Sunday, July 1, 2007

Despair: When Spiritual Anguish Causes Physical Pain

Save me, O God, for the waters have threatened my life. I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched; my eyes fail while I wait for my God.” – Psalm 69:1-3 (NASB)

A dear one of mine is, through no event of her own causing, suffering in the dark night of despair. Her pain is so deep she has withdrawn from interacting with us. Yes, she is a Christian, and yes, she knows that God is with her through her suffering. But that knowledge doesn’t lessen the real pain she is enduring.

I admit I am at a loss to know what I am to do to help. My prayers are absolutely necessary. I keep our rare conversations light and neutral. Sweet little homilies about God’s will are the last things she needs to hear. Those who have never really endured this depth of suffering have no perception of how dark the brightest day is in the midst of it.

I am entirely offended by those who would say that if she is “prayed up,” or “in right relationship with God,” she wouldn’t be suffering so. Look at what David, the man after God’s own heart, had to say in Psalm 69. He equated his pain to drowning, his suffering to a sense of approaching death. His description of no foothold is real to anyone who has gotten in water over her head with no solid place to put her foot. The battle to stay afloat is physically and mentally draining. Even the surge of adrenaline caused by the desire to survive leaves one weak and exhausted when it subsides. There is little more frightening than being overwhelmed by the realization of the uselessness of one’s own power in the face of nature’s strength.

David spoke of his exhaustion and physical pain from his crying. His very soul was suffering. He knew that God was aware of his suffering. He realized that God would work in His own time. “But as for me, my prayer is to You, O Lord, at an acceptable time; O God, in the greatness of Your lovingkindness, answer me with Your saving truth.” – Psalm 69:13. That knowledge did not stop David from crying out begging for relief.

He repeatedly asked God to intervene. It is obvious that his prayers were not answered immediately even though he confessed his own faults and sins: “O God, it is You who knows my folly, and my wrongs are not hidden from You.” – Psalm 69:5. He acknowledged God’s sovereignty: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation. God is to us a God of deliverances; and to God the Lord belong escapes from death.” – Psalm 69:19-20. This would lead me to believe that he was “prayed up” and in “right relationship” with God. His conversation with God was an ongoing plea for relief with a true yielding to God’s will and timing.

David was also well aware that others were watching him in his suffering. Even in the midst of his pain, he asked God to protect them from doubting Him. “May those who wait for You not be ashamed through me, O Lord God of hosts; may those who seek You not be dishonored through me, O God of Israel.” – Psalm 69:6. David’s suffering was caused by circumstances outside of his own influence and he could do nothing to ease his own pain, yet he was able for this brief moment to look outside the dark tunnel of despair and pray for those who looked to him as an example. How hard it must have been for him to rise up to that point and ask that!

We see David suffering and praying through Psalms 70 and 71 also. Reading these passages would lead one to believe there seemed no end of pain in sight for him. But not so according to his own words: “For You are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth. By You I have been sustained from my birth; You are He who took me from my mother’s womb; my praise is continually of You.” – Psalm 71:5-6. David affirmed his hope in God in these verses.

He still goes on to plead for relief but his pleas are based on what he has seen God do in the past. No matter the intensity of this present pain, God has always been faithful to him. “You who have shown me many troubles and distresses will revive me again, and will bring me up again from the depths of the earth. May you increase my greatness and turn to comfort me.” – Psalm 71:20-21.

My dear one is still deeply immersed in the mire of her despair. The end of her suffering is far away and the pain is intense. But she is a child of God and ultimately He will bring her to the sunshine of His blessedness again. He has promised this and He is the righteous God who keeps His word. Following David’s example, I continually pray for her strength and for those around her that they will see His mighty hand deliver her and come to know Him more fully.

First printed July 2007 in The Freedom Reader, a publication of Spring Valley Freedom Bapist Church, Huntington, WV.

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