What to do on moments of despair

Despair, noun:

utter loss of hope

We all feel a little bit of despair some times. I’m not talking about “I’ll fail my test tomorrow” problems, but real life situations. You discover you have a health problem, someone in your family dies, your partner loses her job. Or it can be something really small; you simply did something wrong and you feel terrible about it.

What should you do on moments of despair?

I have many defects: I complain way too much, I’m too strict with my routines, I’m not as polite with strangers as I’d wish. But I have one great quality: in moments of despair, I don’t resort to drinking, or gambling, or any other addiction. My first instinct when I feel really, really bad, is to pray.

It might seem strange for a nerd/productivity blogger like me to write this kind of post, but I’m feeling a great urge to share this message. My main goal with this blog is to help others, and there are times when an app, a book or a time-management technique won’t do it. And besides, if you really want to see a link between spirituality and productivity, consider that your mind is your work tool, and hence everything that you do to keep yourself in a state of calm is beneficial. Despair is not.

It’s been recently the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s death. Prayer was fundamental in that time, because it made me realize how little control I had: apart from yelling at the doctors to do more to help her (which I’m glad I didn’t), there was absolutely nothing I could do to prevent her death. She was old, she got sick, and then she was gone. But she had lived such a wonderful and fulfilling life, so her mission on Earth was accomplished. Despair would not help with anything, so I simply accepted the fact and became in peace.

One of the advantages of living abroad and attending Mass in another language is learning a new array of songs, and recently I listened to a wonderful piece called Lift up your hands. The central message summarizes what I’m trying to say with this little text: there is hope! There was someone who came down from heaven and teached us that God is not there to punish us, but to love us unconditionally. He will always be on our side.

So my advice for this post is this: when you feel bad, talk to God. It should be obvious by now that I’m Catholic, but I would guess that this message applies to other religions. Open yourself. Try this: write a letter to Him, stating everything you are feeling. If you’ve failed with someone, write an apology as if you were talking to this person, but asking first God for forgiveness. If a tragedy happened, be humble enough to realize there’s nothing you can do, and then ask for help. And in situations like this, stop thinking that you don’t deserve this, and that you should be in a better position — we know nothing about why these things happen! Open the Bible and see how many people came to Jesus asking for help, and how many times He replied: “I want you to be free/healed/resurrected” — not because these people deserved anything (we simply can’t know that), but because of God’s infinite goodness and forgiveness.

Believe me, realizing our smallness can be liberating: no matter what happens, you simply hold the hand of God and move on. Soon you will see that there are things you can do, and you begin to attack the problem as a capable human being, without being consumed by despair. But the first step might be to pray.

And of course, if the problem seems too big, and if praying doesn’t help with anything, you might need medical assistance, so don’t hesitate in seeking it.

One more thing.

I talked about opening yourself to God when you feel bad, but please don’t forget to say thanks when that feeling vanishes. Your wife got a new job? Excellent; now realize that’s also the fruit of God goodness and pray accordingly. I find chanting Psalms to be particularly useful in moments of joy.

If you are Christian, and even more if you are Catholic, refer to your local Parish to see if they offer Life and Prayer Workshops (available in many countries), where you learn how to pray and talk to God in these various situations. I was attending these workshops when my grandmother passed way, and I don’t know how I would react if it weren’t for them. These are truly life-changing experiences. I cannot recommend them enough.

Speaking from personal experience, the moments when I’m feeling better are the moments where I am the most intimate to God. And that is more important than talking about goals.


Por Fábio Fortkamp

Pai do João Pedro, Marido da Maria Elisa, Professor do Departamento de Engenharia Mecânica da Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina, católico devoto, nerd

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