I’m weary — body, mind, and soul. Weary of waiting, weary of fighting for joy, weary of hoping for better days. If I’m honest, a sense of despair has increasingly clouded my view of life and left me wondering if the darkness will ever lift.
God’s word says that we are “perplexed, but not led to despair.” Why then do I feel such a deep sense of despair?
It’s now been a decade of navigating devastating neurological and physical illness in our family of six, along with financial stress brought on by ongoing medical costs. It’s been a season of grief and loss that my husband and I could never have anticipated when we took our vows.
“I trust that Jesus is using the circumstances that tempt me to despair to ultimately give me greater life in him.”
However, as much as the major losses in life have caused a deep wrestling in my faith, it’s the “little” disappointments and struggles that often seem to be the final blows to my weary heart.
Sometimes, no matter how hard I fight for truth and try to push back the lies that constantly bombard my thoughts, despair seems to slowly seep in, distorting truth and clouding my perspective.
I have come to learn that, while there are seasons of suffering when we wonderfully sense the presence of the Christ infusing us with joy and peace in the midst of raging storms, we also walk through seasons when it feels as if the darkness is closing in on us, creating confusion, doubt, and despondency. We cry out to our Lord but he seems silent. We plead for relief, but the pain only intensifies. Suddenly, the God we thought we knew feels at odds with what our circumstances tell us.
Where are we to find the hope and motivation to press on when, in an earthly sense, we despair of life itself?
What Despair Is — and Isn’t
Some losses make us feel burdened beyond what we can bear. The apostle Paul, for instance, was no stranger to dark days:
We do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him, we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8–10)
How can Paul say that he despaired of life when only three chapters later he says that “we are perplexed, but not driven to despair?”
Although he despaired of life — even to the point of death — it brought about a greater purpose of relying solely upon Christ. Paul knew that ultimately, his earthly despair could never destroy his promised eternity.
“In God’s severe mercy, he brings us to the end of ourselves and teaches us to count our losses as eternal gain.”
Paul knew that we need never truly despair in the deepest and truest sense of the word. While we can acknowledge our earthly temptation to despair, and give ourselves time to grieve the loss and pain we’ve experienced, we choose to press on in the hope that we will ultimately be delivered — if not in this life, then in the one to come.
We fight for hope today because no earthly despair will ever be greater than our hope of God’s future grace.
Fight for Truth
We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)
Death to our outer selves is excruciating at times. Fighting through chronic pain each day is exhausting. Watching my children battle sickness and struggle to make sense of this broken world can be heart-wrenching. Passing by beautiful homes like the one we once had stirs up sadness over what we’ve lost. And having to stop myself from chasing after my children in fear of losing my ability to walk because of a degenerating ankle bone causes me to grieve the life I always imagined I would have.
And yet, despite how much pain they’ve caused, these losses have brought a deeper understanding of the gospel, a growing eternal perspective, and a greater willingness to live radically for the sake of following Christ. I have one race to run and only by the grace of God will I run it well. Therefore, I can trust that Jesus Christ, the founder and perfecter of my faith, is using the very circumstances that tempt me to despair to ultimately give me greater life in him (Hebrews 12:1–2).
In his severe mercy, he brings me to the end of myself and teaches me to count these losses as eternal gain. He fills those empty and hurting places with more of himself. In his strength and with his promises, I can run with endurance as I fix my eyes on the prize of my glorious eternity. I run longing to be in the presence of my Savior, free from sin and suffering.
Guaranteed Hope in Despair
When suffering leaves you battling despair and hopeless, convinced that you will never know anything but the pain that aches within you, fix your eyes on the truth that Christ is worthy to be trusted because he has shown his love for you on the cross. He suffered and died, taking the punishment of sin that you deserve onto himself — offering you forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life in himself.
What we come to learn through suffering is that our greatest problem is not our hard circumstances but the sin that’s hidden in us. God allows and ordains hard circumstances for his purposes to squeeze us and reveal what is still inside of us, for our eternal good and for Christ’s glory.
“Suffering teaches us that our greatest problem is not our circumstances but the sin still hidden in our hearts.”
No pain, loss, or suffering will ever separate us from the love of Christ. What the enemy intends for evil, we can be confident God will use to accomplish his good and loving purposes. For the believer, God allows us to work through our feelings of despair, that we might be stripped of our love for the world and every attempt to make it our home. In the process, while our outer selves waste away, our inner selves are renewed day by day, giving us a greater love for Christ which is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
When circumstances tempt you to despair of life itself, let it drive you toward a deeper hope in the gospel, greater dependence on Christ, and a stronger fight for faith in his future grace. One day, God will turn our mourning into dancing. He will. The darkness will be no more, and our faith will become sight. Hold firmly to the hope you have in Christ, strengthen your weary heart with the promises of God, and trust that the light will dawn again.