Ilse no longer feels guilty about regaining joy after family tragedy
Losing her parents, the two closest friends of her life, crushed Ilse Friis to the point that she no longer wanted to live.
The South African remembers that as a 22-year-old leader at a children's camp she was woken to hear the tragic news that her parents had died in a car accident.
"When I awoke the next morning the pain was overwhelming because I saw no way of ever being happy again without them," Ilse says.
She acknowledges her relationship with Jesus Christ, her three loving brothers and circle of friends enabled her to escape what she felt was a "bottomless pit", yet the joy of her life failed to return.
"Every day was filled with boring routine. I felt guilty, like I was betraying my parents when something made me happy. As I focused on my loss and hurt, I became self-focused, which damaged all my relationships."
After two years, Ilse says she finally allowed God to speak to her and soon found promises in God's Word that she could hold onto.
"I read that King David had said that '[God] drew me out of many waters' (2 Samuel 22:17) and in Job's tragic loss of his children and health, 'The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind'".
One evening, she recalls praying: "Lord, I am so tired, I can't hang on and try to remain standing any longer."
"God answered me, 'You don't have to hold on or keep trying, I will bind you to Me with cords of love that cannot be broken'."
She still misses her parents, but now says that this feeling no longer steals her joy.
“I saw no way of ever being happy again”
"When I gave God the opportunity to heal my broken life, I began discovering deeper dimensions of Him, His love for me, and His plan for my life."
As a child, Ilse often asked herself, 'Why am I alive?' and for many years she recalls, "My life felt empty and purposeless."
Searching for meaning, she recalls: "I made many mistakes and hurt many people. The harder I tried to be a 'good person', the less I was the person I wanted to be."
This conflict was resolved when she read the work of theologian Francois de Toit, who writes: "Religion majors on guilt and willpower driven sentiment which engage man in futile efforts to save and improve himself...the law proves all men guilty and confirms that their best intentions...could not improve their condition before God. The purpose of [God's] law is to show people how condemned they are, and that they need a Saviour. The Gospel (the good news of Jesus) shows how loved people are, and that only through Christ's saving power we can be freed from our sin and shame."
As she studied the Bible, Ilse realised for herself that sin takes people "away from [God's] love, and from the fullness of what He wants for our lives" but that Jesus paid the ultimate price so her relationship with God could be restored.
"As the Bible says, 'By one perfect sacrifice [Jesus] has perfectly [purified] sinful man forever'," Ilse quotes from Hebrews chapter 10 verse 14.
"I deeply believed that Jesus is the only God, that I am saved only through His sacrifice on the cross for my sins, and that His Holy Spirit empowers me. I realised it was all God's work in me, and none of my own efforts."
Ilse takes comfort in knowing that her parents had this same faith in Jesus and that one day she will be reunited with them in heaven.
In the meantime, she says a purposeful, fulfilled and joyful life comes from experiencing "God's power, mercy and grace" every day through the good times and bad. •