I was asked a very important question by a friend recently, “What do I do with thoughts of despair”? It’s a good question, especially for those grieving the death of a loved one.  After such a traumatic loss, it seems that for many, perhaps even most, our minds short-circuit and our thought life is all over the place. If you were calm, cool, and collected before, then this chaos of the mind is surprising and discouraging. If you had trouble with your mind before, then the loss and trauma seems like it’s pushed your mind over the edge.

What do I do with thoughts of despair?  Before the death of my son, I would have quickly answered a question like this with a biblical answer and then pray. Now, I answer first with a real response of how I personally am handling grief followed by a biblical answer and so much more empathetic prayer. I hope you are encouraged and helped greatly.

Personally, sometimes I do the right things and many times I do the wrong things with my frequent thoughts of despair.  What is despair?  Webster’s Dictionary says, it’s “the complete loss or absence of hope”.  That’s a very scary place for our minds to wander. As believers in Jesus Christ, connected to the very source of true hope, our minds wander into territories that put us at odds with the substance of our help.

When I respond to despair the wrong way it always ends worse than when I started. Sometimes I dwell on how bad the situation was surrounding my Eddie’s collapse, subsequent coma, and the unnecessary conflicts in the hospital along with the unbearable days and nights waiting for him to wake up. I can sometimes drift off into the realm of how unjust the situation was and is. It’s easy to rehearse how decisions made against us are still bearing evil dead fruit today. Focusing on the betrayals doesn’t help. Thinking upon how I lost dear friends, why, because my son died? That doesn’t make sense. None of it really makes sense from a human perspective. Sinful actions never do.  I can ponder on how people’s true colors were revealed and how discouraging that is, even today almost four years later. Believers. Yes. Believers. At other times when I respond to despair incorrectly, I’ll nurture any form of anger, or self-righteousness that exists at the present moment and dwell on the reality that my life is incredibly different than it was just a few years ago.  As you can see, responding to despair incorrectly often leads to sin. Sin is opposition to God. Sin that must be repented of before the Lord with true godly sorrow.  But you say, “Ed, I’m grieving! I’m hurting! It’s wrong! It’s so unjust and unfair! And I am the one that must repent?!” Yes and please do so quickly. Repentance is our friend leading us back to the Providential love of God.

2 Corinthians 7:9-11 (NKJV) Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. 

Now, when I respond to despair the right way, it always ends so much better than where it started. Hope is rekindled, help is on the way, when I turn to Him.  Forgiveness flows from repentance. God’s love is enjoyed once again!

Here are some biblical suggestions on responding to the despair in your life.

We must FORSAKE our thoughts of despair and exchange them for God’s thoughts. Because the spiritual warfare rages in the mind, and despair is rooted in how we think and feel, we have no choice except to turn from our false thoughts and exchange them for God’s thoughts.

Isaiah 55:7-11 (NKJV) Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. 

We must BRING our thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Despair leads a us away from the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ. Despair literally fills our hearts and minds with falsehoods against God who loves us and gave Himself for us.

Philippians 4:4-7 (NKJV) Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

We must THINK on and MEDITATE on the truth! While we submit our despair in all it’s reality to the Lord of hope, we must match that submission with meditation upon the goodness of God. He is faithful.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV) Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

We must REMEMBER the sufficiency of God’s Word for us and to us. God’s Word, above all else, is our foundation for life. Despair leads us away from His Word and to our own feelings. Keep strong in His word.  We must continue, as hard as it may be, in the things in which we have learned and been assured of.

2 Tim 3:14-17 (NKJV) But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

We must RELY upon His faithfulness, His strength, His promises. Handling grief, mourning and despair is not something we are able to do in our how human strength. What is impossible with man, though, is possible with God.  Remember the Lord, strong and mighty, fighting on your behalf.

Colossians 1:9-12 (NKJV) For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 

What joy comes to our hearts when His Word is opened to our souls and we gain His understanding!

“We don’t grieve hopelessly we grieve hopefully. For the Christian, life on earth is as bad as it gets. Better things are coming.” Pastor Greg Laurie

We have great demands, but Christ has great supplies. Between here and heaven, we may have greater wants than we have yet known. But all along the journey, every resting place is ready; provisions are laid up, good cheer is stored, and nothing has been overlooked. The commissary of the Eternal is absolutely perfect.

Do you sometimes feel so thirsty for grace that you could drink the Jordan dry? More than a river could hold is given to you, so drink abundantly, for Christ has prepared a bottomless sea of grace to fill you with all the fullness of God. Do not be frugal. Do not doubt your Savior. Do not limit the Holy One of Israel. Be great in your experience of His all–sufficiency. Be great in your praises of His bounty, and in heaven you will pour great treasures of gratitude at His feet. — Charles Spurgeon