Wrestling with Despair

Trust in the Lord pic

Wrestling with Despair

by Erica Rivers,MA, LPC, CPT, MBA

Most of us can think about a time when it seemed that everything looked bleak.  We may have felt heavy, dreary, and lackluster.  There certainly wasn’t a lot of sunshine coming through the clouds.  It’s a difficult place to be and a human experience the world over.

In writing about despair and trying to wax eloquent, I thought that I would search out a poem or short story to illustrate a broken soul’s experiences. In the process, however, I gave up because I could not find the right something. The online search was seriously depressing!  I was starting to really feel it.  There are a lot of hurting people out there and much of what I found reflected deep sadness and pain… It made my own heart hurt for them and I applaud the bravery of using creative writing for self-expression. It can be very helpful for healing. Many therapists encourage regular journaling as a tool in recovery. It’s beneficial to get thoughts and feelings out of our heads and hearts.

Many of the examples of despair expression out there seemed to be in response to broken relationships or a sense of “I constantly mess up.” It seems that sense of disappointment or despair often follows a feeling of rejection. And, that’s a powerful emotion. At our core, we all need to be known, accepted, and loved. People were created for connection with God and other human beings. We need relationships of all sorts. If someone we care for or respect seemingly rejects us, it can tear open a deep wound. We may lose confidence in ourselves. And, if it’s a repeated pattern, we can start to believe it is about us… that we are not good enough to love… even that we are unloveable. That’s a hard feeling to deal with. Who can survive that? Despair comes in when hope gets lost.

And, yet, although deep rejection is a real thing [parents who abandon their own children, spouses who cheat and/or leave, friends who betray, or a sense of loneliness so deep that it feels like an impermeable chasm], there is hope that any of us can cling to… no matter how broken, how rejected, or how alone. That hope is in the Creator who made us (and yes, we may wonder why He dealt us the hand He did)…

Let’s look:

King David knew discouragement well. In Psalms 42 and 43, there is a repeating theme of despair and encouragement to himself to hope in God. Check out 42:5 (ESV): “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” They are definitely Psalms of desperation and discouragement. He seems to get it and yet he willfully turns his thoughts and desires toward the Lord. What makes a person do that? If we look a little bit further down in 42:8 it says, “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.” There is a deep faith there in God’s love toward him and a knowledge that He hears his prayer, day and night. Perhaps that is from his knowledge of what God had done for Israel… If we jump ahead to Psalm 44 we see, “O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, the work that You did in their days, in the days of old.” Interestingly, he had learned from his family the stories of how God had lead Israel out of Egypt to the promised land. And, he had his own personal experiences of God’s faithfulness. Consider the oft-quoted story of David facing the giant Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:20-58.

Jumping forward a bit into the book of Lamentations, we find Jeremiah in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances. The book was written in response to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.. He describes extreme pain and anguish. In 3:17-18 (ESV), he writes, “My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, ‘My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the Lord.’” That’s despair and understandably so; He was surrounded by death and destruction. More than I can even fathom. In the midst of his despair, right in the middle of the book, we find him changing his tune and clinging to hope in the Lord as he writes (19-25), “Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. Therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindesses indeed never cease for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him to the person who seeks Him.” We see here another example of the torn emotions of a man of faith, acknowledging the hurt while remembering that there is hope in the Lord.

In our darkest moments, it’s helpful to acknowledge the pain and to then turn our minds to what God has revealed about Himself in His Word. We can see the difficult paths that people like David and Jeremiah walked and we can remind ourselves in our own circumstances that God is real, loving, and capable of “ far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, ESV). He has not left us alone to despair and offers us help. He does not promise to make the road easy nor does He promise His children a life without pain this side of eternity. Rather, He gives us Himself via the guidance of an indwelling Holy Spirit (“the Helper” -John 14:26) and a hope that something better awaits. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13, ESV). There can be joy and peace from Him now even though we may feel despair. Look to God, not your circumstances. Look up, there is hope.

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