It was dark. Frantically he searched for safety. Everything around him seemed so frightening. Shadows. Strange noises.
“How did I get here?”
“What if I can’t find my way out?”
“This is probably my own fault.”
“Where is God?”
“Why is He punishing me?”
“He must be so tired of me doing stupid things.”
“I knew better but I still screwed up.”
“What if I can’t find my way out of here?”
“What will happen to my kids?”
“What did I do to deserve this?”
“He’s punishing me for what I did when I was 20.”
“It never changes.”
“Every time things seem like they’re getting better something happens and it just gets worse.”
“God is punishing me.”
“I deserve it.”
“How can I expect God to help me when I’m such a loser?”
“I can’t take it any more.”
Sound familiar? Most of us have been there at one time or another. Tough times. Depressed feelings. Afflictions that seem to happen one after the other. Life seems to happen that way. It’s like we enter seasons of suffering: illness, family strife, financial pressure, problems with our kids. It can really pile on and feel overwhelming. We may feel isolated. We’ve reached out to friends in the past but we feel they may be tired of us by now. We don’t want to be a burden to them. So we hold it in and we tumble around in our thoughts. And sometimes, we do reach out and not knowing what to say, a friend or family member says the wrong thing and we feel even worse. The thoughts ramp up. We isolate. No one understands.
These may be normal feelings and thoughts to have. Talking about them can be helpful. But very often they’re more than thoughts. They’re temptations. Traps the evil one uses to seduce us into dark alleys where he can destroy us. We need to recognize these thoughts as the temptations that they are. Sure, the feelings are normal…but the evil one is a master at reading our feelings and then fanning the flames of despair until he has us cornered. It’s a game for him…a wicked one and God’s people are the unwitting pawns he moves around his chess board.
The truth is that he has no power. Like a dog on a chain, he can bark and growl and show his teeth but he can’t harm anyone unless they get too close. Now of course, most wouldn’t approach a barking and growling dog with his fangs exposed. Satan knows that. So he’s more subtle as he lures you in. It’s those negative thoughts that he uses.
So what should you do when experiencing such despair?
First and foremost, label it for what it is. It’s temptation. It’s an evil and unholy thought that will get you trapped if you follow it. Make a turn. Don’t go there. If you’re halfway down the alley, stop, and turn around. Shine a light to dispel the darkness. Jesus is the Light that came into the world. His name, spoken aloud brings Light into the darkness and sends the demons packing. They simply cannot abide His presence. Call out the Name that is above all names.
Make use of Scripture, the inspired word of God. “[God’s] word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) When walking through a dark alley or the proverbial dark valley, you need a light to see one step ahead of you to avoid tripping or falling into a hole. You may not be able to see the way out, but God will help you one step at a time through His word. Read it out loud if you can. Even if you don’t feel your feelings changing, continue to read it out loud. There’s a twofold purpose…not only to encourage you but to discourage the discourager who is busy using your words to trap you. Remember when Jesus was tempted in the desert? He didn’t take Satan’s bait by answering him directly but answered him with scripture. Do the same.
Reach out to someone. God didn’t make us islands unto ourselves. We need one another. Call a friend, a counselor, or a priest. Phone a crisis hotline or prayer line if you can’t find anyone else to talk to. Identify your problem for what it is – despair and temptation. Looking for answers for your underlying problem is certainly natural but when you’re in despair and being tempted to give up, then the first thing you need to do is call off the dogs that are attacking you. Tell someone you just need them to listen, to care, and to pray. They may not be able to solve your problem or even know what to say. Let them know they don’t have to. They just need to be present and care and pray.
Pray for peace. While it’s understandable that we pray for a solution to whatever the problem or problems are that are causing us such distress, the first thing you need to ask for is peace…God’s peace that surpasses all understanding. God can help you to find peace in the midst of the storm and He can help you find answers to your problems. But when we allow ourselves to be battered about by the waves, it’s harder to make the right decisions. Ask Him to calm the storm going on inside you and help you to listen to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the answer that we’re praying for may be the wrong answer in the long term for us. For example, after a broken engagement we may be praying fervently for the one who ended the relationship to come back and try again. That may or may not be the best thing for you in the long run. As long as we’re attached to the solutions that we want, we hinder God’s ability for giving us the blessings that He knows will make us happiest in the long run.
Enlist your guardian angel. You may not be able to see or hear your angel directly but it’s a fact of our faith that each of us is given a heavenly protector. Ask for their help. Ask for their comfort. You’re truly not alone.
Make a plan. Emotions can be tumultuous so get a rational hold by coming up with a plan. If it’s a job you need, write down the criteria and a list of prospective employers. Make a list of people who may be able to recommend you. Get on Craig’s list and other job sites. If your heart’s desire is to be married, write down the ways to meet new people. List friends and associates who may have other friends they can introduce you to. If emotional issues have stood in your way, start therapy and work on them. Being the right person is as important as meeting the right one. Whatever it is, break the plan down into smaller goals and action steps that are manageable on a daily basis. Working with a coach can help you to set the right goals and formulate an action plan to help you reach them.
Be thankful. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Believe it or not, even this darkness is part of God’s mysterious plan for your good. By saying “Thank you Jesus for everything, even this challenge” you unleash God’s power in your life. It also helps to change your perspective and cause you to look for the hidden blessings within the challenge.
Take a break. That may seem like the last thing you should do. You feel you must stay on your problem until it’s resolved. Wrong. Work out your plan, do what you can do and then let God do the rest. Once your plan is broken into daily actions steps, once you complete them each day, take a break. You planted the seeds and now leave it to God. Do something you enjoy. Watch your favorite inspiring movie. Try a good comedy. Breaking the tension with laughter has a therapeutic effect. Help someone else. You may feel powerless over your own situation but you may be a big help in answering someone else’s prayers. Tomorrow is another day and you will work your plan again. Constantly focusing on your problem will not help. In fact, it will likely hinder you more. Change the channel.
Persevere. I read recently that most people in a shipwreck die very close to shore. Because they couldn’t see the shore through all of the waves, they gave up swimming. Resolve never to give up. Pray for the grace of perseverance. When the evil one pulls out all the stops to discourage you, you are probably closer than you think to victory. Simply never give up.
Take God’s words to heart…”For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Trust.
God really does love you.
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