Chapter 2: When despair makes us shortsighted
One of the struggles with depression is that it limits us to short-sighted thinking. When we are in deep despair and feeling hopeless, we find it difficult to imagine any source of hope to heal our deep heartache. Maybe you can relate to the following statements of John.
“There is just no hope for me, Chaplain. All I ever wanted – being a Marine, serving my country, being married, raising a family – it is all gone!”
“John, you have certainly suffered great losses in your life. You have every right to be angry and feel that life is unjust.”
“Life? What kind of life do I now have? I’m a nothing, a nobody. Some reject that has been told I’m unacceptable to serve as a Marine. Then my wife files for divorce. I am an absolute loser. I have no life! That’s why I tried to kill myself.”
“John, it is very sad to hear you identify yourself as an unacceptable reject. I understand that this is what you have heard from the Marine Corps as well as from your wife. Because of your devotion to the Marines and your wife, you may likely not care how I or anyone else would regard you. Yet, I want to tell you that I believe you are a brave, resilient, talented, and caring young man who can make positive contributions to the lives of others.”
“Hmm. You don’t know me. What makes you say such things?”
“True, I do not know you well. Yet, I say these things because I once fervently believed that I was an unacceptable reject after multiple rejections for military service and ministerial positions. At the lowest time in my life, someone else believed that I was brave, resilient, talented, and caring. I certainly could not believe that for me, yet others consistently believed that for me… until I was able to grasp those beliefs myself. John, I understand that you want to end your life because I have been there. I truly identify with your feeling that there is no hope. So, that is why I am believing and voicing that hope for you until you are able to courageously and tenaciously voice that hope for yourself.”
Initially, John was unable to see how he could have a meaningful life; yet gradually he was willing to begin a discovery of hope.
In speaking with John and other Veterans like him, I think of Victor Frankl’s teaching that “meaning is not invented… it is discovered” (Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1959.) Thus in even the most dismal circumstances, I am able to believe that a meaningful purpose is yet to be discovered. However, having been in moments of suicidal despair myself, I also keenly recognize the essential need for there to be another person or people who believe that meaning can be discovered for the person in deep despair. The individual in despair does not have the energy to believe that meaning can be discovered, so a despairing person needs friends who will support and provide belief until healing can come with the clarity of meaning, purpose and hope.
When despair makes us shortsighted so that we cannot see any hope for the future, the words of Scripture can encourage us to look beyond the immediate heartache.
Readings from the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures
God knows me better than I know myself. I can trust that God knows my future.
LORD, you have examined me and you know me.
You know everything I do;
from far away you understand all my thoughts.
You see me, whether I am working or resting;
you know all my actions.
Even before I speak, you already know what I will say.
You are all around me on every side;
you protect me with your power.
Your knowledge of me is too deep;
it is beyond my understanding.
Where could I go to escape from you?
Where could I get away from your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there;
if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.
If I flew away beyond the east
or lived in the farthest place in the west,
you would be there to lead me,
you would be there to help me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
or the light around me to turn into night,
but even darkness is not dark for you,
and the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.
You created every part of me;
you put me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because you are to be feared;
all you do is strange and wonderful.
I know it with all my heart.
When my bones were being formed,
carefully put together in my mother’s womb,
when I was growing there in secret,
you knew that I was there –
you saw me before I was born.
The days allotted to me
had all been recorded in your book,
before any of them ever began.
O God, how difficult I find your thoughts;
how many of them there are!
If I counted them, they would be
more than the grains of sand.
When I awake, I am still with you.
Sometimes, like this psalmist, we find ourselves ready to give up. That’s when we need to pray and believe in the goodness of God for our healing.
So I am ready to give up;
I am in deep despair.
I remember the days gone by;
I think about all that you have done,
I bring to mind all your deeds.
I lift up my hands to you in prayer;
like dry ground my soul is thirsty for you.
Answer me now, LORD! I have lost all hope.
Don’t hide yourself from me,
or I will be among those who go
down to the world of the dead.
Remind me each morning of your constant love,
for I put my trust in you.
My prayers go up to you;
show me the way I should go.
I go to you for protection, LORD;
rescue me from my enemies.
You are my God; teach me to do your will.
Be good to me, and guide me on a safe path.
Rescue me, LORD, as you have promised;
in your goodness save me from my troubles!
God knows the plans for our lives and we need to trust that these are good plans.
I alone know the plans I have for you,
plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster,
plans to bring about the future you hope for.
Then you will call to me.
You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you.
You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart.
Even though we lament, we can be certain that God will hear us and give us hope.
The Lord is merciful and will not reject us forever.
He may bring us sorrow, but his love for us is sure and strong.
He takes no pleasure in causing us grief or pain.
Readings from the New Testament
In our troubles, prayer will keep us pressing on to hope.
Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.
God will give us the grace to endure what we need to face in life. Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.
1 Corinthians 10.13
Our struggles will not last forever. As we fix our eyes on God, we are encouraged to hold on to our faith.
We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies. Throughout our lives we are always in danger of death for Jesus’ sake, in order that his life may be seen in this mortal body of ours. This means that death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
The scripture says, “I spoke because I believed.” In the same spirit of faith we also speak because we believe. We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus to life, will also raise us up with Jesus and take us, together with you, into his presence. All this is for your sake; and as God’s grace reaches more and more people, they will offer to the glory of God more prayers of thanksgiving.
For this reason we never become discouraged. Even though our physical being is gradually decaying, yet our spiritual being is renewed day after day. And this small and temporary trouble we suffer will bring us a tremendous and eternal glory, much greater than the trouble. For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever.
2 Corinthians 4.8-18
Thoughts for Reflection
- Remember a time in your life that you would describe yourself as being shortsighted. Write or share about this experience.
- During such times of despair, how easy is it for you to believe that there is some relief or solution?
- Think about your future. What are your hopes? What are your fears? List these and share them with another person whom you trust.
- Draw a picture, write a poem, or compose a song of what hope looks like for you. Take your time. Ask God to inspire you.
Dear God, all I see is darkness . . . a deep, dark pit of heartache. All I feel is bleak despair. The hopelessness I feel is like being imprisoned in a cage from which I cannot escape. I am trapped in a bondage from which I feel I cannot escape.
How I long for hope in my life. Even when all I see is darkness, please help me believe that there are brighter days ahead of me. Help me to see beyond this deep, dark pit of seemingly endless despair. Please grant me the grace to see a ray of sunshine and feel a breeze of uplifting hope in my life.
In your precious name. Amen.