Despair

I love that the church calendar gives us time to reflect on the black despair of the death of Jesus before we move onto celebrating his rising from the dead. It is his rising from the dead that saved us, that opened up the opportunity of relationship with God and that gave us hope. But it is his death and the time between Friday and Sunday that remind us that God knows the pain of despair.

I was recently asked why I don’t believe that God will heal me. My instinctive response was ‘I do!’, but the more I think about that question the more I become aware of the fact that I have been steadily walking away from hope. I have been settling myself into life at a bit of a distance from God, because really, what good is he doing anyway? I am still struggling every day under the weight of a depression that, no matter how happy I am, insists that I can’t cope; anxiety, that makes any crowded space cause for much medication and panic; and an exhaustion, that increasingly is turning me into a recluse.

Becoming increasingly aware of this, I had big plans for lent. Read my bible, reconnect with God, find that hope again. They didn’t really work out. Yet, as I approached Easter I found that really, I had very little hope at all. I was increasingly aware that I was asking that question that I have, for the past few years, been refusing to ask. Why? 

I have always had such issue with that question, because I have always been determined that my hope was not in what happens in this world, but in Jesus. Yet, I found I had lost that hope. It wasn’t in Jesus anymore. Today, as I think of the death of Christ, I understand more than I ever have, that sense of despair his diciples must have had. My hope was founded in him, and he was gone, no longer tangible and out of my reach. 

When we talk about the story of our salvation, so often we forget that for a moment all felt lost. We forget that God doesn’t just understand the theory of loss and despair but that he knows the reality of it. Jesus cried out on the cross ‘why have you forsaken me?’ and for a time, all was black. All hope diminished and gone.

I love that we have the time to reflect on this loss. In the reflection of Christ’s depair, I find that I have new hope. He asked ‘why?’ and he got no answer. He was in despair and no help was apparent. And then, hope was born. It is this hope that I now cling to. Last Saturday someone put it like this ‘hope is not in the outcome to our prayers, but in Jesus’ and it is in this that I now find I hope again. 

It sounds like the same hope I had before, and I can’t really explain what is different. But I am thankful for the time to despair with the disciples, because it has made the bright light of the ressurection feel so much more real.

As we celebrate Easter this year, remember that for some, hope is a hard thing to find. Sometimes it can feel like Easter is never going to come, that time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday feels like it will never end. Like Jesus on the cross, we can feel forsaken and lost. We have a God who can empathise with that, who will sit with us in it, who will encourage us but not hurry us, who knows the pain of despair.

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6 Comments

  • As a GP I found that my christian patients found depression particularly difficult to cope with. Thank you for your openness and honesty. I’m certain you give enormous help to others. In my prayers.

  • As much as one person can ‘get’ another’s perspective, I get this. You are ministering in a powerful way through honesty and integrity. At the same time you are pointing to Jesus. I think that’s what is asked of all of us.

    Thank you for this. God is working in and through you.

  • Thank you for this, Katharine. I’ve posted below a poem I wrote at a similar point of despair in my own life, in case it is of any interest or use. Although I did find resurrection in the end, I have never forgotten the reality of despair – or the importance of knowing that Jesus went through it too. Holy Saturday (whenever that comes in our lives and however long it lasts) is a day for letting things be, and discovering that even in the silence and the darkness, God is.
    Anne

    I HAVE NOT REACHED EASTER

    No ,
    I have not reached Easter
    and this might be the year when
    there is no resurrection,
    when the long darkness of Friday
    stretches
    without a glimmer
    into Sunday morning.
    This year you might come to the tomb
    and find only a stench.

    You cannot deny it.

    Death without despair
    is merely playing with comforting words
    – a cheated game with a fixed end.

    See ,
    I have not reached Easter.
    Please do not dig in my bare earth.
    Even if somewhere the new shoots grow
    you will surely destroy them
    with your indiscriminate plough
    and your boots so heavy with hope
    and your hands, all unknowing,
    tearing the nurturing folds of mud
    from the seeds
    ripping them from the protective embrace of death.

    No ,
    I have not reached Easter
    and this might be the year when
    there is no resurrection.
    I would rather
    – please let me –
    lie in the ground and rot and wait for the angels.

    Anne Le Bas. Maundy Thursday 93

  • This is so beautiful, and I love that you are honest about what so many other Christians find it hard to admit to: a lack of hope. It’s really good for me to be reminded that even for jesus, things looked pretty black for a time. It’s a privilege to have a window into your thoughts as you dig deep and come back with gold. Sending oodles of love x

  • Realism – of our own lives (for us all to share and recognise) + Authenticity – of the truth of Jesus (to remind us and give us hope) – thank you

  • Hi Katherine I’m Celia as you can gather the reason I’ve contacted you today is the fact I have mental health issues as well the same as yours and I really know where your coming from and any advice you could give me would be well worth it. Plus I’ve been a christian now for 26 years and I came back to know Jesus again after an 12 year backslide but from last year when I was really ill and off work for a year I’m still off work now for another 6 months but my place of work can no longer keep my job open which I found myself going into depths of despair yet again plus I have a number of physical problems and pain that keep me from work as well.
    I’m getting there very very slowly but each day it gets hard and alright all depending on how I am with my physical pain as well.
    But now I won’t let my Lord out of my life ever even though I get my setbacks.
    You take care and I’ll be routing for you.Xx. Bless you.Xx

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