As a lifetime Christian, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that when people are in despair, they just need to pray more. “Keep looking to Jesus,” they say. “God is still here.” “If you feel like you’re praying to a wall, He hasn’t left you, you’ve left Him.”
We can be in despair for different reasons. All of them are valid. Maybe you’re overwhelmed from being responsible for others. Maybe you’ve applied for the third time to the same program and have still been rejected. Or maybe you’re looking for work to no avail. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with an incurable chronic illness. Maybe you’re facing death or loneliness or all of the above.
Or maybe, you’re just sad.
And when you’re sad, being told to “pray more” just adds another item to the to-do list.
We talk about how toxic positivity is detrimental to our mental health, and yet, it still surrounds us in culture and in church.
The Bible is full of people in despair. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, David, Solomon.
This past week, I’ve been hanging out in Jeremiah. Jeremiah was in despair because he felt alone. In human terms, he was alone. Everyone around him hated him for being God’s mouthpiece. Listen to his lament in Jeremiah 15:16-18:
16 When I discovered your words, I devoured them.
They are my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.
17 I never joined the people in their merry feasts.
I sat alone because your hand was on me.
I was filled with indignation at their sins.
18 Why then does my suffering continue?
Why is my wound so incurable?
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook,
like a spring that has gone dry.
Have you asked God this exact question? “Why is this happening?”. At times, you’re in the middle of the desert, waiting for the rain. Sometimes we feel tricked when life turns sideways, or when it’s been sideways for a while, like the rain won’t ever come.
Sometimes we’re too distraught to say the words out loud, but we say them in our hearts.
And yet, God responds to this sadness with love, as we read in verses 19-20.
19 This is how the Lord responds:
“If you return to me, I will restore you
so you can continue to serve me.
If you speak good words rather than worthless ones,
you will be my spokesman.
You must influence them;
do not let them influence you!
20 They will fight against you like an attacking army,
but I will make you as secure as a fortified wall of bronze.
They will not conquer you,
for I am with you to protect and rescue you.
I, the Lord, have spoken!
We are upset, but God is fighting on our behalf.
Have you noticed how returning doesn’t require words? It requires bodily positioning. We don’t have to tell Him aloud how we’re feeling in that valley; He knows, and He’s fighting for us. He’s securing us as a wall of bronze, if we let Him.
So if you’re in this dry desert, that’s okay. I won’t tell you that you have to pray. I won’t tell you that you have to shout for the rain, and dance around in joy in the waiting. Some people find joy in exuberance. But you don’t. You don’t need to do another task on the list.
I will, though, remind you that He’s waiting with you. The rain is coming, and you don’t need to bring it.