How do you avoid despair?
But what is hope. Where does it come from?
You are still alive! That means there is still hope!
You know what… it’s time to be honest… this past year and a half has been miserable… possibly the worst I’ve had in my life… I’ve had a slew of health things pop up including (but not limited to)
In addition to this there’s been car troubles, losing my job, missing out on unemployment insurance, realizing I didn’t qualify for disability insurance, having literal hundreds of job applications lead to nothing, my dog dying, my grandmother being hospitalized, family stress, heartbreak, offensive accusations and rumors, nearly going bankrupt, having most my dreams and plans for the future go down the tubes, increased debt, being forced to be a burden to those I care about, losing independence, having to get rid of the furnishings of my old apartment (and simultaneously admitting that it might be years before I could ever use such things again), time and time again hitting the barrier of “lack of working body” or “lack of finances”, the list goes on…
So why bring this all up? Believe it or not, it’s not just so I can whine… (though a good whine feels good from time to time…) It’s more so you can understand exactly where I’m coming from when I say what I’m about to say.
You see, my generation REALLY liked motivational speakers. I’m sure many generations had their motivational speakers, but my generation practically thrived on them. Every year we’d have 3 or 4 come to our school… And being the naturally cynical person I am even at a young age, there were two things that always bugged me.
First of all, there was the obvious thing… These people were paid to come to schools and businesses to tell them about how they were once hopeless and considered a failure by all… but now they had achieved true success…. By going around to places and telling them how they were once a failure, but were now a success…. I mean come on! I may have been in the third grade, but even I realized this was pretty cart-before-the-horse!
The second thing was probably a bit more subtle… You see… it might be encouraging to hear of people who were once failures but were now successes… but it’s not very educational… How did they survive those times when they were in the dumps? How did they think of a way no one else ever thought of to get out? Did they ever lose hope? Were they only able to act so confidently now because it was all over? Hindsight 20/20 afterall…
And so… I wanted to say this now. Now that I feel hopelessly lost. Now that my heart is breaking. Now that I feel like I’ve taken three knife-wounds to the chest in quick succession. Now that I don’t want to stand up even though I have to go to the bathroom because putting weight on my legs feels like my bones are made of shattered glass cutting into my muscles. Now that I wince as I type each letter because of the pain in my hands. Now that it’s hard to even think straight because the brain fog is so thick. Now when there’s no possible way visible to get out of my predicament… I’m standing up to my neck in a burning fire on a platform that’s crumbling away… and even if I were to gain the “Ordinary life” tomorrow out of nowhere, it would still take probably over a decade to recover from all the damage I’ve taken through this… While all my health problems are not only prominent, but also incurable. When I don’t want to fall asleep because it will mean I have to wake up. When I don’t want to wake up because what even is the point. When I walk through life behind a fake smile and lies about being fine because quite honestly, I’m never fine. At this point in my pain filled, stress filled, loss filled life, without even a glimmer of observable hope for the future I want you to hear me say…
No… I’m not being cynical here. I haven’t gone to the looney bin either, nor was I overexaggerating my mood previous… My life stinks. I’m not blind enough to not see that. I try to ask people twice my age for advice, and once they hear the reality of where I am, they start to sweat and say they don’t know what to say. Major damage has been done, and major damage is being done. I’m not getting any younger, and peoples’ expectations of what I’ve accomplished by now are only rising as my options are vanishing. Life is horrible, I’m stressed, I’m depressed, I’m scared, I’m heartbroken, and there are days I just wish I’d never been born. But even still…
So how can I say that? How can a “good” God let things like this happen? How am I not rebelling against my faith even now? People give up on God for way less than this… so why am I still here?
Instead of answering right away, I’m going give some encouragement… or at least some wisdom I’ve come to find when it comes to dealing with grief, despair, and the hard times of life. See, I think there are three things that every person needs to hear, no matter what they are facing.
This is an important one for you to understand first off. I don’t know what it is you’re going through. It could be the loss of a loved one… relationship stress… persecution… bullying… school stress… family stress… depression… ANYTHING really. But whatever it is, I’m sure there is something in your life that is in your mind that is stressful and weighs heavily on you.
