Desiring God Posts, Suffering with hope

The Light at the End of Ourselves – Walking the Valley of Despair


I’m weary — body, mind, and soul. Weary of waiting, weary of fighting for joy, weary of hoping for better days. If I’m honest, a sense of despair has increasingly clouded my view of life and left me wondering if the darkness will ever lift.

God’s word says that we are “perplexed, but not led to despair.” Why then do I feel such a deep sense of despair?

It’s now been a decade of navigating devastating neurological and physical illness in our family of six, along with financial stress brought on by ongoing medical costs. It’s been a season of grief and loss that my husband and I could never have anticipated when we took our vows.

However, as much as the major losses in life have caused a deep wrestling in my faith, it’s the “little” disappointments and struggles that often seem to be the final blows to my weary heart.

Sometimes, no matter how hard I fight for truth and try to push back the lies that constantly bombard my thoughts, despair seems to slowly seep in, distorting truth and clouding my perspective.

I have come to learn that, while there are seasons of suffering when we wonderfully sense the presence of the Christ infusing us with joy and peace in the midst of raging storms, we also walk through seasons when it feels as if the darkness is closing in on us, creating confusion, doubt, and despondency. We cry out to our Lord but he seems silent. We plead for relief, but the pain only intensifies. Suddenly, the God we thought we knew feels at odds with what our circumstances tell us.

Where are we to find the hope and motivation to press on when, in an earthly sense, we despair of life itself?

What Despair Is — and Isn’t

Some losses make us feel burdened beyond what we can bear. The apostle Paul, for instance, was no stranger to dark days:

We do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him, we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8–10)

How can Paul say that he despaired of life when only three chapters later he says that “we are perplexed, but not driven to despair?”

Although he despaired of life — even to the point of death — it brought about a greater purpose of relying solely upon Christ. Paul knew that ultimately, his earthly despair could never destroy his promised eternity.

Paul knew that we need never truly despair in the deepest and truest sense of the word. While we can acknowledge our earthly temptation to despair, and give ourselves time to grieve the loss and pain we’ve experienced, we choose to press on in the hope that we will ultimately be delivered — if not in this life, then in the one to come.

We fight for hope today because no earthly despair will ever be greater than our hope of God’s future grace.

Fight for Truth

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 things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

Death to our outer selves is excruciating at times. Fighting through chronic pain each day is exhausting. Watching my children battle sickness and struggle to make sense of this broken world can be heart-wrenching. Passing by beautiful homes like the one we once had stirs up sadness over what we’ve lost. And having to stop myself from chasing after my children in fear of losing my ability to walk because of a degenerating ankle bone causes me to grieve the life I always imagined I would have.

And yet, despite how much pain they’ve caused, these losses have brought a deeper understanding of the gospel, a growing eternal perspective, and a greater willingness to live radically for the sake of following Christ. I have one race to run and only by the grace of God will I run it well. Therefore, I can trust that Jesus Christ, the founder and perfecter of my faith, is using the very circumstances that tempt me to despair to ultimately give me greater life in him (Hebrews 12:1–2).

In his severe mercy, he brings me to the end of myself and teaches me to count these losses as eternal gain. He fills those empty and hurting places with more of himself. In his strength and with his promises, I can run with endurance as I fix my eyes on the prize of my glorious eternity. I run longing to be in the presence of my Savior, free from sin and suffering.

Guaranteed Hope in Despair

When suffering leaves you battling despair and hopeless, convinced that you will never know anything but the pain that aches within you, fix your eyes on the truth that Christ is worthy to be trusted because he has shown his love for you on the cross. He suffered and died, taking the punishment of sin that you deserve onto himself — offering you forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life in himself.

What we come to learn through suffering is that our greatest problem is not our hard circumstances but the sin that’s hidden in us. God allows and ordains hard circumstances for his purposes to squeeze us and reveal what is still inside of us, for our eternal good and for Christ’s glory.

No pain, loss, or suffering will ever separate us from the love of Christ. What the enemy intends for evil, we can be confident God will use to accomplish his good and loving purposes. For the believer, God allows us to work through our feelings of despair, that we might be stripped of our love for the world and every attempt to make it our home. In the process, while our outer selves waste away, our inner selves are renewed day by day, giving us a greater love for Christ which is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

When circumstances tempt you to despair of life itself, let it drive you toward a deeper hope in the gospel, greater dependence on Christ, and a stronger fight for faith in his future grace. One day, God will turn our mourning into dancing. He will. The darkness will be no more, and our faith will become sight. Hold firmly to the hope you have in Christ, strengthen your weary heart with the promises of God, and trust that the light will dawn again.

In His Strength,

Sarah Walton

hurts_medium.62ycfe4p32lgurjshoegogequhxiqninTo read more on the hope we have in suffering, you can purchase “Hope When It Hurts – 30 Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering” authored by Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell here or here.

