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“I am ready to give up; I am in deep despair. I lift up my hands to you in prayer; like dry ground my soul is thirsty for you.”

Psalm 143.4,6 (GNT)


Chapter 1: When We Despair Without Answers

When it seems that there are no rational answers to explain our deepest despair, we don’t want to hear trite explanations. I knew that John in his situation did not want me to give a justifiable response to his question, “So tell me, Chaplain, what is God’s great hope for me?”

My own tragic times of despair have taught me the value of empathetic silence and listening for the unspoken as well as the spoken. Numerous times people would try to encourage me and tell me, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. So, this will make you such a stronger person.” However, I felt like boiling up with anger and yelling, “I’m strong enough. Just let me die.”

Initially, as I sat with John in his deep despair, my heart’s response was to echo the deep hurt that I was hearing and to provide John with a time for lament. I did not want to be like Job’s “so-called friends” in Scripture who were simply miserable comforters. Giving a person in deep despair the safety and freedom to lament openly can bring tears of healing. The laments we hear in Scripture can also comfort us, because we learn that God desires us to be genuinely honest with our entire range of emotions.

We can safely approach God and cry out in anguish for a response.

But as for me, I will pray to you,
        LORD;
    answer me, God, at a time you
        choose.
Answer me because of your great
        love,
    because you keep your promise
        to save.
Save me from sinking in the mud;
    keep me safe from my enemies,
    safe from the deep water.
Don’t let the flood come over me;
    don’t let me drown in the depths
        or sink into the grave.

Answer me, LORD, in the goodness
    of your constant love;
    in your great compassion turn
        to me!
Don’t hide yourself from your
        servant;
I am in great trouble –
    answer me now!
Psalm 69.13-17

We can be certain like the psalmist that God will answer our heartfelt cries for help.

Listen to me, LORD, and
        answer me,
    for I am helpless and weak.

Save me from death, because I am
        loyal to you;
    save me, for I am your servant
        and I trust in you.

You are my God, so be merciful
        to me;
I pray to you all day long.
    Make your servant glad, O LORD,
    because my prayers go up
        to you.
You are good to us and forgiving,
    full of constant love for all who
        pray to you.

Listen, LORD, to my prayer;
    hear my cries for help.
I call to you in times of trouble,
    because you answer my prayers.
Psalm 86.1-7

Even when we feel lonely, God will listen to our cries for help.

I love the LORD, because
        he hears me;
    he listens to my prayers.
He listens to me
    every time I call to him.
The danger of death was all around me;
    the horrors of the grave closed
        in on me;
I was filled with fear and anxiety.

Then I called to the LORD,
    “I beg you, LORD, save me!”

The LORD is merciful and good;
    our God is compassionate.
The LORD protects the helpless;
    when I was in danger, he
        saved me.
Be confident, my heart,
    because the LORD has been good
        to me.

The LORD saved me from death;
    he stopped my tears
    and kept me from defeat.
And so I walk in the presence of
        the LORD
    in the world of the living.
I kept on believing, even when
I said,
    “I am completely crushed,”
    even when I was afraid and said,
“No one can be trusted.”    

What can I offer the LORD
    for all his goodness to me?
Psalm 116.1-12

Jesus assured his followers that our suffering will not last forever.

“Happy are you poor;
        the Kingdom of God is yours!”
“Happy are you who are
        hungry now;
    you will be filled!”
“Happy are you who weep now;
    you will laugh!”
“Happy are you when people hate you,
reject you, insult you, and say that you are
evil, all because of the Son of Man! Be glad
when that happens, and dance for joy, because
a great reward is kept for you in heaven. For
their ancestors did the very same things to the
prophets.”
Luke 6.20-23

In the midst of our despair and hopelessness, God gives us a hope that will give us strength and assurance.

    Now that we have been put right with God
through faith, we have peace with God through
our Lord Jesus Christ. He has brought us by faith
into this experience of God’s grace, in which
we now live. And so we boast of the hope we
have of sharing God’s glory! We also boast of our
troubles, because we know that trouble produces
endurance, endurance brings God’s approval, and
his approval creates hope. This hope does not
disappoint us, for God has poured out his love
into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who
is God’s gift to us.
Romans 5.1-5

Just as the apostle Paul was honest about his sufferings and frustrations, we can be honest and forthright about our own struggles.

    We do not want anyone to find fault with our
work, so we try not to put obstacles in anyone’s
way. Instead, in everything we do we show that
we are God’s servants by patiently enduring
troubles, hardships, and difficulties. We have
been beaten, jailed, and mobbed; we have been
overworked and have gone without sleep or
food. By our purity, knowledge, patience, and
kindness we have shown ourselves to be God’s
servants – by the Holy Spirit, by our true love, by
our message of truth, and by the power of God.
We have righteousness as our weapon, both to
attack and to defend ourselves. We are honored
and disgraced; we are insulted and praised. We
are treated as liars, yet we speak the truth; as
unknown, yet we are known by all; as though we
are dead, but as you see, we live on. Although
punished, we are not killed; although saddened,
we are always glad; we seem poor, but we make
many people rich; we seem to have nothing, yet
we really possess everything.
2 Corinthians 6.3-10

  1. Do you believe that you need an answer from God for your own suffering and despair? Write or share why you feel this way.
  2. And when you have no answers to your despair, how do you react?
  3. What is most comforting for you when you despair without answers?
  4. Describe these things. Like the psalmist, write a lament to God in which you cry out your frustrations.
Dear Lord, I’m hurting and I’m in deep despair. I feel so hopeless and there are no answers for my heartache. In fact, I do not want answers! I simply want to cry and know you are listening. Even if I do not understand my present situation, I want to believe that you know the pain in my life.

Help me to know that you care and listen to my cries. In your name. Amen.