Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
By Chris WittsWednesday 27 May 2020Morning Devotions with Chris WittsDevotionsReading Time: 4 minutes
It was July 1952 at a place called Catalina Island, off the coast of California. The water was freezing, and Florence Chadwick waded into the water to swim the channel to the coast. It was going to be tough—she could barely see the boat that accompanied her in the dense fog, and there were sharks. She swam for 15 hours before she asked to come out of the water.
She had done this kind of thing before—she was a long-distance swimmer, and she wasn’t far from land. She had been the first woman to swim the English channel in both directions—but this day, all she could see was fog. She was exhausted, felt discouraged, and she thought, I can’t do this—I can’t make it. Florence gave up, just half-a-mile from her goal. A few days later the media interviewed her. She said, “I’m not excusing myself. But if I had only been able to see the land, I might have been able to make it”.
What was it that caused Florence to give up that day? Was it the cold water, exhaustion or fear? No, the reason she failed to reach her goal was the fog. Two months later, she swam that same Catalina channel and set a new speed record in the process.
Sometimes in our lives we meet up with a fog called despair—that awful feeling that we are stuck, unable to move ahead, because of some event or hurt we are struggling with. This is a huge subject, because I have a sense that many of us struggle with a sense of despair. The dictionary says despair is a state in which all hope is lost, or absent—the feeling that everything is wrong, and nothing will turn out well. It means: abandon hope, give up, lose heart—and feel disappointed, frustrated, rejected or condemned. Maybe you’re feeling like that right now.
When Despair Dominates Our Feelings
The Psalmist says in Psalm 42:3 (TLB), “Day and night I weep for his help, and all the while my enemies taunt me, Where is this God of yours?, they scoff”. You know you’re in the midst of an emotional nightmare when you have no appetite for food and your tears are your only food. What the Psalmist is describing here is his emotional life so controlled by despair that sorrow is the only emotion he’s capable of expressing.
What despair does is to take control of a person’s emotional life by keeping his attention focused on the distorted facts of his undesirable circumstances. If all he can do is think about his troubles, the only emotions he can experience are sorrowful.
I am reminded of King David, the great man of the Bible—the only man of whom it was said “he was a man after God’s heart”. That’s a great compliment! In the Psalms you read of his struggles, and even in the midst of great discouragement, when enemies were all around him determined to kill him, David clung to the promises of God. He knew God had anointed him as next King of Israel—and he said this:
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would
see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14 – NASB)
Wait for God and Trust In Him
That was his answer: to stop him from sliding into despair; to wait for God and trust in him. That is still the answer today.
Another time the psalmist wrote: “I waited patiently for God to help me; then he listened and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out from the bog and mire, and set my feet on a hard, firm path and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, of praises to our God” (Psalm 40:1-3a – TLB). Psalm 120:1 (TLB) says, “In my troubles I pled with God to help me and he did!”.
Sometimes we can feel like our lives are spiralling out of control into a pit of despair. It could be illness or financial worries, or a poisonous relationship. There seems to be no hope of ever getting back on our feet again. If you feel this way, you are not alone. Many people have been down this road before. One of those people is Joseph. If you read the Bible you can see the story of Joseph’s life, and learn some lessons about finding recovery from the pit of despair.
Some people will argue that the difficulties of life are the very parts of life that make us great. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, said, “It is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has meaning.” The famous preacher of the past century Charles Spurgeon once said, “Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties”.
I know that may sound a bit farfetched, but I’m sure it is true. It was the prayer of St Francis of Assisi: “Where there is despair, may we bring hope…”