The Role Of Despair In The Life Of A Believer (Jesus pt. 68)

Despair – 1. (n) The complete loss or absence of hope. 2, To be overcome with a sense of futility or defeat. 3 (v) To lose or be without hope.

What powerful words in the definition. “Complete” “Loss” “Absence” “Overcome” “Futility” “Defeat” “Without hope”.

Let’s get honest here for a moment…followers of Jesus experience despair. I have struggled with it. I know many others who have. Life doesn’t go the way we planned, hoped, thought it should. We extrapolate from our circumstances something of how we think God must feel about us. And if we think He isn’t trustworthy, isn’t loving, isn’t good – if we think we aren’t loved – despair rises. It, life, feels hopeless.

In addition to the crushing weight of the feeling of “This will never change. This will never work out. This is evidence of His lack of love for me. This is making me wish He would take me home now.”,  I have also struggled with “Christians shouldn’t feel this way. Jesus must be so disappointed in me. I can’t tell anyone else how I really feel because it is so deeply unspiritual.”

But it exists. And followers of Jesus experience it. Therefore I must conclude that despair has a work to do in the life of a believer. Here are some thoughts on it.

Despair isn’t the enemy. Instead, it can function like a light on the dashboard, warning that there is trouble under the hood. It provides information – that all is not well and I must give my heart and soul some attention. Maybe even actively seek help from others who can ‘see’ reality more clearly, from a place where vision isn’t blurred by despair.

Despair can act like an emotional winter, stopping my outer world for while and slowing me down both physically and spiritually. It can look very discouraging on the outside, but inside, like the roots of a tree during the cold dark months, it can prompt some very deep, very long-lasting growth. Dealing with some of the issues that stir despair – fear, insecurity, doubt, worry, theological issues, woundedness – when I invite Jesus to speak to them and He does, I am not the same afterwards. When spring rolls back around, as it always does, the platform on which new growth emerges is wider, stronger and more solid.

Despair can demand expression, a chance to speak into my life. Pretending it isn’t there or ignoring it only prolongs the pain. It is sort of like when my husband and I have a disagreement. (It happens.) And we postpone our conversation to reconcile it. Those are some long, cold nights. It feels the same with my heart when I ignore something that it wants to talk with me about.

Despair can force an honesty and willingness to engage Jesus out of me. Because it hurts so much, it has the capacity to remove the filter I often put over my words, that leads me to say the things I think are acceptable and “right” in church circles. This is a fancy way of saying that I will often try to lie about the condition of my heart if I can get away with it. The pain of despair can lead me to stop playing games and bring my darkness into the light so Jesus can speak to it and heal it.

And despair creates in me a longing for His coming, for Him to re-create this world where there is no more pain, tears or hopelessness. Despair can drive me to realize that my only hope doesn’t come from this world. It can drive me, wounded and weeping into the arms of my Savior, who makes all things right with His presence. I am learning that whatever brings me into His presence can be a blessing to me.

Where Jesus is, there is always hope. He holds the power in His hands to change things. Heal things. Raise them from the dead. External things and life’s circumstances – sometimes. When we encounter Him, He doesn’t always fix what is broken on the outside, but He always changes our hearts. And when that happens, when our hearts are renewed and strengthened and we see the world for how it really is, we have the strength to withstand the pain that comes our way. We have the ability to find Him and His joy in the midst of terrible darkness. We may fall, but in the falling, we find there is ground beneath us. Solid ground that holds. Despair can lead us to discover that He is truly enough. That He is love. That He is capable of redeeming even the worst of our fears and pain. These are truths that are only theoretical till proven true in our lives through the crucible of despair.

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Looking For The Entrance and Exit Ramps – (Healthy Marriage Practices pt. 7)

Much of marriage is about patterns, about routine, about the”normal” way we go about life and relating – most often, without thinking about it. Sometimes our patterns and routines and “normal” isn’t very healthy. Or, what started out healthy may need adjustment as circumstances change…as personalities naturally drift over the course of the years…as stressors limit emotional availability or escalate tension. Over the years, husbands and wives fall into ruts regarding how they talk to each other, how they show affection, how they problem solve, how they move through life together, etc. Sometimes it works well. Sometimes not so much.

