One of my favorite movies is “Anne of Green Gables” (the 1985 TV mini-series). During one scene, the overdramatic orphan, Anne, seeks to connect with her cranky guardian, Marilla Cuthbert, by earnestly imploring: “Can’t you even imagine you’re in the depths of despair?”
“No, I cannot,” Marilla replies curtly. “To despair is to turn your back on God.”
Recently I was talking with a mentor about some difficulties I was going through, and I regurgitated a version of Marilla’s rebuke. “The Bible tells us not to be hopeless,” I said. “So many verses talk about the supernatural hope that is found in a relationship with Jesus.”
She pushed back. “And yet we feel hopeless.”
I let her words sink in. While in Christ we have an incredible source of hope, in our human state we do at times feel hopeless. The Psalms are chock full of hopeless feelings. Even Jesus felt the despair of wondering where God was when, on the cross, He quoted the psalmist: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Lament is putting into words feelings of despair. It’s crying out to the Lord, asking, “Where are You?” It’s asking, “Why me? Why have I been chosen for this particular pain or struggle?” It’s asking a mighty God to prove himself and come to our rescue.
While I’ve typically viewed this kind of protest as a negative thing, my mentor reminded me that it is proof of a relationship. Thinking about my children, when they come to me in petition or protest, it is because they know I will respond. They believe I will listen and provide them with help or comfort.
Searching for hope
The other day I sat in my car, weighed down by the heaviness of some of my circumstances. I felt my hope waning and the internal battle begin. I should be hopeful, I thought. I have so much to be grateful for. Then the competing thought: But this really, really stinks. I don’t understand why I’m the one who has to go through this.
I’m sure you’ve experienced similar feelings at one time or another. So how do we live out the biblical command to live in hope and contentment, but also be honest with God about our hopeless feelings? Here are two ways I think we can hold the tension between the two.
1. Cry out to God. A big part of lament in Scripture is having an honest conversation with God about what the lamenter is feeling. The wonderful truth is that God welcomes these candid dialogues. We have a sympathetic high priest in Jesus who experienced every emotion — including anger, humiliation, rejection, sadness — and did not sin. God can handle our anger, frustration, and even despair. But we must make the effort to reach out to Him. As we do, He supplies us with what we need.
Hiding our true feelings from God is pointless because He knows us inside and out. He knows our inner thoughts and motives. Concealing the doubt, anger and fear we feel only leaves us disconnected from the Source of hope.
2. Surround yourself with truth tellers. The body of believers is designed to support each member through the natural ebb and flow of faith. Many days I am full of faith and can offer loads of encouragement to a fellow believer. On other days, I feel weak and vulnerable, like I am holding on by a thread. At those moments, God has used brothers and sisters in Christ to lift me up. While someone may randomly send me an encouraging text or I may hear the perfect song on Christian radio, sometimes I must also initiate or act. I can call a friend, set up a coffee date or set a counseling appointment.
As I proactively engage with other Christians, I experience the words of Proverbs 13:20a: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.” Walking with others requires effort, transparency and trust. But such relationships provide stability and support as you traverse difficult seasons or circumstances.
Turning to God
When I think about Marilla’s famous words, “To despair is to turn your back on God,” I imagine this fictional character had suppressed many feelings of hurt and disappointment throughout her life that eventually turned to bitterness. Lament, on the other hand, is a pathway to hope.
As we engage with God during hopeless moments and journey with fellow believers through difficult times, we receive comfort and peace that passes understanding. Feeling in the “depths of despair” doesn’t mean you’re turning your back on God; it can mean you are turning your face toward Him.
Copyright 2022 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.