I’ve gone to church all my life, but I haven’t always known Christ. It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom during my freshman year in college that I came to know the compassionate heart of the Savior. While there was no dramatic fallout between me and God, I did, nevertheless, experience the terrible darkness of being distant from Him—as well as the over-powering joy of finding Christ’s hand pulling me back.

I spent my freshman year of college at a school seven hours from home. Far away from my family, friends, and hometown, I was thoroughly out of my element. I coped fairly well for the first semester, but shortly after Christmas break, I began to struggle with depression. For the rest of the school year, a dark and threatening cloud overshadowed my daily life. As with many who suffer from depression, I was plagued with thoughts of self-loathing and hopelessness nearly every moment. This unhealthy turning inward on myself closed me off to those around me, and even more frighteningly, it almost destroyed my relationship with God. The oppressive belief that I would never measure up or be good enough for Him took hold of me. Convinced that I had to earn God’s love, I obsessed every day over “fixing” myself and living a “perfect” life, but every night I inevitably fell asleep berating myself and despairing over every failing. It was a vicious cycle. Not surprisingly, as the months went on, my mental, emotional and physical health began to spiral out of control until I reached a breaking point.

Mercifully, when I was at my worst, God placed a friend in my life who patiently shared the message of Christ’s compassion, the power of His grace, and the intensity of His love and desire for my soul. Although what she shared was difficult to accept at first, over time it became the light that led me out on my dark place. Boiled down, this is what she taught me:

#1: We can’t save ourselves.

Maybe it’s an addiction to drugs or pornography. Maybe it’s an abusive relationship you can’t walk away from.  Maybe jealousy or hatred is eating you from the inside out. The universal truth is we all struggle with sin and its effect on our lives. Thanks to the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, all of humanity was thrown out of a right relationship with the Creator. Try as we might, we could not bridge the enormous rift we had caused between us and God. Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the story. Our compassionate God descended from His kingly court to save us. While never ceasing to be God, He became a man, and through His obedience and death, He crossed the great divide humanity had caused. Through His resurrection, which poetically also took place in a garden, our reconciliation was finally accomplished and the possibility of living in a right relationship with our Creator was renewed.

What I suffered from the most my first year of college was a debilitating lack of faith in God’s desire and power to save and restore my soul. I tried to save myself by my own strength, but I needed a stronger hand than my own to pull me out of the mire of sin and sadness. I didn’t believe that God could love me enough to be that strong hand for me, but I was wrong. Christ is always standing by, and no matter what “great divide” is in our lives separating us from God, He is eager to forgive our sins and draw us back into a loving relationship with the Father. All we need to do is turn to Him with faith.

#2: Comparing leads to despairing. 

We all come to Christ by different paths. Maybe, like the Prodigal Son, you’ve made choices to distance yourself from God. Or perhaps, like me and the older son in the parable, you’ve technically remained with the Father, but are nevertheless still far from living by His mercy and grace. Regardless of where you begin, overcoming the inertia of those first steps away from sin and toward Christ is always difficult.

The devil knows this well, which is why he often tries distract and discourage us from moving toward God at all by tempting us to compare the starting point of our conversion with someone else’s. If you’re a Prodigal Son, he’ll drag out your past wrongs and compare them to the virtues of your more faithful peers. If your path has more resembled the older brother, the devil might incite you to scrupulosity or to pride over your outwardly “clean life.” Comparisons of this kind are pointless and always lead to a path further away from God. Despite what the devil would have us believe, our sins are of concern to God primarily because they get in the way of the intimate and loving relationship He craves so dearly. As the parable of the Prodigal Son shows, He is far more eager to welcome us back with open arms than He is to hold our sins over us.

#3: His grace is enough.

It’s one thing to accept the strong hand of Christ lifting us out of the deepest holes we find ourselves in, but as I discovered, it’s another thing to invite Him into our daily struggles against vice and sin. The vulnerability it took to open myself up to an intimate relationship with Christ was especially intimidating because the closer I got to His loving heart, the uglier I knew my own to be. I wanted to reflect the loving heart of Christ. I wanted to see the vices and habits of sin in my life defeated and replaced with virtues, but I also knew I was totally incapable of staying on the straight and narrow. I knew myself well enough to know I would fall or get distracted, and stop trying. How was I suppose to persevere on this path?

Saint Paul supplied the answer: “‘[His] grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’” Yes, conversion always requires our voluntary turning away from sin, but it is God’s grace that comes to our aid when we do. It is grace—that free and unmerited help from God—that comes to support us in moments of weakness and to rally us after each fall. I had always thought a relationship with God was like having catastrophic insurance: He’s there to cover the major mess ups, but the small ones are on you. Yet again, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Christ is ready to pour His strength into our lives whenever we ask for it. He stands ready at the faucet of His grace, eager to see the power of the resurrection stream out and transform our lives!

Those difficult months my freshman year were some of the most dark and confusing of my life. However, I can honestly say now that I am grateful for them, because it was through that painful low that I experienced the depth of Christ’s compassion and the power of His grace. Over time I learned to not hide my weaknesses from Him but to humbly bless them, because they are the magnet that draws Him to me—to all of us. Our God is a loving God, a God who renews His mercies every morning. So wherever you may be in your journey with God, whatever darkness of sin or sadness may covering your life like it was mine, I encourage you to step into the light.