We’ve all had the experience of getting lost in thought while driving and all of a sudden “waking up” and realizing you are somewhere you didn’t plan on going with no idea of how you got there. Doing this while driving is one thing, but doing it while married…how would you like to wake up in the middle of a marital crisis? And no idea how you got there…Yikes! (Yet this is how it usually happens…)

Highways and marriages are similar in that both are going somewhere. Both have natural entrance and exit points, those locations where it is appropriate and easy to get on or get off  in order to change directions, take a break  or begin a new journey.  (I am not talking about places where you can leave the marriage – but places where the marriage can change trajectory and direction. I am writing from the perspective that death is the intended end to a marriage.) Also, while navigating both highways and marriages, it is scarily easy to not pay attention to what you are doing.

A new job, babies, a move, school starts, seasonal changes, health concerns, vacations, buying a house, starting or ending a hobby, finding a new church…All of these are a part of life and all of these mean schedules, priorities and structures change. These can be tremendous opportunities, doors to walk through and shake things up, to alter your direction before arriving at an unwanted destination.

Entrance and exit ramps are transition points. Those places and events where you set your life for acceleration or deceleration. Places to talk. To evaluate. To plan. To do something new. To stop something old.  They are all over the place in life and marriage. If we are looking for them. And open to the possibility that different might be needed.

What if married couples were aware of where their entrance and exit ramps are? What if they planned margins of time within those places to … talk. To communicate with each other and ask really simple but important questions. And to agree to be really honest. To listen really well. Without getting defensive and making excuses. And to do something with what you learn about the other.

How are you doing right now? Really? 

How do you feel our marriage is going? Are you happy with it? Are there things you want to change? Are there things you wish I knew? Are there things you wish I would stop or start doing?

Is there anything I can do to help you more right now, to be more tuned into your world, your needs and the things that are important to you?

Do you feel loved and appreciated? If not, how can I speak my love in your language so you hear it more clearly?

Is there something you are worried about? Afraid of? Enjoying? Use some emotional words and tell me about your heart.

You can come up with even more great discussion starting questions on your own. Google. Books. And, if you are interested in your spouse, your marriage, some questions should just naturally present themselves.

The key is you have to create the space to ask. To listen. To be honest. It can keep you from waking up in an unhealthy marriage with no idea of how it got so sick.

Shared Positive Memories – (Healthy Marriage Practices pt. 6)

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Dad sitting on a cactus in the Jena botanical garden. We laugh. Every time.

Jeff and I are like most couples – we have stories. Lots of them. Well, maybe not lots of them. I guess we only really have a few. But we repeat them over and over. And over. Especially our funny ones. We repeat them to each other, to our kids and anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves at the Davis dinner table. And we usually laugh. Every. Time. Some days we sort of think God put us here for comic relief.

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Back in Europe, when our lives involved wearing backpacks everywhere.

In fact, our 5 year old has gotten in to the habit – and when she and I spend time together, she invariably asks me to tell her “the story of how she was born”…or the story of how one of her siblings was born. Because childbirth in our family seems to involve lots of laughter – in addition to all the…um…pain…Our birth stories involve Wal-mart parking lots, Harry Potter novels, swedish meatballs, star trek transporter beams, German nurses having a throw down in front of me, looking out an open window to the pedestrians about 3o feet away while actually delivering…but I digress. You should come have dinner with us sometime to get the full stories. Even our 5 year old knows how much fun it can be.

I think this represents a good and healthy marriage (and family) practice: shared positive memories. We practice our stories. We tell them often. And we laugh. Every. Time. We own them in our hearts. And we are trying to share our family stories with our kids. Sort of like an initiation to the team. We don’t have a secret handshake. We have stories we tell and share.

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Jeffrey’s first day of school in Germany, with his sisters. The story of their years in German schools often comes up at our dinner table.

In fact, over the years, I’ve become a bit of a photographer of some of our more humorous moments. I enjoy the visual that reminds us of something we loved together. Every year at Christmas, all the kids get a small, simple photo album of them in the past year. To remind them of how they’ve grown, how loved they are, the special events they lived through, to prompt storytelling at bedtime.

