Have you ever seen or read Anne of Green Gables? It’s one of my favorite stories. At one point, the teenage heroine, Anne, proclaims that she is in “the depths of despair.” She is a girl who loves reading books and poetry, has a very active imagination, and she’s very dramatic. Near the beginning she tells the woman who would become like a mother to her, Marilla, that she’s in the depths of despair. As they talk further Marilla comments that she’s never been in the depths of despair because “to despair is to turn your back on God.” As a child watching I didn’t spend much time thinking about this. Mostly, I just thought it was entertaining how Anne used this phrase often when she was upset or got herself into a scrape. Now, the phrase hits me differently and makes me pause and want to think about what this “despair” really means.
I know I know what “despair” means. And, my guess is that most of us have felt despair at some point in our lives. Or, that we have at least known others who have felt it. The simplest definitions I found for despair are: “the complete loss or absence of hope,” and “to lose or be without hope.” This word has such a depth of feeling and meaning!
Since hope is one of the things I hold most dear, the idea of being without it is awful for me to consider. I have had moments when I’ve felt despair – or maybe partial despair. I don’t think I ever truly lost all hope. But, hope did seem very small in those moments. And God seemed very far away.
One such moment in my life was in middle school. Oh, middle school, such an uncomfortable time for most of us! Dealing with the normal emotional highs and lows of preteen girls and the vagaries of friendship is hard, and part of the awkwardness of growing up.
Right before spring break I was the inadvertent target of another girl’s frustration and anger. She told me, in front of several mutual friends, that they didn’t like me and didn’t want me around. It was devastating for me, especially because no one else said anything (looking back, I’m sure they were afraid she might turn on them). The rest of that school day was a blur, and then we were on vacation, so I had a lot of time to think and think about what had happened.
I certainly was very hurt and feeling close to despair. However, I did have one thread of hope that helped. That thread was my relationship with God. Earlier that year I had realized my need for God’s love and forgiveness and that I had to trust him with all of my life or nothing. (That had been a hard decision for me because I already knew how much I liked to be in control!)
Over that spring break, as I wrestled with my hurt, fears, anger, and apprehension I cried out to God asking him “why?” And, incredibly, he answered with that word, “hope.”
One day in a little trinket shop I had found a cute knick-knack that had a Bible verse printed on it: “You will be secure because there is hope. Job 11:18” I (physically and mentally) held onto that over and over and it was like a lifeline or an anchor that did help me to feel secure. My hope was in God, and I felt reassured he would somehow make things better. He would help me to figure out what to do. It didn’t happen in a flash or by some kind of magic, but I felt comforted.
Going back to school after spring break was intimidating, but I made it through. It turned out that not everyone agreed with the “angry” girl, and in fact, even she didn’t seem to mind me so much after all. (This would be a good place for the “shrug” emoji.)
I do realize that there are many people who go through terrible things every day, all over the world, and that my story may pale in comparison to their experiences. For me, however, this experience was shattering at the time, and I can still remember how I felt then. It’s incredible how even a few negative comments can stick with us for a long time and can have a ripple effect on us.
I didn’t tell you my story to make you feel sad or sorry for me. My main reason is to point out the lifeline that God gave to me. I felt like I was holding tight to it all through that spring break and as I walked back into school. As I’ve grown in my knowledge and trust in God I have realized that yes, I may try to hold onto him, but really, he is holding onto me. Which is amazing! And, such a wonderful thing to know.
God makes it clear in the Bible (his “Word”) that nothing can separate us from him. So, even if I feel weak and I can’t hold onto that lifeline…his hands will hold me tight to it. Even in those moments when I might not feel it. Which is a relief and a comfort for me, as well as a source of hope.
Have you ever felt despair or incredible pain, or sadness? Has your hope been gone or nearly so? You’re not alone.
How do we find hope? What is there to hope in? As a follower of Christ is it bad to feel despair? Is it really like Marilla said, “to turn your back on God”? Because that doesn’t sound good, right?
These are questions I can’t fully answer for you. But I do encourage you to ask them. To cry out to God. I don’t personally believe it’s bad to be honest with him – there are plenty of examples of people in the Bible who lamented, raged, and begged as well as brought their concerns to him over and over.
I also encourage you to take time to process questions like these – in whatever way works for you! Maybe that is journaling, or talking to a friend, or going on a hike, or ___fill in the blank___.
Also, spend time practicing gratitude. Go out and serve others. Show care for other people.
You could also meet with a counselor and process it there. We’re here for you.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39