Last week I had a scare. In the span of only a few minutes, my world was shaken. Again.It had only been 4 years since my last autoimmune flare. Yet my knee grew twice its size for a second time. Flashbacks of wheelchairs and home confinement flooded my mind, crippling my heart.
This couldn’t be happening. Not again. Not ever. I was supposed to be getting better. I thought I was normal now.
Panic threatened to overwhelm. I sank into the couch, crocodile tears streaming down my cheeks. Fear crashed over me in powerful waves, each one with a new unanswered question. Why is this happening? What am I going to do? I can’t do this again. What will this mean for my future?
Doom and gloom overshadowed me for most of that
day weekend. All my fear, disappointment and emotion could be summed up in one word.
The Dark Pit of Despair
Have you ever been there?
The moment your world falls apart, you can easily slip into despair. Paralyzed by a turn of events, despair can leave you disappointed, depressed and emotionally crushed. Afflicted on every side; conflicts without, fears within. But linger in that dark place long enough and you’ll lose sight of how to find your way out.
Many people in the Bible also struggled with despair. Jonah’s disappointment and bitterness was so great he despised his own life (Jonah 4:8). Elijah felt so useless, afraid and depressed that death seemed better than life (1 Kings 19:3-4). Paul battled numerous afflictions and hardships to the point of death (2 Cor 6:4-10).
But perhaps the one most vocal about his struggle was King David. Many times over, the psalmist described his dealings with despair.
“Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?…I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.” Psalm 6:2-3, 6-7
If you have ever suffered under the weight of despair, you can relate to these words. David knew what it was like to experience fear, betrayal, grief, failure, danger and sickness. But when he sank into the pit of despair, he also knew how to pull himself out of it. He didn’t allow his emotions or circumstances to keep him paralyzed in that dark and dreary place.
You Must Climb Out
If you want to climb out of the pit, you must first recognize that you’re in one. Here are a few signs you may be struggling with despair:
- a chronic sense of sadness that interferes with your ability to live life
- feelings of worthlessness
- inability to focus
- chronic fatigue
- withdrawal from social settings
Despair is powerful because it causes you to forget three important truths. Recognizing and reclaiming these truths will loosen its grip on your life.
3 Ways to Defeat it
1. Recognize you have lost sight of hope
The real power of despair is that it robs you of hope. To put it simply, despair is sorrow without hope. It is a prison of discouragement and helplessness, keeping you convinced that your situation won’t change or improve.
If “hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov 13:12) then hope is the key to making it well again.
“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become discouraged within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” Psalm 42:5
When you are dealing with despair, it’s important to recognize that you’ve lost sight of your hope. If you don’t recover it, you’ll remain paralyzed and powerless without the strength or motivation to move forward.
2. Recognize you have lost sight of God
In the pit of despair, David remembered to look up. He didn’t focus on his troubles or wring his hands in misery, nor did he try to climb out on his own. He asked the most powerful person he knew for help.
David recovered his hope by remembering and relying on God.
God takes it upon Himself to comfort the depressed (2 Cor 7:6) and heal the brokenhearted (Ps 34:18). When you are hurting, God’s presence is near (Phil 4:5). God wants you to depend on Him for every need, even the emotional ones. He is both with you in the valley of shadows and stands ready to help when you cry out to Him.
When you are in despair, it’s important to remember these three things about God:
- God is already aware of your situation
- God is already moving on your behalf
- God is already working everything together for your benefit and His glory
If you’re feeling hopeless and helpless today, recall to mind who God is and all He has promised. David would have despaired unless he had believed he would see the goodness of the Lord in his life (Ps 27:13-14). God’s plan for you is for good and not disaster; He promises to provide a hopeful future (Jer 29:11).
When God is in the picture, hope abounds.
3. Recognize you have lost sight of your control
When bad things happen, it’s natural to grieve and be sorrowful. But if you continue to focus on that sorrow, you will soon feel powerless and forget God’s active role in your life.
The pit of despair will only be as deep as you’re willing to dig. Bad things will happen but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to live a miserable life. How you respond to your trial is completely within your control. It’s a choice only you can make.
God will give you the strength you need to climb out of the pit but you must choose to take action. Defeating despair requires you to stop thinking about the sorrow and start trusting God, knowing He is up to something good.
When Jonah was in despair, God showed up. When Elijah was depressed, God strengthened him. And when Paul faced persecution, beatings and imprisonment, he wrote this about his experience:
“…we were afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in us.” 2 Cor 4:8-10
Paul didn’t allow his painful circumstances to crush or destroy him. He focused on what was true about God. And in the darkest of times, David lifted his eyes up because he knew true help came from the Lord (Ps 121). Keeping their eyes on God gave all of them the strength and hope they needed to press on and overcome their trials.
Are you feeling overwhelmed this week? Do you feel like things will never get better?
Don’t let despair defeat you. Overcome it by reclaiming your hope, remembering God and realizing that you have complete control over your emotions. This week, choose to focus on the assurance you have in a God who comforts, heals and restores your brokenness!