Cues of Despair

A while back, I talked about despair as absence. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week–mostly because I’ve been having some mattress issues. It’s amazing how hard it is to stay present and upbeat in my day when I’m seriously lacking in sleep. Yes, I know that sleep is a huge factor in emotional health. Lord willing, the latest mattress fix will work!

Anyway, one of the things I have written in my journal about hope is Jeremiah 29:11 (For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future, NIV). It’s a well-known verse, but in the Psalms of Ascent study, Beth Moore talks about flipping the verse. We know God’s plans for us: to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future. But we can also look at this verse and get a pretty good glimpse into what Satan’s plans for us are–the exact opposite:  for us to fail, to harm us, for us to be hopeless and without a future.

Even if depression isn’t something you struggle with, we all struggle with sometimes feeling hopeless or like we’re failing. We can entertain those thoughts–in other words, we can let them hang out in our brains all comfy-like, rather than kicking them out when they show up (or working to make sure our brains are hostile environments for them in the first place). But after looking at the flip side of Jer. 29:11, those thoughts have actually become a sort of cue for me–a reminder that when I entertain hopelessness or feelings of failure or fear of the future, I’m falling in line with Satan’s plans for me. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather position myself to follow God’s plans for my life.

Note: I am one hundred percent a fan of re-examining one’s life to determine where you can do things better–that’s not what I’m talking about here when I say we shouldn’t entertain thoughts of failure. I firmly believe in figuring out how to do things smarter rather than working harder at the impossible.



Joy & Presence

Last week was rough. A death in our family. Drama in other parts of our family. Sick kids. A ton of things on my to-do list. It felt overwhelming.

I’ve been thinking about joy a fair amount for the past several weeks. Becoming a person who’s characterized by joy is something that I’ve been praying for for a long, long time. I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life, so verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:16 challenge me like nobody’s business.

“Be joyful always.” How are we supposed to accomplish that in a broken world? We’re all inundated with challenges and pains on a daily basis–sometimes a momently basis.

I misread a commentary on this particular verse, and it sparked off a line of thought I’ve never even considered. In the church we talk a lot about joy, but what is despair? I’d argue that despair is characterized by the belief that ____ will never get any better. That belief results in absence. By absence, I mean a lack of trying, a lack of positive attention, and often escapism and/or denial. Growing up in a large family, we all became champions at escapism. We’re all bookaholics, and it wasn’t uncommon to need to physically shake someone in order to get their attention because they were so ensconced in the book reality.

Anyway! I think when you talk to someone who struggles with despair, there are lots of evidences of giving up, as though trying takes far more energy than it’s worth because change is out of reach. I know that’s how it works in my own life. I tend to pretend whatever the problem is doesn’t exist, and if I can’t successfully do that, I throw myself into being “not-there,” whether that’s by obsessing over minutiae I can control like housecleaning or by flat out leaving–getting out of the situation or escaping into literature/movies.

But something I’ve been learning in Tai Chi is how to be fully present in a moment. It’s been a difficult skill to acquire, and I am far from mastering it. Basically, it means that you’re there. Not sending your mind to the future or the past. Not planning what else you might do that day. Your brain is in the moment you’re in, focusing on the thing you’re doing. You’re fully aware of all parts of your body and interacting with the moment using the whole of who you are–physically, emotionally, spiritually. There’s an intensity to putting yourself fully in the moment.

As I was thinking about despair being characterized by absence, I found myself wondering if a big part of joy is simply being present. It kinda reminds me of little kids and the intensity with which they live the things they’ve anticipated. Think about Christmas or birthday presents or a looked-for outing or a treat. If you don’t have those kinds of things from your own childhood, watch your own (or somebody else’s) kids. I have often heard people talk about how a healthy childhood is characterized by joy. I think there’s something to that. Healthy children firmly believe that there is something good coming in each day, so they have no need to run away from the day. On the contrary, they throw themselves into the day with gusto because something awesome will happen at some point, and if they’re not paying attention, they might miss it.

As children of God, we have that same guarantee: something good is going to come today (Rom. 8:28; Matt. 7:7-11). Just let that sink into your soul for a moment.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to remember/believe that. However, if we really revel in the reality of being beloved, we can be present in each moment–throw ourselves into it with gusto, if you will. We can be passionately engaged in this moment even when we’re in pain and life is just plain hard, when there’s relational conflict, when there’s a mountain of dishes or a mile-long to-do list. No matter what horrible situation we’re in the middle of, we can stay present because we know that God is going to do something good and, just like children anticipating a treat, we don’t want to miss it.