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Clutching Despair
by Anna Johnson
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[All Scripture is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.]

To the despairing soul, blame shifting and bitterness are bittersweet partners. For years, I blamed my lack of success on my authority figures, labeling them harsh and insensitive to my needs. Innocent in my mind, I felt justified in brutally assignating their character. After all, I was His despairing guest, and I didn't ask to be invited to this party of gloom. These bullies, these character builders appointed by God, were faith enhancing aids in my growth, but I was ignorant of God's ways.

Despair is neither a marital affliction, nor is it an appointed single curse, although we assume it is by such statements as, "If only I were married and someone loved me the way your husband loves you," or "If only I were single and didn't have this tyrant husband breathing down my neck." The "if only's" are further stumbling blocks of despair. Despair grips any age, for despair is within God's appointed timing, and He alone knows the heart's comprehension of grace to carry one through the human storm into His divine calm.

During despair, we tend to dump our misery on vessels we deem weaker than arrogance's boasting. It feels good, because we release the deadly weight we transfer elsewhere, instead of nailing it to the cross, along with our other sins. We hold bitterness in highest esteem, more than the sanctity of God's unconditional love. We clutch despair as if it were a prized possession -- the medal of honor won for being a martyr of our own making. A martyr often gloats in self-approval for being "strong," or at best, a martyr gains sympathy from fellow sufferers.

Some argue that despair isn't or shouldn't be part of the Christian walk. If we were perfect by nature, despair would not be necessary, for we would know only good. But, because we are open to Satan's present evil world system, we know both bad and good, the depths and the heights, sorrow and joy. Denying despair disallows the surgical knife of God's divine affliction, drawing us away from evil, as He carves away unrighteousness to transplant His holiness.

Job was a man acquainted with despair, bitter in soul and heavy of complaint. He clutched despair. If anyone had an earthly right to feel sorry for himself, Job did, for he lost everything but life itself. But, according to God, Job didn't have this right, as the end of the Bible account of Job explains, because Job knew little of the true God, the God of love Who reveals the light of His glory, cast brightest in the darkest hour of affliction.

Job knew a forgiving God. He understood God would raise him in the resurrection; he was well-versed in God. But he didn't know the all-powerful God, Who brings hope against the odds of ever having hope. So Job continued to clutch despair.

When laughter feels good, but equally painful, despair engulfs us. "Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness" (Proverbs 14:13). When emotions are so intertwined that we can't differentiate between sorrow's bleeding edge and joy's total abandon, we feel justified in finding pleasure in raw pain. Because we have not released sorrow, we are not at rest. When clutching despair, we are hedged between surrendering the past and receiving the promised land. Bittersweet doubt has not found faith in the sweet Savior. "For we which have believed do enter into rest" (Hebrews 4:3).

Whenever we blame shift or long solely for human comfort, we look to others, and not to Jesus. Fleshly expectation promises disappointment. "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man" (Psalms 118:8), so we further delve into despair, surprised, although God has warned, that man is so unpredictable. Few understand the healing ways of God, nor acknowledge and accept despair as His necessary means to empty human desire to refill with the divine.

We limit God's power, because we haven't learned, like Job did at the end of his trial, that God is sovereign, and He allots all of our circumstances. "I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me" (Psalms 119:75). When we cry out with a contrite heart, He answers, speaking face-to-face through the comfort of His Word. As we behold His glory, He sets us free to abandon despair. We gain hope, as we enter the arena of trust. Through His eyes, His ears, His words, and our heart in union with His, we find God's love amid His promise that "...all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28.

When clutching despair, we know only misery. When trust knows faith's goodness, God frees us to experience joy, as we discover, in the core of our being, the "...hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible" (1 Peter 3:4).

Job learned, like all Christians must, that "...faith which worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6) is the one true value of our Christian walk. Love happens when letting go of despair.

This is a chapter from a booklet I wrote years ago called "Covenant of Holiness," and if anyone would be so kind as to critique it, it would perhaps help me resurrect and work on the booklet again. In the other chapters I was comparing marriage in the human covenant with our marriage covenant with the Lord. Thanks, and blessings to all.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Debra L. McKeen Sparks 30 Jun 2004
Ellen, you have done it again -- this is brilliantly and powerfully written and I cry glory to the truth of it! You have done well -- articulate and stimulating! Debbie
Joyce Poet 29 Jun 2004
Ellen, I have been taught many lessons lately on letting go of and overcoming despair. Your article, I must say, has shed another blessed and altogether different light on the subject for me. As for bitterness, I am one of a fortunate few whom God told from the get go "You cannot bring bitterness home with you when you come to me. You HAVE to forgive." And, by grace, He led me through the long, slow process of forgiving all those I needed to forgive... saving the hardest for last. (Myself) You are an awesome and very inspiring writer. Thank you for 'Clutching Despair.'


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