There is a very unhelpful thing we have a tendency to do for the most innocent of all reasons. I’m sure you do it with your own problems… I’m sure a bunch of you were doing it to me while I was listing off mine… and that is telling ourselves “So what… at least it’s not *insert worst possible thing we can imagine happening to us*.
Now a part of me honestly gets this. We don’t want to become whiners. We don’t want to feel entitled or put ourselves into a corner where we stop trying to move forward and are just sulky about how our lives stink… BUT THIS IS NOT THE WAY!
First reason I don’t like this tactic is that it gives us unrealistic expectations as to how others are doing. When you belittle someone else’s problems, you simultaneously tell them “You have no right to feel stressed over this because I definitely wouldn’t.” Even if that is not your intention. Even if you totally would be way more stressed than they are right now in the same situation… that’s the front you give them. In our idiotic world that tries so desperately to hide any fault or struggle we have, we already struggle with trying to live up to impossible standards. Don’t encourage people to repress their stress. It just makes the problem worse!
The second reason I don’t like this is because, this is NOT how pain works! Out of all the functions of the human body, it’s ability to adapt is the most amazing. In the same way, if people get used to an incredibly arduous lifestyle, something rough might not seem as bad.
For me, I have been pain, which is too strong to ignore in every one of my joints. To many, the thought of this is insane, and to tell you quite honestly, I’d probably be able to accomplish a lot more if I wasn’t in pain, but here’s the thing… I’ve been in pain my WHOLE life! I don’t really know what it’s like NOT to be in pain. As such, it’s not really something I would notice as much as someone who doesn’t live in pain. When I say “I’m fine.” What that actually means is “I’m in a frustrating amount of pain right now, but it’s not causing too much of a headache and I’m still able to move without any limbs giving out which is pretty good for me.” Some people may have trouble understanding this, but it’s my life.
A better way to explain it might be to imagine you sitting in a car. If the car goes from 0-70km/h in a matter of seconds… well… honestly you might black out the pressure would be so extreme! However, if you go from 110-115km/h you would barely notice the change, even though you’re going WAY faster!
It’s not the intensity of pain as much as the amount of change from our norm that determines hardship.
The final reason I don’t like encouraging people to suppress their grief is because it’s downright unbiblical. Job, who God called “a faithful servant with no one else like him” spent an entire book talking about how horrible his life was and how he wished the Lord would take his life or cursing the day he was born. There are numerous psalms written by David where he expresses his doubt of God’s plan and exhaustion of trying to move forward. Jesus Himself even mourned twice! Once crying over Lazarus’ death, and the second time begging God to take the cup of wrath away from Him which was the entire reason He came!
At the same time, not all grieving is considered good… God got furious at the Israelites about their whining in the wilderness. He got frustrated with Moses for his complaints that he was too weak a man for God to use… so what is it that separates the acceptable grieving from the whining in the Bible?
I am no pastor… nor a prophet… nor even a very smart guy… but if I was to wager a guess, I’d say this:
God is okay and invites us to bring forward our pain and complaints to Him SO LONG AS we still hold Him as worthy and wise, and as long as we still decide to follow Him, even if we don’t understand why.
God knows what you’re going through is hard. It’s called a “refining fire” not as something beautiful… but as something harsh and deadly, which from it will melt away everything except for the most valuable and beautiful pieces. This was never going to be easy. This was never going to be comfortable. But know in you heart of hearts, that God lets these things happen for a reason. And trust in Him even when it hurts. He doesn’t ask us to feel no pain, He asks us to trust Him through it!
What you are going through right now, WHATEVER it is… it’s hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! But… know that God is having you go through this for a reason. Let this pain drive you to run towards Him, not away from Him. Let Him show you what He can bring forth from this!
If you are reading this post… you are most likely alive. If you are not alive you most likely cannot post a comment to argue this point because I’d probably have heard about something like that by now.
Humans are fragile creatures. We aren’t designed to live alone… in fact for the first 14… somethings 60+ years of our lives we CAN’T live alone. We’re young, frail, poor, weak… and most likely pretty dumb too.
