“From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help.” Psalm 130:1
These heartfelt words of David are voiced with unedited emotional honesty. I think David’s unfiltered expression of soul is one of the things that makes him a man after God’s own heart.
The depths of despair?
We all experience them.
I recently gathered with thirty-some women at a cozy mountain retreat to participate in a conversation about hope: Hope as an Anchor for the Soul. Some of the stories I heard were deeply painful and seemingly hopeless— hard journeys visibly etched on sad faces. Other women were on the rejoicing side of a long and soul-rendering season of suffering, their faith in God, thankfully, renewed, strengthened and contagious.
One woman quoted a line from Anne of Green Gables, “To despair is to turn your back on God.”
I would add:
Despair comes from believing God has turned His back on you.
Many times I have found myself crumpled on the shores of despair. I’ve been so distraught and overcome that enduring one more day seemed impossible.
I am tempted to throw up my hands and quit when I’ve concluded my situation is hopeless–when relief is not even a spot on the horizon.
Despair knocks on the door when my incurable diagnosis seems to have disqualified me from my purpose or leaves me less than who I was meant to be, no matter my effort.
When my mind darts around and I can’t focus or remember what’s truer than my swirling emotions; when imbalanced brain chemistry hijacks my personality and pelts me with lies; when I’m confused about who I am and where I belong–despair sneaks in.
But despair moves in when successive storms leave me bone weary and void of any hope for relief. When I’m daily faced with the collateral damage of childhood traumas and the resulting grief suffocates me. When life piles up, as life does, PTSD launches a synaptic wild-fire inside, robbing me of sleep and subjecting me to an adrenalized fight with myself. It squelches peace of mind along with the joyful ease of simply being myself.
Throughout my complex set of issues I feel unrelenting guilt for letting God and others down, for not being able to control it or, after all these years, failed to overcome it.
“From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help.”
I have a deep reservoir of empathy for people in suffering and affliction. One thing I’ve learned in my blind journey through heartache is that it helps to tell your story. I think too many people feel invisible and insignificant, in part, because their stories aren’t heard.
If your story isn’t known, can you be known? Maybe if your story remains hidden you are hidden as well.
Could a portion of despair stem from not being seen or known or heard?
There is a woman in my town. I see her regularly sitting criss-cross-applesauce under a tree or on a random sidewalk. When she’s not sitting and staring from haze, she’s walking in a staggering jerky motion along Main Street.
She’s pretty, or used to be. Light blue eyes pop from the ruddy canvas of her weathered face—her hair is sun-streaked but matted and stringy. I don’t know her story, though it’s not hard to imagine the trail that led her to where she is now.
To me she is a picture of a life void of hope.
Despair doesn’t generally spring from one isolated event—though for some it can. The complete loss or absence of hope usually comes from a years-long, life-consuming, hard-fought series of battles where loss piles upon loss and grief layers upon grief. It comes when defeats far outnumber victories and circumstances repeatedly cycle from bad to worse.
Remember Naomi? She lost her husband and then both sons–the equivalent of destitution for a woman in those days. When she returned to Bethlehem with Ruth she said to the welcomers,
“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”
Despair is found when the promises God spoke to your soul feel like mocking empty memories of a time you dared to hope at all.
When was the last time you cried out to God with that voice of anguish trying to outpace despair? Psalm 130 continues:
Hear my cry, O Lord! Pay attention to my prayer.
Emotionally translated it sounds something like this: Aren’t you listening to me, Lord? Why don’t you answer me? It’s too much…Your hand has been too heavy upon me. I can’t go on.
It’s a cry of anguish—an honest prayer that comes from the heart of one whose circumstances have wrung faith and hope right out of the heart.
David models the value in identifying our despair–calling it what it is. Nothing is gained in feigning otherwise. But identifying our hopelessness is only half the equation.
Despair grows in the darkness of half-truth and silence.
The apostle Paul reveals the hope side of our hardships:
We are experiencing trouble on every side, but we are not crushed;
We are perplexed, but we are not driven to despair;
We are persecuted, but we are not abandoned;
We are knocked down, but we are not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:8-9)
Paul admits the trouble yet he caps the lesser truth with the greater one…the incorruptible truth of But God!
“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now: rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Cor. 4:18)
Despair is like the water Peter dared to walk upon. When I look at my problems, I succumb to the depths of despair. When I willfully lift my eyes from the temporariness of this life and fix my gaze on the eternal glory I’ll share with Him, I am able to turn my back on despair.
“I am counting on the LORD,” David says; “Yes, I am counting on Him. I have put my hope in His word.”
My emotions may be a rudder-less ship at times, I may succumb to the currents that drive me hard into the storms BUT GOD has kept His hand upon me. I could easily have become that woman I see around town.
No matter my thrashing, God’s love has been an anchor for my soul. His promise to care for me has been proven over and over and over again in my life. I call it to memory.
Today, I’m hunkered down. My bible and journal sit on my lap. I’m choosing to lift my eyes. I have determined to blindly, inexplicably fix my gaze above and place my hope in Him.
Can I encourage you, my friend, to lift your eyes from all that beats upon your soul? For a moment, look instead upon the Christ of the cross? He knows your suffering and He’s purchased the price of your hope.
Would you consider going a step further and remind yourself of a time when God came through for you?
Will you let those words tumble past your gritted teeth? Will you speak it out loud and let your heart be reminded to hope?
Will you echo the Psalmist with me?
“I am counting on the LORD, yes…I have put my hope in His Word.”