Who Owns My Life? – Peter
Pain and anguish tear at my heart, the only relief from this world to part. Knife at wrist, mind’s relief—it does send the thought of pain soon to an end.
These opening words of Peter’s poem express despair about his life. I share them because Peter’s story may at some point link with yours. In this time of world-wide pandemic from the coronavirus, especially as death statistics mount, businesses remain shuttered and normal social relationships are limited, you also may be tempted to despair. Here we’ll look at Peter’s despair. In a future blog, I’ll explain how Peter found hope in despair.
How Did Peter Arrive At Despair?
Setbacks piled up. Peter had dreamed he and his wife would teach together in a Christian ministry. But after his marriage ended, so did that dream. Another factor: “I never resolved my divorce,” he said. One reason for that failure—the church. “At that time,” he said, “churches didn’t know what to do with divorced people. I felt church people abandoned me. I determined never to be part of a church again.” As a result, Peter turned to drinking, partying, and having a good time. But after his second marriage also ended, “divorce devastated me,” Peter said.
“From childhood, my father taught me responsibility for myself and for my family. As a result, I worked hard to provide for and to protect my family.” He worked decades for a company with a recognizable brand name. He looked forward to a comfortable retirement. But after his second divorce, “I thought I would have to work the rest of my life,” he said. “I paid alimony. I no longer dreamed of retirement.” That divorce required division of his property. Forced to give up a home in suburbs, their vacation home on a lake, two motorcycles, and two luxury cars, Peter felt little hope. “The vacation home,” he said, “meant a place of retreat not only for my family, but also for important friends. With my divorce, I lost that. I lost friends, even one couple who had been in our wedding.” As losses to Peter mounted, he needed to find hope in despair.
Peter faced the loss of dreams of a comfortable retirement, possessions, and relationships. At first, he recommitted himself to his job with a six-figure salary. “I felt proud of providing my wife and family financial security,” he said. “But after divorce, my previous need to protect and provide meant nothing— a huge loss. The job didn’t matter.” Having to give up cars, houses, and dreams created “a lot of loss,” Peter said. But after the divorce, he also feared losing another important family relationship.
As movers removed his wife’s belongings, Peter says, “I made a decision to keep the hose to a sump pump just in case.” It fitted the tailpipe and extended long enough to reach into a car window. Prepared, Peter’s losses culminated in one particular night of despair. “Suicide became a real possibility,” he says “I planned a dress rehearsal to see what suicide would be like—if I could do it. I focused on ending all the pain. I saw death as a welcome relief.” But how will Peter find hope in despair?
Despair in Job
It sounds trite to say that we’re not the only one to face such a momentous, fearful, and life-threatening decision. For one thing , knowing others have faced similar struggles, however, and have come out the other side, can encourage us to hang on just a little longer. For another, our delay provides opportunity for longer-term help—and our survival. Faith didn’t protect several major Bible figures from despair, either, yet they survived temporary feelings of hopelessness to serve God and others. Although Elijah asks the Lord to take his life, and Jonah and Jeremiah ask to die, Job expresses the most intense, prolonged despair. His words in chapter 3 reveal someone who, like Peter, lost all hope.
Finding Hope In Despair
After the reports of devastation, Job remained steadfast in God’s defense—at first. “Shall we accept good from God and not evil?” he asked his wife in chapter 2. Stunned, unable to respond on an emotional level, initially Job clings to what he knows: he trusts God. Perhaps some painful experience has you stunned. You don’t know what to say, what to think, or how to feel, let alone what to do. So you hold on to what you already know. You stick with what you already believe. That helps hold you together—for now. Eventually, however, in a delayed response, as you begin to feel your distress more, like Job, an inner volcano rumbles. Soon, you may be unable to hold back. Like Peter and Job, we are all prone to despair.
With the aid of friends, time, and silence Job finally begins to feel his tragedies. In Job chapter 3, he erupts with a blast of red-hot verbal magma, the lava of despair. He speaks for many who’ve lost hope. What he says doesn’t sound pretty—or spiritual. He may speak for you.
From Chapter 4, Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours (2015). This book is available on this website and at Amazon.com.