Have you ever felt despair? I’m not talking about depression or sadness, but real despair. The kind that makes you seriously consider if life is worth continuing. I can only think of three times in my life I have felt real despair. Once was as a very young teenager. I went to an authority figure pleading for help and protection from physical danger, but no help came. The other two times were as an adult. As a young person I kept going because I was an optimist. I used to be the kind of person who was genuinely surprised that publishers clearinghouse didn’t show up to award me a million dollars, even though I hadn’t even entered. So, plugging along with the hope that things would change was natural to me. I was sure given a few years my life circumstances would change and things would get easier. After all, I could move away for college. As an adult all I had to do was think of my children. That is reason enough to keep going. However, none of those reasons stop the feelings of despair. Though someone can have a reason to keep going, they need an even better reason to keep going with quality. Do you just survive or do you live? How do you keep going when you can’t muster up hope?
There was once an Old Testament Prophet, who was feeling some despair himself. Well…there were several of them actually…but I’m only going to talk about one: Habakkuk.
Habakkuk lived in Israel during a time of great unrighteousness. Everywhere he turned he saw corruption and immorality. As a matter of fact, the first line of his book is, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.” Often that is what despair feels like, a huge burden that weighs you down and aches even down to your joints and sinews. Listen to some of the pain in his voice,
“O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!
even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!
Why does thou shew me iniquity and cause me to behold grievance?
……the wicked doth compass about the righteous.”
Have you ever felt that way? I have, and currently still do. Joseph Smith did too. In liberty jail he cried out, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth Thy hiding place?” It is very hard to feel alone. It is worse to wonder if even God, the one being who can be trusted, has abandoned you too. That would say horrible things about your worth if even the almighty, all loving God no longer cared about you.
The Lord heard Habakkuk’s plea and answered him. But, as God so often does He answered in a way Habakkuk never would have imagined in even his worst nightmare.
God replied, “I will work a work in your days,
which ye will not believe, though it be told you.
For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation,
which shall march through the breadth of the land,
to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.”
Heavenly Father told Habakkuk He is not as unaware and uninvolved as He was being accused. Already He had the Chaldeans ready to swoop in for judgment. Now think about that. The Chaldeans (we know them as the Babylonians) were a horrible nation. Their king, Neduchadnezzar, had no regard for human life. Even God described them as “terrible and dreadful” (vs. 7). I’ve taught the book of Daniel a few times and the background information I’ve learned about the despicable Nebuchadnezzar is enough to make you sick. You can imagine how Habakkuk felt about that news. Really, Heavenly Father, Nebuchadnezzar? That is who you’ve chosen for the judgment of the unrighteous? He’s worse than the whole lot in Israel. That hardly seems fair. God, you must realize that he will not distinguish between the righteous and unrighteous. The entire nation will be destroyed.
He expressed his concern to God, and I’ll be honest with you I love the way Habakkuk thinks.
“Art Thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die.
O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and , O Mighty god,
Thou hast established them for correction.
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity;
wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and beholdest
Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?
…..I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower,
and will watch to see what He will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.”
To sum it up, he said, how can you, a Holy, pure God use horribly wicked people, to judge less wicked people? It seems evil to turn your people over to the Babylonians, even though they’ve sinned. Yet, Habakkuk knew that a holy god must have a holy reason. That is why his last sentence said, I will sit back and listen to how you reprove me.
God gently admonishes Habakkuk throughout chapter 2, telling him to have patience. He reminds Habakkuk that the just shall live by faith. Habakkuk must trust God. He must believe that God is righteous and doeth everything in righteousness. God also told him of the dreadfulness of sin. The final chapter of Habakkuk is his prayer. He asked God that in His wrath would He also remember mercy. Then He rehearses the acts and character of God, and comes to a conclusion as to how he, Habakkuk, will live the rest of his life. His conclusion, which I’ll explain in a moment, is the best answer for all of us, who like the prophets of old, occasionally must live in the midst of despair.
Many of you have read my conversion story. You remember it cost me greatly to become a Mormon. What you don’t know is that my second year as a Mormon caused me almost equally great pain and turmoil. Not because of Mormonism, but because of the unrighteous actions of someone I trusted & loved greatly. It has been a difficult year. Then last week some new trials popped into my life. One was fiscal. I’m losing $500.00 per month in income and realized that someone else I thought was trustworthy, had in all likelihood been using me taking advantage of me for the last few months. Now I would need to find another job in order to properly care for my family. For someone who already works four part time jobs that idea is distressing.
I had just gotten home from work the evening I learned this. I’d been home about 5 minutes when a process server showed up at my door. My ex-husband is suing me. It will cost me more to defend myself than it would if I just gave him everything he wanted, but if I don’t stand up to him, he’ll just keep pulling this kind of garbage. (OK, vent over). I broke down completely after reading the papers I was served. Sounds dumb, I know. After all I’ve been through the last 5 years you’d think I could take something like this in stride, but I couldn’t. It was like the final straw on a very weary and weak back.
Pouring out my heart to God I asked what more He wanted of me. Why did it seem like the more I strove to honor and obey Him, the harder life became? Was it worth it to keep doing my best to honor a God who didn’t seem to care one whit about my and my children’s lives. Every day is a struggle and the more I strive to become righteous, the harder life gets. Sometimes it seemed that the more righteous I tried to behave, the more the wicked got away with things and I was seemingly punished. I didn’t think I could keep going. I’d live of course, for the sake of my children, but wasn’t sure how I would strive any longer.
At that very moment a gentle voice whispered into my ear. Why do you serve God, Annmarie? Are you doing it for rewards? Are you doing it for glory? Are you doing it for ease? If so, that isn’t really working out for you, is it?
I thought about that for most of that night. I couldn’t sleep because of all the stress I felt anyway. Throughout the evening the story of Habakkuk came to my mind. I haven’t read that book in a few years, but the story was as fresh and alive as if I’d read it that morning. I came to some conclusions. I serve God because I love Him. I serve Him because I wouldn’t feel right or natural doing anything else. I’m His child and have been since before the world was created. I will not be okay doing anything other than filling the measure of my creation. I do not serve Him for rewards or glory. God was right. The just live by faith. I had to make a decision-again- to live that way as well.
Do I believe God is righteous? Do I believe God will do things with my best interest at heart? Can I trust Him? Does He deserve my love? The answer to all these questions is yes. Therefore I can do nothing other than come to the same conclusion as Habakkuk.
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines;
the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat;
the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet,
and He will make me to walk upon mine high places.”
I serve God because it is the right thing to do. I will, even in my despair, look to Him to give me strength. He will make my feet steady. He will give me the endurance. I will trust Him to be an anchor to my soul, that I can fulfill with my life, as it says in Ether 12:4.
“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety of hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”
For that is the reason I serve Him. I hope to glorify God. With prayer and grace, I can do that while living in poverty or wealth, while being loved or used and mistreated. The circumstances of my life do not make my goal any harder or easier, therefore I will strive not to lose site. I serve God because I love Him. I want to bring Him glory.
If that is true, than I shouldn’t waver just because life is a struggle. I should dip my head out of the feelings of despair that overwhelm and seek to drown me. I will look to my Heavenly Father in reverence, trust, and faith.