The Bible’s Viewpoint

How to Cope With Despair

DESPAIR is common to all humans, at least to a degree. For some, however, feelings of despondency become so severe that death seems preferable to life.

The Bible shows that even faithful servants of God are not immune to problems and pressures that lead to despair. Consider, for example, Elijah and Job—both of whom enjoyed a good relationship with God. After fleeing for his life from wicked Queen Jezebel, Elijah “began to ask [Jehovah] that his soul might die.” (1 Kings 19:1-4) The righteous man Job experienced a series of tragedies, including a loathsome disease and the death of ten children. (Job 1:13-19; 2:7,8) His despair caused him to state: “I would prefer death to all my sufferings.” (Job 7:15, The New English Bible) Clearly, anxiety had become quite intense for these faithful men of God.

For some today, despair may stem from the painful effects of aging, the death of a mate, or serious financial difficulties. Others find that relentless stress, lingering effects of a traumatic experience, or family problems make them feel as if they were floundering in the middle of the ocean, with each wave making it harder to reach the shore. One man stated: “You feel a sense of worthlessness—as though no one will miss you once you are gone. The loneliness one feels is at times unbearable.”

In some cases circumstances change for the better, relieving this intense pressure. But what if our circumstances will not change? How can the Bible help us to cope with despair?

The Bible Can Help

Jehovah had the ability and the power to sustain Elijah and Job through their difficulties. (1 Kings 19:10-12; Job 42:1-6) How  comforting that realization is for us today! The Bible states: “God is for us a refuge and strength, a help that is readily to be found during distresses.” (Psalm 46:1; 55:22) Though it may seem that feelings of despair are pulling us under, Jehovah promises that he will keep fast hold of us with his right hand of righteousness. (Isaiah 41:10) How can we avail ourselves of this assistance?

The Bible explains that through prayer “the peace of God that excels all thought will guard [our] hearts and [our] mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7) Because of our distress, we may see no way out of our problem. If we “persevere in prayer,” however, Jehovah can guard our hearts and minds, providing us with the strength we need to endure.—Romans 12:12; Isaiah 40:28-31; 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4; Philippians 4:13.

We will benefit by being specific in our prayers. Though our thoughts may be difficult to put into words, we should feel free to talk to Jehovah about what we feel and what we perceive is the root of the problem. We need to petition him for the strength to sustain us through each day. We have the assurance: “The desire of those fearing him [Jehovah] will perform, and their cry for help he will hear, and he will save them.”—Psalm 145:19.

In addition to praying, we must resist isolation. (Proverbs 18:1) Some have found strength in giving of themselves to others. (Proverbs 19:17; Luke 6:38) Consider a woman named Maria, * who not only battled with cancer but also experienced the loss of eight family members in just one year. Maria had to force herself to get out of bed and get back into a routine. She went out nearly every day to teach others about the Bible, and she regularly attended Christian meetings. Upon returning home, Maria’s feelings of distress would come back full force. However, by focusing on how she can help others, Maria is able to endure.

But what if we find it difficult to pray or cannot seem to pull ourselves out of isolation? In that case we must reach out for help. The Bible encourages us to turn to “the older men of the congregation.” (James 5:13-16) A man dealing with severe ongoing depression stated: “Sometimes talking to someone you trust helps ease the mind and calm the spirit, so that rational thinking prevails.” (Proverbs 17:17) Of course, when prolonged and intense despondency is indicative of a medical problem, appropriate professional assistance may also be needed. *Matthew 9:12.

Though no easy solutions exist, we should not underestimate God’s ability to help us cope with our problems. (2 Corinthians 4:8) Persisting in prayer, avoiding isolation, and getting qualified assistance will help us regain stability. The Bible promises that God will bring to a complete end the root causes of our intense despair. Christians are determined to rely on him while awaiting the day when these “former things will not be called to mind.”—Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:4.

[Footnotes]

^ par. 11 Not her real name.

^ par. 12 Awake! does not endorse any particular treatment. Christians should make sure that any treatment they pursue does not conflict with Bible principles. For more information, see The Watchtower of October 15, 1988, pages 25-9.