When it seems that there are no rational answers to explain our deepest despair, we don’t want to hear trite explanations. I knew that John in his situation did not want me to give a justifiable response to his question, “So tell me, Chaplain, what is God’s great hope for me?”
My own tragic times of despair have taught me the value of empathetic silence and listening for the unspoken as well as the spoken. Numerous times people would try to encourage me and tell me, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. So, this will make you such a stronger person.” However, I felt like boiling up with anger and yelling, “I’m strong enough. Just let me die.”
Initially, as I sat with John in his deep despair, my heart’s response was to echo the deep hurt that I was hearing and to provide John with a time for lament. I did not want to be like Job’s “so-called friends” in Scripture who were simply miserable comforters. Giving a person in deep despair the safety and freedom to lament openly can bring tears of healing. The laments we hear in Scripture can also comfort us, because we learn that God desires us to be genuinely honest with our entire range of emotions.