There are many obstacles to living a holy life. We must overcome our environment, our past choices, and even our own natural inclinations. While our “fight or flight” nature defaults us to looking after our own self interest, the Christian life demands that we look outward first before tending to our own wants and desires. Perhaps the most difficult obstacle that we must overcome is to dispel the false nature of despair.
Despair is when we stop believing in God’s promise of mercy. It’s essentially a state that calls God a liar and all of His promises, worthless. There is no hope and no salvation. I am a bad person, I don’t deserve anything good, I, I, I, me, me, me. While despair wears the mask of reality, it's far from it. While it’s true that none of us are worthy of salvation, God in His goodness extends Himself through space and time to make us worthy. We are worthy not by our own merits, but by His. There’s always hope, there’s always salvation, and there’s always a way back.
Despair, like fear, resides in the darkness of our minds. It’s the loud, yet singular, voice telling us things what we first don’t believe, but we fall victim to the lies as we listen and give despair room to take root. It creeps, grows, and spoils the goodness within us. As we give despair more and more credence, we start to act on it, committing sin that we otherwise would have avoided. It’s a disastrous thought process that permits sin on the basis of prior sins committed. Like a storm surge over a breached flood wall, we’re overcome. Inundated, we feel helpless and trapped, and so we turn to the loudest voice in our minds. That voice isn’t the sound of God reaching out to save us, no that voice was tuned out long ago. Instead, it’s the voice of despair leading us deeper in the darkness as we continue to drown.
The nature of despair, however, is not the looming monster that we believe it to be. Rather, it’s as wispy as the morning fog. When the sun rises, it rapidly dissipates, leaving little trace of its existence. While we may walk into the confessional lost in the thick haze, the rays of God’s mercy banish the darkness leaving us squarely back in the light. The voice of despair remains, but now its strength has been supplanted by Truth itself.
Despair, however, refuses to be beaten. That characteristic is one that we should emulate. Like a colony of ants whose hill was just knocked over, it’s right back to work on its mission of deception. The only difference now, however, is that your defenses are back up. Filled with grace instead of drowning in despair, you’re prepared to see through the falsehoods and recognize despair for what it really is. We can never silence despair, but we can marginalize it to the point of inconsequence.
Of all of the challenges that we face in the spiritual life, none are more sinister than the silent killers. The negative thoughts that linger in our minds are those which will completely destroy us, if we let them. In times of despair, use logic and reason to recall that what God has promised, He has done. There is no cause to doubt or be concerned. Turn to Him, listen to Him, and follow Him.