And every time we tell our stories, I am reminded of how much history I share with Jeff, how many good and memorable times we’ve had, how much we’ve overcome together, how intertwined our lives are. It turns my heart towards him. And his toward mine.

It seems to me that couples who have turned a dark corner, who are heading down a dangerous downhill slide from which it is difficult to pull out, don’t seem to remember much of anything positive about their spouse, or the years they’ve spent together. All that they’ve invested in each other and shared through the years gets filed under ‘unfunny, sad, discouraging, or not-happy”. Couples that look at each other and can’t remember why it is they are together are in a dangerous place indeed.

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Abby’s first bite of a bratwurst. A happy day for us all! And a story we love to tell!

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‘Cause, you know, we are on an adventure together.

So Jeff and I practice remembering why we are together and why we love each other and why our future looks brighter than our past. We rehearse our stories with each other. And with anyone who ends up sharing a meal with us.

This is a practice that produces beautiful things for a couple and a marriage.

Setting Your Spouse Up For Success – (Healthy Marriage Practices pt. 5)

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Unfortunately, this proverb has a lot of truth to it. If you have ever seen a woman wronged by a man, a woman who decides to indulge her anger, who gives full vent to the desire for revenge, a woman with no verbal or emotional self-control… it isn’t pretty.

When people are hurt, as marriage inevitably does to all of us, a unique tension arises. We are entitled to express how we feel. We should communicate clearly what is going on inside of us. It is ok to get angry and  tell your spouse how their actions have impacted you.  Healthy marriage requires honest communication, even when the emotions you need to express are passionate, painful or very vulnerable ones. It is the only way to work things through with a hope of repairing them.

But…

There comes a point when in our hurt and woundedness, we cross over from constructive emotional venting, to something else. Something destructive. Our actions are not helpful in any sense of the word, but are aimed at hurting and destroying the other person. We begin sabotaging our spouse. We give them no chance at succeeding in the marriage.

The problem with this however is that you are married to that person. It is sort of like being on a transatlantic flight and getting so angry with your seat mate that you open the window. The breeze may feel good for moment, but it isn’t going to end well.

Here is a powerful truth about marriage – it is in my best interest for my spouse to succeed. At everything he does. I especially want him to succeed at our marriage. Because when he fails, the results land in my lap.

Here are some questions that demands an answer for those who want their marriage to not only survive, but deepen and strengthen through the years : “How can I help my husband become the godly man both Jesus and I want him to become?” “How can I encourage his success at whatever he is called to do?” “How can I be the type of wife he wants to turn to and not away from when things get difficult?” “How can I be a source of strength for him, someone he is always grateful for and not something he has to overcome as he walks the path God has called him to?”

Or how about these questions…”What is it like to be married to me?” Or, “Am I easy to lead and love, or a pain in the rear?” “Am I part of the solution or part of the problem?” “Am I asking Him to do things in our marriage that I’m not willing to do myself?” Maybe these questions deserve their own blog post.

A careful reading of the book of Job has some powerful words for the Christian wife. In the first two chapters, Satan is given permission to take away everything of value in Job’s life, to make him suffer as much as possible so that he might turn on God. And Satan is ruthless. He takes Job’s things, his family, his standing in the community and eventually his health.

But there is an interesting verse that pops up in the midst of all this suffering. In Job 2:10 we read, “His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

And I wonder…what is his wife still doing there? Satan, in seeking the deepest way to wound Job, chooses to leave his wife, knowing that she would be much more harm to him alive than dead. Ouch.

One of my prayers for myself is that I never be like Job’s wife. Oh how I hope my presence wouldn’t be a curse to my husband!

Proverbs 31:12 has a good word for wives, “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

I don’t and have never claimed to be a marriage expert – I am just a married person. I don’t know all the different ways a spouse can screw up and hurt his/her mate, deeply, permanently. I don’t know how long it is ok to be angry for whatever it is they have done, or where the boundaries are of healthy vs. destructive emoting. But I do know that at the end of the day, I am not responsible for my husband’s actions. I responsible for mine. I am responsible for my choices and my responses and my actions leading to the success or failure of my marriage. I am responsible for grading the approach my husband makes on his way to our marriage – I make it uphill or downhill for him.

I want my marriage to succeed, I want my husband to succeed. It is worth some time to think about what this idea looks like in reality.