Facing Despair

I was starting to wonder if I would get a chance to write again since it had been awhile since anyone had submitted a question for our consideration.  Tonight, Yvette sent a great question.  Thank you, Yvette!  Let me take a moment and share her question with you, and then invite you into the consideration of her question.

Yvette wrote, “When does faith and hope become enough that it is okay to give up? And how condemned are you when you give up, if God knows your pain, faults and deficiencies?”

There were two things that came up for me in reading the question.

The first thought that came to mind is that giving up can be a truly wonderful thing.  Let me explain what I mean when I say that.

One of the greatest challenges we face as human being is facing the notion that we can control everything.  We tell ourselves, “If only I can say just the right thing – or if only I can just do the right thing at just the right time – then everything will turn out just fine?”

Such a way of thinking would make sense if the world operated in a causal way: if “A” always led to “B”.  Sadly, the world does not usually operate that way.

Let me give you a couple examples.  Let’s say we get into a disagreement with someone and feelings are hurt.  We think to ourselves, “If only I can explain myself to the other person, then the other person will understand.”  We then take the time and carefully explain ourselves.  Guess what happens?  The other person is STILL upset.  This can freak us out and cause us to want to give up.

Or perhaps we have a loved one who struggles with an addiction.  We tell ourselves, “If only I can line up the right resources and explain to the person why he/she needs to use them, then my loved one will overcome his/her addiction.”  We take the time, locate the resources, and present them to our loved one – and then guess what happens?  Our loved one rejects the help and continues in their addictive behavior.  Once again this can freak us out and cause us to want to abandon hope.

It’s so easy to arrive at that place in life where we think and act as if we were God.  One of the most powerful things we can do on our journeys is realize that we are NOT God.  We can’t control the thoughts or behaviors of others.  Once we admit that, we are in a better position to let go of our anger, our hurt, and our frustration and accept things for what they are.

Some may look at that moment of realization and say such a person is giving up.  I suppose in a way they are giving up:  giving up on the notion they can control things outside of themselves.

I, on the other hand, think that giving up trying to control things beyond our control is the first step of wisdom.  As my sisters and brothers in Twelve Step movements say, the First Step on the journey toward recovery is admitting we are powerless over some things and that aspects of our lives have become unmanageable.  Once you face that difficult reality, you are in a position to let go and be honest about what you can – and can NOT – control.

That’s one take on your question.

Another take would involve consideration of what it means to completely abandon hope.  This is perhaps the toughest place for a human being to be.

Before I continue, I should say this.  While I have had many moments in life when I have been totally frustrated and WANTED to give up hope, I never actually have.  Not completely, anyway.


In some ways it goes back to the first part of my response.  Those times when I was on the verge of complete despair were times when I was trying to control things that were beyond my control.  Once I let go of them and relaxed – knowing that I was no longer personally responsible for the outcome – I achieved a sense of peace about things and was able to deal with the outcomes that followed.  My faith assured me – in ways that I can’t even explain – that I had the resources and strength necessary to deal with the outcomes, and I did.

The other thing that helped me in those times of abject despair was letting go of the fact that I knew everything.  Let me explain what I mean by that.

Each time I was on the verge of despair I noticed I was there because I had told myself the same thing.  I told myself, “Everything will fall apart unless Outcome A happens.”  I truly believed there was no way forward other than Outcome A.

When I stepped back and watched things unfold, I came to realize that Outcome B and Outcome C were NOT, in fact, the end of the world.  While they may not have been my first choices, Outcome B and Outcome C often showed me powerful new things in life that took me to a different – and sometimes even better – place.

Overtime, this realization gave me a quiet, but rock-solid belief that things would be okay NO MATTER WHAT.  That restored my hope.

As I look back at my two responses, I realize there is a common thread.  Both responses involve coming to terms with the fact that I am not God.  I have to come to terms with the fact that I can’t control the outcome of things outside of myself.  I also have to come to terms with the fact that I do not always know what is best.

Once I face these challenging truths, I am able to let go of my despair and find my way back to peace and hope.

One last thought.  Yvette asked about how God responds to us when we are in those places of despair.  I know that there are some spiritual leaders who would suggest God responds to us in those times with expressions of condemnation (i.e. “It is your lack of faith that is causing your despair and therefore you should be punished).  That sort of response is not consistent with my experience of God in these moments.  I believe very strongly that when we are hurting so deeply that we are driven to places of utter despair, God responds as God always does: with complete love and compassion.  That belief is the foundation of my faith, and the primary reason why – for me – hope kicks despair’s behind!

So how about you?  What do you think about those times when we reach those places in life where we feel ready to give up.

PS.  Please, please, please keep those excellent questions coming!

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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5 Responses to Facing Despair

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    I think you’ve done an excellent job of explaining why “giving up” isn’t always a choice made from weakness, but sometimes from wisdom. As a recovering control-freak perfectionist, I still struggle with letting go of Outcome A and remembering that “suboptimal” and “disastrous” are not synonyms. Sometimes it helps me to consider that my Outcome B or C might be somebody else’s Outcome A, and maybe they need an optimal outcome on this more than I do. Or maybe I need to learn a lesson in patience, persistence, and generosity more than I need to get my preferred outcome.

  2. Sharon McMahon says:

    Giving up sometimes enters into the realm of complete surrender to God. We reach a place in life where we have to admit we are hopeless, but God is always there, ready to exersize his Grace and Mercy, This leads to a faith, restored.

  3. BOB MERKLE says:

    There is an old cryptic saying, “When you are up against the wall, and discover that nothing (including despair) can get you through that wall, nothing is what gets you through the wall.”

  4. Stevie says:

    When I was 38, I was in the midst of the hardest time in my life. Few people know the whole story, but one night, I told God, very loudly, that I was physically and emotionally giving up. What happened during the next few months ended up building my faith like nothing else. For me, during that time of change, it helped to be very mindful of what I could and couldn’t control. I chose the simple phrase, “you don’t have to worry about this”, and I would say it aloud. It built my faith because peace would come over me and I knew God was there. It takes practice, but it works.

  5. Olivia Brancusso says:

    Pastor Craig, I was wondering: What kind of person, do you think, actually goes to hell? I know God tries to save everybody–He loves us so much; I hope that not that many actually are sent there.

    Thank you!

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