Despair is perhaps the greatest of crimes against the human
spirit. It cries out that our world is not great enough to
overcome the darkness that surrounds our heart. It rips
from God and the universe the possibility of redemption. It
robs us of hope.
Who knows the moment when deep sadness turns to despair and
the flickering light of possibility is snuffed out, leaving
us to sit numbly before the dark march of meaningless time?
When despair comes across a person, there is no logic, no
word of consolation, that can offer meaningful balm. The
despairing soul sits empty eyed, neither seeing nor caring.
All words of consolation clatter like dry bones upon the
I've learned something deep about despair and what it means
to offer hope. It is the gift of our presence that the
despairing soul needs, no more, no less. When we sit with
someone in despair, we are sitting in vigil. We cannot
reach their consciousness with ours nor can we offer
consolation that will touch their darkness. Despair is a
sickness of the soul. If the despairing soul is to heal, it
will do so on its own. The greatest gift we have to offer
is our selfless and solitary witness. For when we stand
vigil with the despairing spirit, more than anything else we
are denying the emptiness into which the spirit wishes to
plunge. By our presence we are affirming a worth that
spirit does not feel. We are bearing witness to a
possibility in which the spirit does not believe. We are
defying the darkness.
To do this is not easy. It is very, very difficult. There
is a temptation to want to say something, anything. But
there is nothing to say that will help. Or we want to do
something, anything, and the reality is that there is no
action we can do that will relieve their pain. This is a
time when sitting quietly next to someone, perhaps taking
their hand in ours if they wish or listening to them if they
wish to speak, is the best we can do.
The hope we offer is the simple presence of another spirit,
less overwhelmed with darkness, that refuses to withdraw its
light. This may not seem like hope. It may not seem like
anything at all. But against true despair, only a strong and
courageous spirit can stand. After all, even the disciples
abandoned Jesus at his greatest moment of darkness and
doubt. If we are able to stay with someone at their time of
darkness and doubt and simply bear witness, we are
performing a holy act, and the wounded heart will know. By
the mute testimony of our presence, we are saying, "You are
a child of God and you matter". And that is sometimes
enough to make a wounded heart turn back, if only for a
moment, and feel the presence of the light.