Disoriented. Numb. Somber. There are few words to describe where my heart has been lately. I feel inadequate to describe all the reasons why or how I have gotten to this place. But even if was able, the circumstances aren’t the point. The point is that even as Christians, we can face feelings of despair.
I’ve found myself in a place that I’ve never been before. Maybe it’s a physical response of survival, or maybe it’s an escape mechanism. Either way, I’ve found myself detached, struggling to find my way out of the darkness. I have always been a fighter, for better or worse. However, it’s a scary place when you feel your fight begin to fade and your resolve begin to weaken. I find it useless to carry a facade of strength when all I feel is weak.
What do I do with emotions that feel so faithless?
The Hardship of David and Job
In reading the Psalms and the account of Job, I have been helped by examples of men who loved, trusted, and hoped in the Lord, yet who battled seasons of despair and hopelessness. I’m so thankful that we are free to bring these emotions and questions before the Lord honestly, unafraid of being cast aside in our emotional turmoil.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. (Psalm 31:9-10)
This is reality. David, a man after God’s own heart, was in deep distress, grief, and sorrow, feeling as if he were wasting away. Partly because of his own sin, partly because of the ache of living in this broken world, and partly because of feeling at a distance from the Lord. God knew David’s circumstances, and he knew the distress it brought upon him, yet he allowed them to continue. Why? Because when there was no earthly evidence that God was in control and working these things for good in his life, the roots of David’s faith had to go deeper and he was driven to God’s commandments. The distress plowed away the comfort of his surroundings and the self-confidence that he otherwise could have had, exposing what his faith was truly rooted in.
Then there is Job, a man of incredible faith who experienced more suffering than many of us will ever know.
Like a slave who longs for the shadow and like a hired hand who looks for his wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me…Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. (Job 7:2-3,11)
Yet, each time we read a Psalm of David or Job’s words of lament, I see the same important truth that keeps them from losing all hope and giving way to complete despair: They remember. They remember God’s past faithfulness, his purposes in their pain, his anchoring promises, and their future hope.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (Psalm 42:5-6)
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)
Three Things to Remember When Life Is Hard
I too am learning how crucial it is for me to remember. When the noise in my head is disorienting, my flesh is wanting to escape and numb the pain, the trials in front of me are suffocating, and the future looks too daunting, I must remember.
1. Remember God’s past faithfulness.
And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness…Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. (Deuteronomy 8:2a, 4-5)
When everything seems foggy and we can’t make sense of our circumstances or emotions, we have to remember God’s past faithfulness. Suffering has a way of sending us into a tailspin of misery and self-pity, causing us to forget how faithful God has been and will continue to be. While it’s more comfortable to sit and wallow in our pain, we have to drench ourselves in remembering ways he has been faithful to us in the past, as well as evidence of his continual faithfulness through Scripture and, most importantly, the gospel.
David, Job, and God himself have shown us the antidote to a hopeless heart: remember his past, present, and future faithfulness.
2. Remember God’s love and purpose in suffering.
…that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. (Deuteronomy 8:2b-3,6)
Often, we may not fully understand or see the ways God is working in our lives, but we need to remember that the love he has for us compelled him to sacrifice his own Son for our salvation and freedom. Therefore, that same love will only allow circumstances that will bring forth greater life in us if we trust him.
For example, right now, although I feel almost crippled by my daily struggles and the looming future, I am strengthened by the truth that God allowed the Israelites to hunger in order to provide for them in ways that only he could. Consequently, when we are humbled and completely dependent on the Lord in the wilderness, he teaches us to remember, even in times of comfort and abundance, that it is due to God’s faithfulness and power, not our own strength or wisdom.
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. (Deuteronomy 8:17-19)
Ultimately, although my emotions feel like I am distant from the Lord, in actuality I believe that he is sowing something deep in my heart, cultivating in me greater dependence, humility, love, and obedience. I am being driven to his Word, desperate to hear and be strengthened by him, longing for my emptiness to be filled by Christ. While it’s a constant fight to press into emotions that I don’t understand, I know it is all part of his love and purpose to draw me nearer. He is teaching me to remember.
3. Remember God’s promises of a future hope.
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills…And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:7,10)
This suffering will not last forever. By God’s grace, we may see some level of redemption in our suffering during our lifetime, but if not, all will be redeemed one day. The confusion, battle, sadness, loss, and disappointment, will one day be washed away in the precious sight of eternity with Christ. Our wilderness will become a land of plenty, and oh how precious it will be in contrast this broken world.
Remember As You Wait
Though I am uncertain of how God will carry me through and what the outcome of the days to come will be, I will fix my eyes with confidence on my eternal hope and faithful Savior. I pray that one day I will have the privilege of seeing him work mightily through my circumstances so that I will be able to look back and yell from the mountaintop, “Great is your faithfulness and love; and sure are your promises.” Until then, I remember.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13-14)