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.