My Lenten discipline this year has been to follow Rachel Hackenburg’s Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying With My Pen. Yesterday’s prompt for prayer was based on a passage from the book of Job. Remember Job was mightily tested by the devil and it was as if God was ignoring Job, allowing him to suffer without mercy. The prompt was to write a prayer of despair.
Now whenever I encounter the word ‘despair’ I can’t help but always connect with the stories of that little red-headed orphan girl, Anne of Green Gables. In the stories by Lucy Maude Montgomery, Anne has a definite flair for the dramatic. She doesn’t feel anything lightly. In the movie version of Anne of Green Gables, when Marilla Cuthbert meets the orphan Anne and indicates that she wanted a boy to help out around the farm and most definitely not a girl, Anne begins to express her deep pain at discovering she may not get to stay at Green Gables. Anne asks Marilla, “Haven’t you ever been in the depths of despair?” To which Marilla responds, “No. To despair is to turn one’s back on God.”
While I have, at times, felt on the verge of despair, with little hope, I can’t think of a time when I believed that God had abandoned me. I have felt distant from God, like there was a chasm between us of my own construction or built by forces of circumstances in my life; but I always knew in my heart-of-hearts that God was still there. Though God’s presence seemed far from hand, like I was reaching out but just beyond my touch, I always had a sense that God was indeed still there and reaching out for me or holding me tenderly. When I was taking steroids as part of my recovery recently, I was so euphoric under the drug’s influence, I lost my connection to God. I knew God was still there, but my sense was that the medication had “turned off” my receptors. I couldn’t “hear” God’s words of assurance to me.
No, I just can’t turn my back on God. I can be angry over circumstances and the actions of people, but my belief keeps me clinging to the God that loves me and wants the best for me. For me, that depth of despair fails to recognize the free will we each have and at the same time shuns the mercy and grace God holds for each of us. I can be down and out, not knowing what to do next, but still I come back to God for guidance. I still have hope. To despair would be to deny the resurrection and believe only in suffering and death. To despair would be to pretend to believe that the stone wasn’t rolled away and the tomb wasn’t empty. To despair would be to leave Jesus on the cross to suffer eternally, and I don’t want to be responsible for that kind of hell.
The truth is that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried, but on the third day he rose again. He overcame death and despair and that gives me hope.