I’m not here to fight or defend family matters. I know many people whose home lives make me cry or want to throw up. But all I will say is that, raising someone is not easy. If you are still alive, that means SOMEONE took the time and effort to do that. You are NOT alone… there are people who care about you. As you grow and impact lives, that number will most likely grow with it… even if you don’t fully realize it.
Ah… but people…. People…. People…………………………. People… People are both the greatest asset to helping you move forward, as well as the greatest barrier keeping you from moving forward… sometimes if they are incredibly skilled, they can do both at the same time. As they often say at my church… “We’re like a bunch of hedgehogs in the winter… we need to get closer to stay warm, but the closer we get, the more likely we are to stab each other!”
The truly mind-blowing part is that, people don’t even need to intend harm to cause it… I have been told far more destructive things out of love than out of hate. When someone hates you, you can at least be angry at them for being such a jerk… but when someone says something horrid out of love… well then all you’re left with is the crushing realization they really think you’re that stupid.
There was one case in particular however, which really changed how I viewed how I want to react to certain inputs. I had someone come up to me, older, supposedly wiser, and tell me that God had put it on their heart to tell me something…
Now this is my cynical side speaking again, but I instantly get apprehensive when people start a conversation with “God told me to tell you.” Because
This is of course NOT to say that you should never trust someone who says such things. God has allowed me to touch the lives of people in ways I could never imagine in the past by putting it on my heart to ask them things… However, when faced with this, it is usually wise to take the biblical approach of analyzing what is said against much prayer and comparing with the scripture. If God could tell them, ask God to tell you too, because you serve God, not them.
But anyways, the person then went on to tell me their message… It was amazing… It was 100% the worst thing I could possibly hear at that moment… It took every insecurity I was trying to stand strong through and shot a cannonball through… It made me feel worthless, stupid, and like I had been a piece of garbage in everyone’s eyes this entire time only barely put up with.
Now I am a non-confrontational person… but unlike most non-confrontational people, it is not because I stink at fighting. In fact, it is the reverse. I am a fighter by nature. I am in fact such a fighter by nature that should I get mad, I will absolutely demolish my opponent till there is not a shred of them standing. Me letting myself get angry at provocation is like a guy with a Gatling gun finishing off a toddler with a water balloon, and quite honestly, I scare myself. It is for this reason that I usually don’t let myself get mad… but at that moment I was fairly close. Like a cornered and scared wild animal, I was ready to lash out with every last bit of righteous anger I had in me. I could hear the twitter replies coming in saying I was totally justified and for once I was going to fight back… But then God tapped me on the shoulder…
He asked me, “What if I did send this person?” no… not as an encouragement, or wise message, or advice. It accomplished none of those goals and God admitted that… but what if God sent that person at that time to see if I would still choose to trust in God, or instead lash out in my own strength….
It was at that point I realized how much we chase after the wrong enemy. We waste so much time and energy getting angry at humans. “HOW COULD THEY SAY THAT!? HOW COULD THEY DO THAT?! HOW COULD THEY LET THAT IDIOT GET VOTED IN?!” that we forget how much we aren’t acting in faith.
The Babylonians in the Old Testament were DEFINITELY not Godly people. Sex crazed, cruel, irrational, impulsive, sadistic… even history textbooks tell stories about the horrible things they were known for doing… Yet if you read in the Old Testament, it’s very clear… GOD sent them… GOD raised them up… it was part of GOD’S plan that they would do what they did. It does go on to say that they go to far and as such God punishes them… but the Bible is very clear the only reason they rose to power was because God let them… and He let them rise to power, not because He was angry and wanted the Israelites to suffer… but out of love to save the Israelites from their own corrupt ways. To make sure they would survive even though they demanded they wanted to live in such a corrupt manner.
When people hurt you… don’t waste your energy getting angry at them… Quite often, even the most hurtful people act out of love… but what’s more, it was God who decided to blind their eyes to what you’re going through. It was God who decided to let them say what they were going to say at that time you were closest to bursting… If God lets it happen, there is a reason for it, even if it is to make you stronger through enduring. When those around you hurt you… yes feel pain… yes grieve like we said before… but don’t hold bitterness and anger against them… it will only destroy you. I know this because I struggle with it myself. But pray to God. Ask God what it is He wants you to see. Pray for the strength to forgive and the wisdom to learn.
