Coping with Despair
This has been a hard week. A significant difference weighed heavily on my heart and mind.
Then on Tuesday another school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, took the lives of nineteen elementary school students and two teachers. Those children had no idea it would be the last day of their lives. Their parents had no sense this might be their last goodbye. The horror that has struck this town must be overwhelming.
Not only have the lives of the families who lost beloved children, or the children who lost their teacher parents, been changed. Every child who survived, who saw the carnage and lived in intense fear waiting for help, has been impacted for life. I pray they receive the help they need to begin to heal.
We grieve with those who grieve. The shortest verse in the New Testament is John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” He was at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, who had died four days earlier. Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus, accused Jesus of not being there. “If you had been here my brother would not have died,” they complained.
And even though Jesus knew he was going to bring Lazarus back to life, he didn’t scold the sisters. He didn’t tell them not to worry, that Lazarus was in a better place. He didn’t spout platitudes and tell them their pain would pass. He wept!
Did Jesus weep when an eighteen-year-old boy barricaded himself in a classroom and began shooting teachers and children? I believe he did, and that he grieves with each parent, sibling, or child who lost someone or something (i.e. a feeling of security) in that tragedy.
We may wonder what to say to a friend who has lost a loved one. Often the best thing we can do is sit silently and weep with that friend, then listen if they want to talk about their loved one.
Ask God for help in your Despair
I grieved this week. I asked God for some sense of his presence. So there I was, wandering about Costco, returning some jeans that were too long for Don and picking up the few items we needed. As I pushed my cart toward the exit, a woman came alongside me with her cart.
“I love your hair,” she said. “Where do you get it done?”
We chatted and I gave her the name of my hairdresser. Then, out of the blue, this woman asked “Are you a Lutheran?”
“No,” I said, “But I am a Christian.”
Monique was raised in a different culture and faith system. However, she talked about her faith in Jesus and how helpful her church has been in her husband’s illness as well as her brother’s critical health issues last year.
“It sounds like you’ve committed yourself to Christ,” I said.
“So have I.”
We both smiled. I asked if I could pray for her, and she agreed. I put my hand on her shoulder and prayed for her and her husband. Afterward, we gave each other a big hug and went our separate ways.
What a God-moment. This touch from the Father encouraged and uplifted my heart, as well as hers. I had two more similar experiences this week.
Life can be hard. Tragedies happen. Relationships can be both rewarding and hard. But I treasure these God-moments that speak to me of his loving presence in my life.
Communicate your love, openly and often
None of us has a guarantee on when our lives will end. The school and church shootings, illness, the war in Ukraine, all remind us that there is much outside our control, no matter how safe we try to be. A few weeks ago a hit-and-run driver killed a mother and her adult daughter in a crosswalk near us. No warning.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.James 4:14
Be sure those you love know you love them. When appropriate, hug, kiss, give backrubs, hand massages, smiles, and welcoming attitudes. I know I sometimes get wrapped up in my own work and am not as welcoming as I’d like to be when Don comes in to chat. And yet, he’s my love and my priority. I need to live that out.
The Oxford Languages Dictionary defines “hope” as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen, while despair is the complete absence of hope.
I can begin to understand why some people lose hope. Losing family members, home, country in war; losing health or capacity to act; mental illnesses of various kinds can all lead to despair.
And yet, in a Nazi concentration camp, Viktor E. Frankl survived. Why?
“Ever more people have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.”Viktor E. Frankl
Frankl chose to find meaning and purpose, even in his life in camp.
So how do we find solid ground underfoot when faced with despair? I haven’t been in a war, but my life has been threatened. I haven’t lost the love of family and friends, but we do have disagreements from time to time. I have not experienced the challenges and difficulties of many, but my boat has been rocked multiple times. Here are some ways I find helpful to find purpose even in times of despair.
- Soak in God’s Word, looking for his promises. Immerse yourself in his truth.
- Know He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)
- One day all will be made right, and justice will flow like a river (Amos 5:24)
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.Revelation 19:11 NIV
- Pray and worship God in community. Lean on others in the Body of Christ to hold you up when you are weak. Allow them to cry with you, bring food, pray with you, and listen to you.
- Remember God’s faithfulness in the past. I look back at how God led me through ministry, marriage, widowhood, remarriage. He protected us despite threats and fear in the LA ghetto. I recall what he has done in the lives of women I’ve had the joy of helping mature in him. And I’m assured that if God was faithful in all my yesterdays, he will be faithful until, and after, death.
- Thanksgiving. Not an easy thing if you’ve had a significant difference with someone you love, if you’ve lost a loved one, your home, etc. We’re not told to be thankful FOR all things; but IN all things. That requires trust in a sovereign God who will carry us through anything he allows in our lives. This life is not the end, but only the beginning.
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.II Timothy 4:8
I grieve with the people of Uvalde. And I am thankful that God weeps with us.
How has this week’s tragedy impacted you? Are you holding your children a bit closer, your spouse and family members dearer?