When You Are in Despair

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.

Ashlie Ariel

 

“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.

5 Things We Should Do While We’re Waiting

I’ve done a lot of waiting, especially in the past two years. I have a feeling many of you have too. And in that waiting I have often wondered what my part is in moving forward, what I should be doing while I’m waiting, and even if I am prolonging my own waiting or failing to grow in it as I should. As I’ve been studying through Acts (yes, there will likely be a lot about the book of Acts forthcoming), I found this beautiful model for what we should be doing while we’re waiting for God to move.

In the first chapter of Acts, the story goes like this: After His resurrection and before His ascension, Jesus tells His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Promise – the gift of the Holy Spirit. The moment Jesus is gone, they return to the Upper Room and they pray. While they continue to wait, Peter brings a situation to their attention – the fact that they are now eleven rather than twelve because of Judas’ betrayal and death (v. 15-19), and the Scripture (20) directs them to replace him. So, they step forward in obedience and select two men who meet the qualifications, pray that God would reveal His choice (24-25), and appoint the one the Lord chooses.

In this story, there are clearly five key things we can do, should do, while we are waiting:

1. Pray constantly and in community

“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14)

Verse 14 says that they prayed not once, not daily, but constantly. While they were waiting, they were in constant communion with their sovereign Father. Verse 14 also says that they were not alone. They were together – men and women, family members in blood and in the Blood – praying to the God who made them family, to the God who was sovereign over their waiting. While you’re waiting, pray constantly and in community.

2. Recognize your situation

Peter Recognizes their situation. He looks around and sees where they’ve come and where they need to go. He recognizes the needs. This is an important step. If we don’t clarify where we are, we can miss how we need to submit to God where we are. We can also miss where He’s leading us which is often revealed by where He’s led us thus far. While you’re waiting, clarify where you are.

3. & 4. Know Scripture and Obey Scripture – Prayerfully and Promptly

I list these two together because they go hand in hand. Peter knew Scripture and because he knew Scripture and considered it, he knew what God was calling him to do while he was waiting. There are a lot of things in life that will not be clear, but there are a multitude of things that have been made clear by the Word. Start with that. Then, for the pieces and aspects that aren’t clearly laid out through Scriptural command and principle, pray. The Author of the Word is always near and always has the answers we need. Don’t know what to do? Don’t know how to apply those principles of Scripture to your situation? Ask Him. Then – this is very simple but very important – DO IT. Once you know what God’s choice is for you, don’t hesitate. While you’re waiting, consider Scripture and – prayerfully and promptly – proceed accordingly. 

5. Wait for It….

At first, I didn’t even notice this one. I had originally titled this “4 Things We Should Do While We’re Waiting” even though I had a nagging feeling that there was a fifth thing. (Maybe I’m not the only one who neglects to notice this at times?) Then, suddenly, it leaped out in front of me, and I realized this is, in some ways, the most important thing – or at least the most important perspective. This is the one that keeps us going, that gives us hope. We find the command for this given by Jesus before He left and the fulfillment of its truth after they have done these five things.

Jesus said “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” (Acts 1:4) 

He told them to wait for what the Father had promised them. While you’re waiting, wait for the promise that is coming. It may sound a bit redundant to wait while you’re waiting, but it isn’t. This waiting is about anticipation and focus. We look forward to the promise. We look forward to the promise that He is at work for our good and for His glory. We look forward to the promise that He is shaping us into His likeness. We look forward to the promise of eternity with the One we love. And it’s this this kind of waiting for the promise that keeps us hopeful, keeps us focused, keeps us going when we feel like we just can’t anymore.

At the beginning of chapter two we read that after they prayed constantly and in community, clarified where they were, considered Scripture and – prayerfully and promptly – proceeded accordingly, they waited for the promise that was coming… and it came.

So, wherever you are in your journey, whatever burdens you’re carrying, whatever trials lie ahead, look forward to His promises.

It’s coming.

Wait for it.