There is however, the other extreme as well. I HATE asking for help…. Which is a bi hypocritical considering I’m a busybody who’s always pushing to make sure everyone who lets me be in contact with them is alright. But still I hate it. I feel like I’m burdening them. I feel like I’m a bother to them. I feel embarrassed by all the things they’ll judge me on. I hate going through the repetitive task of trying to tell them “Yes I tried that… No, I really did… Okay see I’ll try it again… and no it still didn’t work… and yes I got hurt again trying it…” but most of all… I feel like if I can suffer alone, isn’t that better than letting others suffer my fate as well?
We are human beings. We were never designed to stand alone… in fact we can’t. We’re like incomplete puzzle pieces. Each one of us are different and unique, but it’s only by fitting them all together that the true picture can be seen.
David could not stand alone when being chased by Saul. Moses could not stand alone when leading the Israelites through the desert. And yes, even Jesus did not stand alone, having the disciples with him.
There are people who care, but communication is key. Most people can’t tell what your intentions are, and as such all of their judgements are based on your results that they can see. Results and actions are THE WORST WAY to understand who someone truly is because there are so many causes that can bring forth the same results.
You have to communicate and build a relationship with people. Most people are open to doing this, because quite honestly, everyone knows what it’s like to feel pain, it’s universal. And those who feel pain, most often, don’t want anyone else to feel the pain they went through.
Even if you don’t know if you can talk to your family, or your friends… there are professionals out there too! Pastors, Counselors, Suicide hotlines… People are out there. And they’ll listen to you. They’ll help you the best they can. At the end of the day they can’t take your pain from you, nor can they always give the answers for you. These are things which only you can bear. But to quote Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, “I can’t carry it for you… but I can carry you!”
Now time for the point of encouragement. No tunnel lasts forever!
Yes, while I’m writing this, I feel like I’m climbing out of a pit where the walls are made of loose sand, and the longer I climb, the more caved in the exit seems to be getting to the point that there’s barely a pinhole of light left in it. Yes, there are times where I wonder that even if I get out of this… what will I have left to come out to? But when I think of it… Joseph was sold into slavery, accused of rape and then thrown into the worst jail where he was forgotten about for years. David was chased by an entire army for years having everything stripped from him by the one he most loyally served and was forced to live with the people he had killed for years. Job lost his family, house, wealth, health, friends, and more…. And yet… it all worked out for them… in fact, in spite of there being no logical explanation for it save for “God”, they all ended up with far more than they even started with or could have ever dreamed of getting if any of this hadn’t happened to them.
Many people point out that “God won’t test you any farther than you can handle.” But I’m going to put an asterisk on that… Because God DOES test us farther than WE can handle… I’ll tell you right now, I was ready to give up after the second month of this past year and a half. I remember crying in the shower in despair, because God put it on my heart “What if I don’t save you from this yet? What if I let this go on for 6 months? A year? Will you still trust me then?”
God tests us FAR farther than WE can handle… on our own… but we aren’t on our own. God is with us. Rely on Him. He wants us to! He wants to show us what He can do through us.
“But I have nothing left to get me out of here!” you would probably be thinking, if you’re like me… A verse that has really stood out to me recently is in the book of Mark where Jesus and the disciples are on a boat. Jesus had just gotten frustrated with the Pharisees and told them “Don’t eat the yeast they provide” meaning “Don’t listen to their words.” Which the disciples had taken to mean as “We didn’t bring enough bread.” At this point, Jesus points out to the disciples the two times he fed thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread. The first time he fed 5000 with 5 loaves (1 loaf of bread/1000 people… TOTALLY DOABLE!) and they ended up with 12 baskets of leftovers. The second time he fed 4000 people with 7 loaves of bread. Now… even if you’re bad at math, you can probably figure this one out… You’re feeding less people with more loaves of bread… THERE’S GOING TO BE A TON OF LEFTOVERS THIS TIME! But… there were 7 baskets.
