What is the most terrifying word you know? A word that you avoid at all cost because of what it means or implies? A word that cuts you to your core, or elicits emotions you do everything within your power to avoid at all cost?
For me, that word is Despair.
“The complete absence or loss of all hope.”
The word Despair is like a gut punch to me. It cuts me to the core of my being. It immediately causes anxiety, and a flood of memories and emotions that would be easier to burry deep within. It literally makes me nauseous. It takes me to a place where I have felt like there was so much pain, that there was no hope.
We don’t like to think about despair. We don’t like to think about the things that cause despair. We don’t ever want to feel despair. Things of this world that cause despair are so gut-wrenching and horrific that acknowledging them is essentially acknowledging the utmost evil and un-justness of this world.
As you are reading this, I can only assume that there are currently despairing images and circumstances flooding through your mind. Perhaps they are personal memories, things that have happened to you, things you have done. Perhaps they are things that have been done to those close to you. Perhaps they are more general concepts such as starvation, child soldiers, or human trafficking. Chances are, all of us, at one time or another, have felt despair. If you have not yet experienced despair, I pray that you continue to be shielded from the horrors of this world, and a I fear that it is only a matter of time before your unfortunate embrace.
Once you have experienced despair, you begin to recognize it on others. Strangers, even. It becomes a familiar sight. You begin to see it more and more, until it becomes harder and harder to not see it constantly enveloping the world around you. You become more and more aware and can soon find it difficult to escape.
So many of us experience a loss of or complete absence of hope, and find ourselves in circumstances in which we feel we will never escape it. Despair becomes our best friend, our new way of life. We invite it with us everywhere, until it becomes our shadow, and escaping it no longer seems like an option. And when we feel we have no other option, we hide in the shadows of despair and fear that if we ever come out, if we ever look for a way to get ride of the darkness we now live in, we will just be despaired time and time again. So we stop looking for the light. We curl up in the shadows, refuse to venture out, because we fear that if our hearts take one more despairing blow, it will end us.
We live in a cruel, unjust, despairing world.
We do not have to be controlled by despair.
We do not have to let despair become our reality.
Despair does not have to be permanent. Despair does not have to rule the way we live. Despair does not have to win.
Despair can sneak up quickly – a fleeting thought about a particular subject can trigger another thought, a memory, a feeling, and suddenly we find ourselves back in that moment of utter hopelessness. In the current stage of my life, I find myself in these moments frequently. Seeing a picture on Facebook of my friends playing happily with their children elicits joy, and then quickly converts to despair, dark thoughts of things that have been taken away from me, worries of things I will never have. It is like someone takes a knife to the core of my being, and then whispers lies about my circumstances and my future. The despair does not typically stay for long. But the attacks are frequent, and they are strong, and they are powerful.
For me, despair is when I text a friend about how excited I am that her little boy who has special physical needs was able to go to a public pool with the rest of the family, and with no warning I find myself curled up in a puddle of my own tears, because I will never get to take my daughter to the pool. Despair is when I am snuggling my nephew, and loving every minute of it, and all of the sudden I can literally hardly breathe, because I am suddenly so aware of the fact I will never hold my baby girl again. Despair is sometimes waking up I the morning after a full night’s sleep, deeply sorrowed, longing to have gotten up countless times in the middle of the night to take care of my child. For me, despair is constant reminders of what has been unjustly torn from my life, knowing that as long as I am here on this earth, I will have a void because my daughter is simply no longer here.
I do not live in a state of constant despair. That does not mean I do not have to constantly (or at least it feels constant) fight despair. Some days are better than others. Some days are significantly worse than others. A recent tragedy and loss being so recent, it feels as if despair is currently more present and prominent, and hopefully it will gradually decrease its prominence in my life.
Here’s the thing about despair…
Despair is a feeling. It does not have to be our reality. But we have to choose to actively fight against it, in order to keep it from becoming our reality. And fighting despair is exhausting, and sucks balls (I’m sorry for the people I just offended by saying “sucks balls”…before you get too offended, find a more accurate and less inappropriate term, and get back to me).
How do you fight against despair? I use truth to fight against despair. Okay, I usually have a meltdown, get really angry about the cruelty of my circumstances, and then use truth to fight against it. It’s hard, okay? And I fully believe in embracing everything as you feel it, as long as you don’t choose to live permanently in those feelings. Feel the emotions as they come. Don’t hide from them. Accept them, embrace them, and then choose to take one step forward.
Use truth to disarm the lies that despair tries so desperately to convince us of.
I think perhaps the biggest lie of despair, is that despair is our new reality, and there is no way to escape. If we believe there is no way out, we will stop searching. We will stop fighting. This is the biggest disservice we could ever due to ourselves under despairing circumstances.
Don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. Don’t tell me I don’t know the feelings of despair. Don’t tell me I don’t understand how hard it is to fight despair.
I know despair. I know the gut-wrenching, knife-stabbing, my heart has been ripped out, chewed up, spit on the ground and then stomped on, how am I ever going to find a way to stand up, how is it possible to hurt this much, will this pain ever go away, utter agony of despair. And I know that I choose joy, and joy will win, no matter how big of a battering ram despair brings in in the fight to knock down the walls of my heart.
Our circumstances will shape us, and we can choose to let them shape us into something beautiful, or something that is utterly broken. We fight despair with choices. When I see a picture of smiling children, I choose to be happy that someone was so blessed with a beautiful family, and I choose not to be resentful. When I go to the movies, I choose to enjoy it with whoever I am there with, and not dwell on the fact that I will never take my daughter to the theater. When I wake up each morning, no matter how aware I am that my arms are empty, and no matter how god-awful painful the ache in my heart is, I will choose to embrace and love everyone around me, and not live in a state of constant anger because I will not hold my daughter ever again. I choose to accept the love from those around me, even though the most natural reaction is to push them away because life simply hurts too much. I choose to keep loving deeply, even though I lost someone I loved most deeply. It is not worth hiding from love and joy, simply to avoid the potential of feeling loss and despair. Yes, at times I feel despair. I feel it and I move away from it. I do not let despair become my reality.
Choose love, even though it can be the most painful choice. Choose to keep moving, even if you don’t know how you will manage to take one more step. Embrace laughter, even when the things of this world try to take away your joy. Choosing joy and love is hard. It sometimes feels impossible. Sometimes it feels like it won’t be worth it. It can be painful, difficult, time consuming, draining, frustrating, and unnatural.
But it is worth it.
Love and joy defeat despair. Always.