Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
It was 1995, I was sixteen years old, and I thought I did know and I had heard. I’d grown up in the church: sang the songs, memorized the verses, assembled the Vacation Bible School crafts. So when I opened the devotional booklet during the “quiet time” set aside for Scripture reflection on the last morning of the high school youth group retreat, I didn’t expect to learn anything new. Yeah, I do, I thought as I read the words of Isaiah 40:28. I have.
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
This is exactly what I thought I knew. God. The Lord. The Everlasting. The Creator. Sure. That all made sense. Some big, powerful guy who sat up in the heavens and waved his hands when it came time to invent rhinoceroses and starfish. The guy who saw everything, knew everything, and demanded nothing less than perfection from everybody. Yep. God. The one we all had to work so hard to obey all the time. Got it.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
Tired or weary. My eyes caught on those words. The truth was, if I could bring myself to admit it, I was tired and weary myself. The truth was, I’d been running really fast for a really long time. Trying to get the grades. The varsity swim team letters. The best parts in the school plays. The volunteer positions, the student council seats, the part-time jobs, the recommendation letters, the scholarship awards, the Student of the Month certificates. Who was I trying to impress? God? My parents? Myself? What was I trying so hard to prove?
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
It would be years before I understood. Years before I would recognize that my internal drive—pushing, pushing, always pushing me in a hundred directions, always grasping at a thousand measures of success—was overcompensating for a wound to my core. Way back when I was at my weakest and most powerless, so young that I’d pushed the memory to the very edges of my consciousness, someone had deeply hurt me. At sixteen, I couldn’t face that history. All I knew was that my own strength wasn’t sufficient. My own power wasn’t enough to prove my worth. I couldn’t quite remember that someone had once taught me I was worthless. All I knew was that I was so very, very tired.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
I hadn’t fallen yet. There I was at the age of sixteen, toe caught on a root at the edge of a precipice, frozen mid-stumble, but I hadn’t yet fallen all the way down. The fall would come another sixteen years in: at the age of thirty-two, when my childhood memories of abuse came swimming back, and my mental state deteriorated to the point where I had to be hospitalized, and afterward I had to face the twin identities of abuse survivor and psychiatric patient. But even there on that youth group retreat, as a junior in high school, I knew: I was running so fast, a fall was inevitable.
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
I sat on the dirt at the edge of the campground and stared at the photocopied booklet in my hands. Here was a thing I’d never known about God. A thing I’d somehow never understood, even after all those songs and verses and macaroni necklaces. That God was for me, not against me. That God wanted to build my strength, not sap it. That God did not demand my energy, but renewed it. That I could put my hope, not in the crumbling facade of my own efforts, but in the Lord. I breathed, I cried, and some tiny piece of me tiptoed out and said, “Yes. I will. I need that. My hope is in you, Lord.”
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Hoping in the Lord did not stop the fall. The events of my thirty-second year were still devastating. But because I had heard the call of the Lord in my sixteenth—because I had begun to believe that God was good, and a source of strength, and worthy of hope—I was buoyed up, even in the abyss. I am still unlearning the patterns set so long ago. I am still learning to walk and not faint. But ever since I read those words out of that booklet so many years ago, I have begun to know how it feels to soar.
Sarah L Sanderson is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mom of four. Find more of her work—including updates on the memoir she is currently writing about abuse, mental illness, faith, and her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother—on www.sarahlsanderson.com, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.