This was on purpose! It illustrated that it’s not about what we bring to God. It’s about what God does through us. If you are feeling trapped because you have nothing left, so what kinds of things can you do with your life… YOU STILL HAVE GOD!
These past 6 years, and ESPECIALLY this past year and a half has taught me that there is honestly nothing you have that can’t be taken away from you, EXCEPT FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD! That is one thing you can never have taken away from you, because you can only give it up yourself. And even when you do give it up… no matter how far you run… no matter how long you’re gone… no matter how impossible you feel it would be to go back… you turn around and repent, and BAM He was there beside you all this time.
You may feel like you have nothing, but with God you have everything!
And don’t underestimate what He’s doing in this time as well. Too often we view times of trials like “The waiting room.” We want them to be over so life can start again… YOU’RE ALIVE RIGHT NOW! SO LIVE!
I am not where I want to be. I have no “real job.” My health is a mess, my finances are worse… There are massive giants swinging their clubs one after another and no matter how hard I pray, God seems to be ignoring them… but if I look harder… I realize that around me, a number of other giants I had been ignoring are falling one after another.
My relationship with my parents is stronger than it’s ever been. My organization skills are rising. I’m fighting procrastination. I’m eating healthy and exercising. I’ve read through the bible cover to cover once and am going for a second lap. I pray every day. I’m learning skills they don’t teach in schools. I’m stretching myself and what I can accomplish. For the first time in my life I’m a high 90’s average and it’s in University. I can hold a basic conversation with people in Japan in Japanese. I’ve been home to look after the house while my grandmother is in the hospital so everyone else can be with her. I’ve made tough decisions about what matters and what doesn’t, both in physical items and who I am as a person. I’ve understood my limitations better and am learning to say no. I’m learning to rely on others more. I’m growing in confidence. I’ve accepted that I don’t just want to live a mediocre/safe life anymore (in fact I honestly can’t)
These times hurt a LOT… and the areas I want to get fixed, and where most people seem to be looking remain untouched. But God IS at work. I’ve seen His hand so actively in my life this past year and a half in ways no one can expect. The exit may be getting more blocked in, but He’s been making me strong enough to come flying out when He clears a way. I don’t know what the future holds, for all I know, I could die tomorrow. And quite honestly, that would be alright. God has still used me in this time. I could spend the rest of my life living a meager life alone… and again, if that’s what God decides, it’s His choice… I’d rather it not be that, but it’s God I follow not me… even still though… no matter what happens or how far it all falls apart… I know God CAN turn it around at any point. Because it’s not about what I bring, but how much I trust in Him.
So, whatever it is you’re going through in your life, know that it IS tough. You feel stressed and upset by it, and it is totally alright to feel that way. Don’t give up pushing forward, and let this pain drive you closer to God so He can help you. But don’t feel you’re weak because you feel helpless or in pain. Strength was never about not feeling helpless or defeated… Strength is about being willing to stand up again in spite of that and fighting again!
Remember you’re not alone! I just wrote about 5000 words to tell you that I know what you’re going through and care enough about you to be this raw and real with you about all this! On top of that you have friends, families, professional services, and more out there for you. Don’t try to carry life’s burdens yourself. You can’t. And that’s okay. Rely on others, and be there to help them when they need help too. A chord of many strands is not easily broken!
Finally, know that by relying on God, you CAN get through this… and what’s more, He’s using this time to make you stronger. Don’t fret and be dismayed about how you’re going to get out of this and all that you’ve lost, because God knows what you need and He can return all that and more as easily as can be! Live, learn, trust, grow. One day you’ll be able to help someone else through a similar time because of what you’re going through now.
If you’ve stayed with me this long, I thank you for your endurance… and hope this was encouraging for you. If you know someone else who’s going through a rough time and needs encouragement, feel free to share. This is no scientific study, or theological thesis… it’s just the writings of an ordinary guy being very raw, very real, and hoping that by being honest about what he’s going through, that he can encourage even one more person to not give up fighting forward.
So once more… in full recognition of the state of my life, the consequences, the implications, the slander, the pain, and more… I just want to say this one last time to tell you just how honestly, I believe it. In spite of my circumstances, my fears, others’ judgements, or more…