We’ve been cooped up now for several weeks and many of you haven’t had any real significant social contact in all that time. Some of you are not only cooped up, but laid off. Perhaps you have applied for unemployment benefits because your company has essentially shut down. Others of you own businesses and you’re beginning to wonder if you’ll even survive the economic downturn caused by the restrictions in place because of this pandemic. Many wonder if they’ll catch the dreaded virus and die.
For others, despair is starting to nibble around the edges of their thinking. You feel a sense of hopelessness overtaking you and, like a tire with a slow leak, you get a little lower every day. Whatever you might call it, you sense that you’re losing hope; the world is grey, you have a hard time enjoying life, you just can’t seem to get motivated. What can you do when you start despairing, when hope seems so elusive?
Is It the Pandemic, or Something Else?
The first thing you must do is recognize that the events of this pandemic are not causing you to despair! You cannot draw a straight line from events to your emotions. You see, something intrudes itself between those events and your feelings of hopelessness. It is your interpretation of those events. The circumstances of this pandemic must first pass through the grid of interpretation before you feel despair or discouragement. Have you noticed friends who seem unaffected? They experience the same things you are yet seem happy. How can that be? Because they interpret those same events differently.
What are you saying to yourself? In some sense your heart says to you, “These events mean…” Think carefully. What exactly are you saying to yourself that produces this despair? These events mean, “My job is ending, the company will not recover and who knows what kind of hardship will result.” These events mean, “Life will never be the same again, I know it.” “With the fluctuations in the stock market, my retirement funds have been destroyed and I’m not going to be able to do what I had planned on doing.” “The life that I once enjoyed will no longer be possible.” Think about it. What is your despair telling you?
How can you defeat despair in these difficult circumstances? You already know the answer: Change the interpretation of your circumstances! This doesn’t mean that we have to rely on surface-level platitutdes like, “We’re all in this together and we’ll make it through,” because that may be a false interpretation. The fact is, your job just may disappear, and life may not be the same. No, you must incorporate interpretations based on the character and revelation of God, that is, interpretations that are true and certain.
Interpreting the Right Way
If you would have a true interpretation of present events, then remind yourself of the promises of God. Here’s a promise to recall from Hebrews 13: “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” No matter what happens in life, God will never, ever leave or forsake you. Notice this promise comes in response to worries about money. Maybe you need to learn to be content with what you have and forget about all the things you would buy with the money you were going to earn. You have something better—God Himself. Learn to enjoy Him rather than all the stuff you can accumulate. Unlike wealth, you can possess Him, for He will never leave. He makes this promise to people who fear what others can do to them. Isn’t that what fuels your despair—you fear what others in management may decide to do that may end the comfort in your life? The Lord is your helper and He will never leave you. So, refuse to think, “This means the end of the good life I’ve enjoyed,” and instead remember that the loss of material things and the harm that others may inflict, are the times when God will show Himself to be your faithful companion and helper.
There’s another interpretation that should help you navigate away from despair. One interpretation that will drive you to despair is, “Your best life is now!” Now that interpretation will certainly rob you of hope. God clearly says, “Your best life later!” God has promised us eternal joy, free from sin and its curse, when we inhabit a glorious new earth. You must see this present life, with its anguish, hardship, heartache, unpredictability (and yes, pandemics) as temporary and look to the eternal. Those folks whom the writer to the Hebrews addressed knew about losing what seemed precious. They were finding out the hard way that “your best life now,” was a lie. The writer describes the situation of these people in Hebrews 10:32-34. They suffered persecution, imprisonment, the confiscation of their property, and public ridicule. But they could handle it because they knew that better and lasting possessions awaited them.
This pandemic may cause the loss of your comfort and life may not be the same. But that is no reason for despair. Look to the future, to the time when you have better and lasting possessions. The Apostle Paul, addressing the very issue of hopelessness wrote in 2 Corinthians 4, “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Refuse to think, “My best life is gone for good,” and instead think, “Life in this pandemic with all its losses is but light and momentary. Something better, something glorious, something eternal, is yet mine to possess.” That’s the proper interpretation of what you’re facing.
Here’s another God-given interpretation. “This pandemic means that God loves you.” This interpretation comes from that familiar passage, Hebrews 12:4-7. To the same people who suffered ridicule, jail, and the confiscation of their property, God says, “Look, all of these hardships are discipline and discipline means I love you. It’s evidence that you are my children.” Yes, it’s true. Any hardship you suffer comes from the hand of a Father who loves you. God clearly says that any hardship in life has been tailor-made for you in order that you grow, because He later says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (v. 11). So, as you look at this pandemic, refuse to think, “We’re doomed to a grey existence now that we’ve lost so much,” and instead give it the proper interpretation, “God loves us and He’s brought this horrendous virus to us in order for us to know the greater peace of righteousness.” You see, God intends His people who suffer to find hope and He accomplishes that through suffering, as you look at it the proper way.
So, get to work. What is your despair telling you and how will you answer it? Start the all-important task of interpreting your circumstances through the lens of Scripture. Fight despair.