No one likes to think about despair. It’s like a tightening in the chest, that metallic fight-or-flight panic in the throat. When it comes to visit, we don’t want to take time to analyze it; we just want to feel better as soon as possible. And while we shouldn’t spend our days in worry and fear, it’s easier to consider despair when we’re not submerged and treading water in it. What will you do when trouble comes?
Not if, but when.
We know that all humankind must endure suffering. Throughout history, we’ve struggled with the idea that a loving God would allow terrible pain. Why? There are no easy answers, but the Scriptures assure us that in the midst of chaos, God’s perfect plan can redeem even the most devastated heart.
Confronted with the reality of suffering, how can we respond? I’ve found it helps to have a plan.
Make an emergency plan.
In school, we train children with drills for fire, tornado, and other physical threats. But we don’t teach them to make an emotional emergency plan. Isn’t this important, too? In my hometown, once famous for the most heroin overdoses in the U.S. per capita, it seems that an emotional emergency plan can be a vital, life-saving procedure.
Your plan will look different than mine, but here’s what I do during a crisis:
This is the most critical but sometimes the most difficult step. It can be paralyzing to pour my emotions into words, and horrifying to admit what’s happening. Speaking the words aloud can be so intimidating, I dread it. But once I get started, praying becomes easier. It shifts my emotions and perspective, and allows me to approach the problem in a different way.
If you feel like you can’t even begin to pray, use this template I’ve found helpful:
A – Adoration
C – Confession
T – Thanksgiving
S – Supplication
Or, you can pray the simplest, most powerful prayer of all – “Jesus, help me!”
During times of intense stress, I’ll fast. Usually I’ll fast all day until lunch or dinner, or forego snacks and lunch during a work day so I can spend my lunch break praying, instead.
Fasting eliminates another layer of distraction, brings our physical appetite into proper alignment, and forces us to acknowledge our reliance on God’s provision. Studies have also shown that fasting promotes healing and incredible immune system regeneration, too. It’s a powerful way to draw nearer to the Creator.
Cut out all negative influences
When I’m distressed, I don’t watch the news. If there’s a terrible tragedy that others want to rehash, I’ll excuse myself. I’ve even said, as politely as possible, “I’m sorry; I just can’t talk about this right now.”
The truth is, beyond praying for them or donating to an emergency aid organization, I can’t do much to help those who are suffering in other communities. If there’s a natural disaster, a malicious crime, or horrific accident, most of the circumstances are beyond my control.
I don’t watch or listen to depressing media, and I’m careful to limit my exposure to negative people. It may feel selfish, but my first priority is to stay afloat. Once I’m stable, I can help others.
Surround myself with positivity
I listen to podcasts that uplift me, play powerful praise and worship music, and watch redemptive films. Also, I’ll make an appointment to spend time with one or more of my most positive, optimistic friends. (Incidentally, I’ve noticed these friends are no strangers to suffering. That, in itself, is an encouragement.) I don’t always tell them what’s going on in my life; I just feel better by spending time with them.
Call on my accountability partners
This step is critical. Do you have an inner circle who will lift you up in prayer when you need help? I have a handful of “soul sisters” I know I can text, call, or visit at any moment. I don’t take advantage of this privilege often, and I reciprocate. They know they have 24/7 access to me, too.
One of the most troubling aspects of despair is its ability to bend reality. My inner circle grounds me, reminds me of what’s real, and helps me determine the next steps to take – or if I should just wait and be still.
Remind myself of my identity and purpose
Each morning when I wake up, I remind myself of who I am and why my purpose matters. During times of despair, these affirmations become a lifeline. You can write your own, or you can use a few of mine. I begin with: “I am a child of God. I am created for such a time as this. I am bought with a price, and I will not bury my talent.”
It reminds me to be bold and courageous no matter how I feel. Even though I’d rather hide, I’m encouraged instead, and decide not to “bury” myself in work, or in comforting distractions like food, entertainment, or retail therapy.
Remember God’s faithfulness in the past.
When it feels hopeless, I remember the times when God has redeemed me from other desperate situations. He is unchanging and endlessly merciful. While I’d rather that He spare me from disasters instead of walking through them with me, He’s done this many times without me knowing. I can take comfort in the knowledge that, whatever the reason for the current trial, He is present the entire time.
Even though disaster, trouble, and despair aren’t topics any of us want to study, having an emotional emergency plan can lessen their impact. If you don’t have a plan already, take a few moments today to make an outline, or print out the list above and tape it to the inside of the closet door or bathroom vanity cupboard.
If you’re in a crisis right now, know that you’re not alone. We’re praying for our readers, and we care about you. The Lord will bring you through this.
What do you do during times of despair?
How do those times draw you closer to Him?