church and Sunday school but he just shrugged. Fine. He’ll be lucky to get a casserole, I thought. As the week wore on, though, depression dampened my excitement. I wondered if I could delay my plan long enough to attend the next class.
By Saturday I’d had enough. Tonight I’ll end it all, I thought. Suddenly a Bible verse popped into my head: Matthew 11:28. Where did that come from? I hadn’t opened a Bible since I was a kid, and it wasn’t one of the verses the people in class had mentioned.
I looked it up online: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” it read, “and I will give you rest.” Weary? Burdened? It was like God was speaking directly to me, like he understood my heartache and pain and could see deep into my soul.
Maybe the class was right, maybe he was listening. Maybe he did care. Maybe. I’d give it one more shot.
The next morning I went to church, then to Sunday school, feeling a glimmer of hope. But that bleak voice—the one that wanted me to leave this world behind—still nagged at me. I worked up my nerve to speak up in class.
“I’ve had some depression issues. Some dark thoughts,” I said carefully, not wanting to reveal too much. “Will God ever forgive me for thinking those things?”
“God loves you, Carol,” one of my classmates said. “Don’t you know that? Warts and all. He loves us unconditionally and forgives us.” A God of love. A hard notion to wrap my head around, given how I’d been raised, yet it awakened something deep down in my soul, like that verse from Matthew.
It was just enough to hold on to, the possibility that I wasn’t a disappointment to my Maker. In fact, I might be the opposite. I might be a child he loved unconditionally. That thought, that desperate hope, kept me coming back to class, week after week, month after month.
Twelve years later I’m still going to Bellevue United Methodist every Sunday. Our marriage ended but Michael and I remain friends.
I am happily single and I feel more deeply loved than ever. By my church family—especially my Sunday school classmates (our group is now called Friends ‘N’ Faith), who not only helped me find treatment for my depression but also nourished my faith (still do).
And most of all by God, who turned what I thought was my last stop into the first step of a joyous new journey, one that shows me how much I have to live for.
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