Is despair wrong? Life can be hard to take sometimes. Brokenness is everywhere, and it’s difficult to work with broken tools. You can make do, but it’s ten times harder and infinitely more frustrating, especially when you know that life wasn’t meant to be this way. And there are many times when I am tempted to just give up. Giving up would be so easy, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with easy, it’s rarely the wise choice. Because anything truly worth having was never easy to obtain.
But even if I don’t give up, even at times when I know I’m going to keep moving forward, I am still tempted to feel despair because I have so much to do and no time to do it. I am pulled in so many directions I don’t even know how to take a step forward; I couldn’t tell you which direction is forward and which is backward. And it’s in those moments when intense anxiety and deep despair hit me hard enough to take my breath away.
I had one of those moments Monday morning this week. So much to do. So many expectations. I was on the verge of a breakdown at work because there was just too much for one person to do alone. And then, I remembered (duh) that I’m not alone.
Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Maybe having too much to do at work doesn’t upset anyone else, but my work is important to me. My performance at work is important to me. It’s like anything else in my life; I want it to be a reflection of Christ. And as I sat at my desk on Monday and looked at the overwhelming piles of projects that had stacked up over the weekend, I despaired.
And then I got angry. And then I started thinking foolish thoughts. And then I pouted. Granted, this all happened in the span of about fifteen minutes before the Holy Spirit whacked me upside the head and told me to stop being childish. But that’s what despair does to you.
Despair is dangerous. People in the depths of it believe lies about others and about themselves and even about God. They jump to conclusions that aren’t true. They are liable to do or say things that they don’t even mean because they’re searching for something to hold on to, even if it’s the reality of someone else’s anger or hurt.
But as dangerous as despair is, it’s not wrong to feel it; it’s wrong to stay there, especially when you have the means to escape it. We’re human. We’re going to feel despair at times. None of us are perfect, and we live in a broken world. And all that brokenness will build up, inside us, around us, and it’s frustrating. And nothing breeds despair like frustration. So if you feel despair, don’t freak out about it. It’s normal. Just don’t choose to keep feeling it.
But that’s difficult. Because as horrible as despair is, somehow it becomes a warm blanket to curl up with at night. The anger and the ridiculously untrue thoughts and the self-righteous indignation feels good, especially to people who are exhausted and who are trying to do the right thing and being thwarted over and over again. But that warmth is deceiving; the comfort those emotions bring is only temporary. Maybe they’ll make you feel better for a few days, but when the real cold front sweeps through, you need more than just anger and self-righteous indignation to stay warm. And then your despair will only grow deeper. It’s a vicious cycle.
So what do you do? How do you stop despair before it becomes a habit?
I’ve said before that I’m not scholar. There may be better verses in Scripture that deal with it; I’m sure there are. But I can only share what I have learned. I’ve struggled with this all my life. I’ve learned that the best way to handle despair and challenging circumstances is to expect them.
Our world is screwed up. And so are we. Why do we expect that everything will be hunky-dory down here? It never will be. That’s the point of Scripture, to show us that there is more to this life than what we know about it now. I’m not saying to be paranoid. But don’t be knocked off your foundation when troubles come. Don’t be surprised by them.
And when you’re tempted to despair, don’t freak out if you do a little. There’s a verse somewhere that says God remembers that we’re made of dust. He knows we’re not perfect. That’s why He is. And when we are weak, that’s when we need to ask for His help. And I’m weak all the time, so I ask for His help a lot. And He does it. Whether we ask for strength or wisdom or whatever, He’s right there, and He listens.
Like on Monday. I got away from my desk for a few minutes and got my head straight and asked Him to help me sort through everything on my desk. And He did. I got more done on Monday than I had in a long time. And that’s not me. I’m not capable of focus on that level in regards to half the projects I was working on. That’s Him.
I felt despair at first, but I chose to ask Him for help to get out of it. And I got to work.
Feeling despair is natural, but continuing to give despair a foothold in our lives (especially as believers) is a choice. And it’s a choice that can ruin your life and the lives of people around you.
If you’re feeling despair today, don’t listen to the lies that you have no hope or that you’re not a worthwhile person. Those are lies, and they don’t come from God. Tune them out and look to Scripture. Remember how much God loves you and that He’s waiting to help you; you just have to ask and be willing to do what He says. If you choose to do that, you’ll experience something miraculous; your life will change. Your perspective will change. And before you know it, those things that caused you despair before will only be cause for rejoicing because your weakness allows God’s strength to take over. And I think each of us could use a whole lot of that.