I wonder if you’ve met people who are in the midst of despair? I have, and it has been a terrible meeting because I have wondered what I can say at that time. What do you say to someone who believes life has become too much, or that there is no point in living? It’s quite a big topic, and a very complex one at that.
What is despair? It’s a loss of hope when a particular situation becomes too big to handle. Perhaps that has happened to you—I know it’s happened to me. Have you ever noticed that some of the saddest words in our language begin with the letter D? For example, disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, defeat, discouragement, despondency, depression, despair and death. There’s too much to cope with and we don’t know what to do.
Poet Cathy Broaders has described it in her poem “It’s Raining in my Soul”:
I’m stuck at the proverbial crossroads between the future and the past
Standing in a place called Loneliness how long will this emptiness last
Lost in a desolate wilderness with no compass, no map, no guide
Sliding down an emotional slippery dip then washed back up again with the tide
I’ve lost all focus and direction
I’m clean out of self-faith
Scared of everything and everyone
Friendships torn, scattered and misplaced
My glazed eyes are wide open but I can’t see a single thing
And although it’s deathly quiet
I can’t hear this cold heart sing
I don’t like where I am now it’s a dark and dreary hole
It’s heavy, suffocating, constricted and it’s raining in my soul.
It’s quite an intriguing phrase, “It’s raining in my soul”. Movie producer Woody Allen once gave an address at Yale University and he said, “Our civilisation stands at the crossroads. Down one road is despondency and despair. Down the other road is total annihilation. I hope we’ll take the right road.“ Woody Allen was obviously trying to be funny, but his statement reflects the despair and pessimism of our times. Human hope is a fragile thing, and when it withers, it’s difficult to revive.
We need to note the number of people who take their own life because despair and discouragement have sucked the last bits of hope out of their lives. When someone you love and care for is overtaken by a serious illness, which goes on and on, despair sets in. It almost becomes impossible to hope for recovery. You may even be afraid to hope because you couldn’t cope with another letdown.
There is hope—in spite of despair
Consider the despair of the family of the Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui, who shot 32 students and teachers on 16 April 2007, and then shot himself. Five days later his family spoke to the media and said they felt “hopeless, helpless and lost” and were “heartbroken”. “We never could have envisioned he was capable of so much violence,” Cho’s sister, Sun-Kyung Cho, said on behalf of the family. “We are so deeply sorry for the devastation my brother has caused. No words can express our sadness that 32 innocent people lost their lives this week in such a terrible, senseless tragedy. My brother was quiet and reserved, yet struggled to fit in. He has made the world weep. We are living a nightmare.” We could only guess the sense of despair they felt. “Our family is so very sorry for my brother’s unspeakable actions. It is a terrible tragedy for all of us.”
Author and preacher Charles Swindoll once said that, “Surrendering to despair is man’s favourite pastime. God offers a better plan, but it takes effort to grab and faith to claim it”. Much from the Bible gives us hope in times of despair. Even the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “I thought all about my hard work, and I felt depressed” (Ecclesiastes 2:20 – CEV). Even those who work hard can get depressed, and even those who God used felt in despair.
In Psalm 69:20 (CEV) David said,
I am crushed by insults,
and I feel sick.
I had hoped for mercy and pity,
but there was none.
and then in Psalm 6 (NIV),
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, LORD, how long?
I am worn out from groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
My message is that, in spite of despair, there is hope—don’t despair.