Despair surrounds our souls sometimes. We don’t like to say things like that usually because it sounds melodramatic. We try to be positive people. When people ask us how we are, we will say we’re fine, even if our soul is — in fact — in despair.
Western culture especially has become increasingly uncomfortable with suffering and has swept even mourning under the rug. There was a time when, after someone died, people wore black to show they were in mourning. Now, we don’t usually do that except at the funeral itself. Sometimes we don’t even wear it at the funeral.
A few weeks ago, my grandfather died. We had been caring for him for two months, watching him day by day slip away, and it was a relief to know his pain was over and he was in a place far better then the place where the rest of us are left behind. At the end, his suffering was intense, but now his suffering is over. Now, we are the ones who live with the empty space he’s left — the hole in our lives and in our hearts. But when people ask how we’re doing, of course we say we’re fine. In a world of positivity, mourning somehow feels uncouth.
It’s tempting to try to compartmentalize — if you can. We feel compelled to find a way to push past it. We ask in our own way, like David did, “Why are you in despair, o my soul?” Some of us can’t push past it. Not alone. When I was sixteen, a good friend of mine committed suicide. There will never be a day when I don’t wish that she had told me that she was in despair. Despair is too heavy a burden to carry by yourself. If you are in despair, please tell someone. Death isn’t the only way out. There is something coming, something you can’t see yet.
When we are walking through the shadow of death, when we are walking through despair, it can sometimes feel like there is nothing else beyond it. When we have been brought so low, it is hard to remember to look up. We have to remind ourselves, we have to remind our souls like David did to hope in God for we will again praise Him for the help of his presence.
There is no balm and no cure for despair like the presence of God. When we are in despair we will sometimes feel like God is a far way off. David said “I will say to God my Rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go in mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’” When we have lost someone or something or some part of ourselves, when people and circumstances are against us, it can feel like God is distant, like He has forgotten. When we are deep in our despair we can forget that we are in a spiritual warzone, and the greatest weapon the enemy can weild is the same weapon the serpent used in the garden: The lie that God is not good and that he doesn’t care about us the way He says He does.
It’s a trap. In those moments where the lie feels true, we have to remember like David did. We have to remember Who He is and what He has done. We have to remember that a time will come when we will rejoice again. It can be terrifying sometimes to hope. Because we have been wounded too deeply and have fallen too hard too many times, hope seems like a leap of faith that could turn out to be a leap to your death. But hope is not a safety net that is broken, hope is the life raft that will keep you from drowning and carry you to the shore.
“Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls. All Your breakers and waves have rolled over me.” Those words washed over me when I was in India — when my body had wasted away to nothing, when I was sweltering in a bed of fire ants, when I was writhing in seizures, when hunger felt like it had eaten me whole.
When I was about three years old my cousin David who was a teenager would take me to the beach and bring me out into the ocean. We would go head to head with the waves. Alone, those waves would have completely swept me away, but as he carried me the waves would crash against me, splash across my face, even frighten me, but as long as he carried me, they couldn’t really harm me. I would ask if we could turn back, but he would tell me just to wait, that there was something better beyond the waves. We would move into water that was deeper, pass through waves that were higher, and though I felt terrified at times, he was so peaceful. And I trusted him more than I feared the waves. When we had passed through them, he would put me on his shoulders. Behind us the waves crashed down toward the shore, but around us and before us was beautiful, tranquil ocean — stretching out infinitely as far as our eyes could see.
When you are in the waves, dear one, remember — there are beautiful oceans beyond them, and you are held in everlasting arms.
Grace and peace, beloved.
“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.
O my God, my soul is in despair within me;
Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
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.
New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ps 42:5–8). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.