The past year has been one of darkness for many. Whether due to illness, fear, political divisions, or injustices, it has been a heavy season. The CDC reports that anxiety and depression rates in America are up to 42%, compared with 11% the previous year. Increasingly, we're having more trouble sleeping, and this is coupled with increased fatigue, trouble eating, and stress.
Do you feel this way too? Maybe you feel despair because life doesn't quite look like how you'd imagined. Disappointment has overwhelmed the normal pleasures of your life, and the world feels grey. Perhaps you are reeling in the waves of grief after the loss of a loved one; the world appears bland and cruel. Maybe darkness is a new experience for you, or perhaps you've had waves of it before. Or perhaps you can't quite identify the root cause of your despair; darkness has crept over your soul, and you can't seem to figure out why. Times like this can make God feel far and like our faith is slipping through our fingers.
If this is your experience today, you are not alone. Because of the Fall, brokenness has invaded all of our lives. And the darkness of the soul will meet us all at one point or another. Believers, just like you, have wrestled with despair for centuries. From famous theologians such as Charles Spurgeon to our heroes in the faith like King David, these heroes have expressed seasons of depression and sorrow. Even Jesus was "deeply troubled and distressed" in the Garden of Gethsemane. In fact, He was in such agony that blood poured out of Him like sweat (Luke 22:44). If you are in a current season of despair, remember that distress does not isolate you from other believers; rather, it unites you with Christ Himself. And though God may feel far, you can fight for faith in the darkness.
Because despair is something all believer's experience, we have put together a list of five things shown to help other believers in their seasons of where distress overwhelms you and God feels far. The following list of "how-to"s is not meant to be trite or a quick bandaid to heal your pain. Rather, it was written slowly and tenderly as a reminder of the lasting grace that God alone provides. It is the balm that God gives to ease our wounds, help us endure a life of sorrow with grace and peace, and reminds us that in all seasons, He is near.
- Preach the Gospel to Yourself
We often don't know why hardship strikes. Our grief or sadness comes rushing in without reason or forewarning. In our seasons of darkness, strong emotions can often block out every other thought. God feels far, and our hope seems lost. Yet even when our emotions scream loudly, we must cling to God's Word to know what is true. In Scripture, we learn that God is not a far-off King, condemning us in our sadness. He is the God who came near and who experienced brokenness firsthand. He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross. He was betrayed, hungry, and faced disappointments. He was cursed, mocked, and beaten. He is familiar with our sorrows. He knows, and He understands. Scripture reminds us of who God is and of His nearness to us in our sorrow.
Scripture also gives us language to use when we don't have words ourselves. The Psalms are particularly rich with words of grief, suffering, and sorrow. Consider, for example, Psalm 88, when the psalmist describes darkness as his only friend. He spoke of calling and crying out to the Lord and feeling rejected and alone. And unlike so many of the other psalms, this one ends with feelings of darkness. And yet God allowed even Psalm 88 to be included in the Bible. In part, this is to encourage us that we're not alone in our sadness. God is not afraid of our raw grief or depression. He invites us to come to Him with it.
As you battle for faith, also look to Psalms like Psalm 27, 43, or 6. Write them on an index card to memorize, or tape them on your mirror to remind you of the truth. Use the words of lament found within Scripture to pour out your heart before the Lord. Especially in the darkness, it is essential to trust more in the Word of God than in your feelings.
As Christ modeled in the Garden of Gethsemane, when we are suffering, we can pray. We have a God who is all-powerful and who listens to our prayers. Though God may feel far off, He is not. He is close to you in your suffering, and He will help you. Through prayer, we have the opportunity to pour out our hearts to the Lord, casting our anxieties on Him (Philippians 4:6-7). Prayer is not a magic bullet that mysteriously wipes away our tears. Nor is the gospel a pill that offers instant relief for our pain but quickly fades away. Instead, it produces a deeper, lasting joy as we cast our burdens on the Lord and remember His love. In your darkness, pray to the God who with you in sorrow and understands your pain. Ask for His help when you don't want to pray. And when you don't have the strength to speak, you can sit before Him with your tears and your grief. He holds you, even in your sorrow.
3. Engage in Community
We do not need to fight for faith alone. God has designed the church family to love and support one another in all seasons of life. Our local church is where we learn about God's Word, encourage one another, and pray for one another. The church is also where we carry one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2). We hold each other's hands up when we can't hold them up ourselves (Exodus 17). Find a trusted woman or two and share your problems with them. Ask for prayer from your pastor or from a trusted believer. Opening your lives to others will also allow you to pray for those around you who may also be struggling.
At times, it can also be helpful to seek counseling from your pastor or a trusted biblical counselor (https://biblicalcounseling.com/find-a-counselor/). Counseling is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it can be a helpful tool to share your burdens with another person, who will compassionately lead you to the truths found in God's word. There can also be medical diagnoses that affect our emotions, so talk to your local doctor to ensure that a medical condition is not the cause of your sadness.
4. Do the Next Thing
Although it is tempting, in our despair, to shut out the world, pull up the covers, and remain in darkness, such isolation usually serves to fuel our feelings of despair. Fight your despair by going for a walk and getting some sunshine. Do the dishes. Call a friend. Even the minor victories like getting dressed in the morning, as we're fighting for joy, help us to endure in faith.
Faith is the confidence of things not seen. When we don't see or feel God is precisely when we need to practice our faith. When it feels like God has forsaken you, or like darkness is your closest friend, take heart. Christ has defeated the enemy, and these sorrows will only last for a moment longer. He is coming to redeem it all and to restore all things to the way they should be. Our sorrows may last the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:1-5).
For more resources on depression and anxiety, consider the Scripture for Anxiety Journal, the Preaching the Gospel to Yourself study, or the Never Alone study.