Post Credit: [Desiring God]

9 thoughts on “The Light at the End of Ourselves – Walking the Valley of Despair”

  1. Sarah, I have been so blessed by your writing and book! I have been meaning to reach out to tell you so as God has given me an idea to bless your family. Could you send me an email that is private? My info is attached. Thank you, Kara


  2. Dearest Sarah,
    This is by far the most insightful and encouraging post I’ve ever read. I am always on the lookout for blogs that will speak to my heart and not only bring me comfort during this season of suffering I’ve been traveling through, but also offer me enlightenment so that I might learn how to navigate wisely.

    There was nothing that you wrote that did not touch on every thought that has been meandering through my mind for several weeks (more like years) now. Although I’ve been plagued with chronic pain for almost a decade due to an injury I incurred while in my teens my hardships increased in intensity when my husband lost his job in 2015. He was out of work for almost a year and although he now has work our lifestyle has changed drastically and our financial situation is still unstable.

    These troubles in and of themselves would be most distressing to anyone, but it is the relational losses that cut most deeply. My extended family have for years now chosen to estrange themselves from me for reasons that have never been clear. None are believers, but we continue to hope that the unconditional love we’ve showed them will not come back void.

    It’s difficult to explain in just a few words how my relationship with my only child got to be so broken. My 3rd grandchild was born in early August and I’ve yet to see her. They live nearby, but we’ve not been communicating since they have expressed their troubles with us. Mostly me. We are fairly sure this dreadful dilemma stems from issues like control and unresolved misunderstandings that we’ve tried (in love) to address several times, but have been unsuccessful. It seems as if everything we do is misconstrued as being hostile or intimidating. My husband and I both have consistently shown them love and grace throughout the entire 7 years this has been going on. This was extremely hard considering their lack of interest in our family, their constant cold and distant behavior towards us and their total lack of compassion. It’s beyond heartbreaking and it’s really pushed me to ask “Why is He allowing this to happen?”

    So after tears and tears this morning I come across your post. You write about feeling so full of despair that we think the darkness might never lift. I’ve cried out many days and nights now, “How much longer, Lord”? Silence can be so loud. I sometimes feel as if I can’t go another step without some form of relief and yet I know in my heart I will not ever give up. I will keep pressing on, moving. Maybe not forward, sometimes even backwards, but I am still always seeking Him in everything.

    The pain and loss is grievious and I can never seem to escape it’s presence. It’s everywhere and unrelenting, but I know why He allows this. Our flesh must be defeated if we are to become like Him. Since we ourselves don’t have the selflessness necessary to pursue this it must happen at His hands.

    “And yet, despite how much pain they’ve caused, these losses have brought a deeper understanding of the gospel, a growing eternal perspective, and a greater willingness to live radically for the sake of following Christ.”

    Although coming to this realization was truly, truly painful and I don’t claim to have arrived at the finish line, the truth I now know that was such a mystery before is such a divine blessing. It’s as if the viewing screen of understanding just expanded and my comprehension of exactly who He is and what that actually means has evolved into something so much bigger.

    “What we come to learn through suffering is that our greatest problem is not our hard circumstances but the sin that’s hidden in us.”

    Thank you Sarah for speaking the truth. This was what brought me to your blog this morning. I was wallowing in my daily ritual of self pity and my “poor me” attitude and I guess God grew weary of my grumbling because my eyes were opened to all the sin before me, my sin. I began to look hard at everything I did that contributed to the pain in my life.

    Because we lack self-awareness it’s hard for us to recognize our love for this world. I could accept that my dependence on doctors and money and employment for comfort and security were wrong and telling of my lack of trust in Him, but I had trouble understanding how the love for one’s child can be seen as being too attached to this earth. Then I read about Augustine and the “Reordering of our Loves”. He teaches us that we can love good things, but we cannot make them into “god things”. We must love God supremely. Jesus told us to, ” Seek ye first the kingdom of God”. There wasn’t an exception to this command. Everything else must come second to Him.

    I have enjoyed your blog for quite some time now and look forward to receiving each new post. I know there is a reason I’m on this harrowing journey. I struggle daily with pain and live with the loss of many dreams and my hope that in this latter season of life my loved ones might have offered me some joy seems to have vanished, but still I know Who my Father is. I know Who is my Source for all things. I know Who loves my soul. He is the God of all comfort and I will find my rest in Him.

    God bless you Sarah. He is with you in everything you write. Speak the truth in love and continue to share. You are a blessing and I hope and pray He shows favor upon you and your family.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about all that you are going through! I praise God for what he is doing in you through it, though. May he give us both the strength to press on one step a time, sister. Thank you for taking the time to share – and for the sweet encouragement!


  3. Thank you Sarah. I am also a mom of 4 and I am living with Lyme. Some days are good. Other days I am full of despair, as you describe. Thank you so much for your blog and for sharing hope!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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