Avoiding the Pit of Despair

As I began to write, one of the first things that came to mind was an experience Christian had in the classic, Pilgrim’s Progress. You may recall that in his journeys, accompanied by Pliable, they fell into what was referred to as the “slough of despond”. What a dark picture that paints! Even prior to looking up the definitions, this phrase just makes one feel depressed!

A slough is often compared to a bog, or a mucky area of land something like a swamp or quicksand. The more you struggle, the faster you sink. But it can also refer to a despondent, depressed, extremely sad mental state. There are a number of reasons that I believe widows, in particular, can fall prey to depression, despondency, and perpetual sadness. In this post, I’d like to take a look at three of them and make some suggestions as to how we can avoid these murky emotional traps.

The first that I see many widows struggling with is isolation. Many in our culture experienced prolonged isolation during the Covid 19 lockdowns a couple of years ago, but widows can be very prone to getting stuck here. We’ve discussed previously the differences between loneliness, solitude, and isolation. It’s a generally accepted statistic that widows typically lose 75% of their entire friend/support base. Again, there are lots of reasons for this, but try to get your mind around losing 3 or every 4 relationships in your life. Loneliness feeds this cycle and leads to isolation which causes more loneliness which causes more isolation. We find ourselves saying “No” even when friends do remember to include us in invitations! It just takes too much energy to get dressed, go out, and interact with people….energy we just don’t have. So, we sit home….alone….watching too much TV….and letting our brains slowly cease to function.

Isolation leads us to the second emotional bog: relationships. Relationships change when our husbands die. Some people simply were his friends or co-workers and we rarely see them anymore. Family relationships, particularly with blended families, can become very difficult and challenging to navigate. Some may no longer be included as part of the extended family. Friendships with couples can become awkward – even long-standing ones. Our relationships with men require more creative management. Finding and building new friendships takes energy we may not have.

The third emotional swamp generally results from not handling the first two very well: ruminating. Sometimes we can just think too much! Ruminating is that process of chewing something over and over and over in our minds. Every time we think about our painful experiences related to the death of our spouse, we relive the pain and it becomes more deeply grooved into the emotional processing area of our brain.

Most of us go through a season of days, weeks, months…maybe even years…where we experience those periodic waves of grief. The pain of the loss lessens with time, but it never really goes away completely. However, if we spend too much time just thinking and remembering, we can become overwhelmed with the memories of what we used to have…and no longer have. Filling our minds and hearts with painful memories and sad feelings just doesn’t leave any room for God to bring new things into our lives.

So, how do we avoid sinking into the “slough of despair”? The first step is to be intentional about not isolating. Keep an eye on how much time you’re spending alone, as well as how many invitations you’re turning down! When you find yourself saying “no” a little too often, it’s time to evaluate whether you’re isolating and start saying “yes”!

Second, don’t take the loss of friendships and relationships personally. There can be many reasons that people move on through our lives. Instead, focus your energy on finding and building new relationships. There are lots of people out there just waiting to know you!

And third, don’t allow yourself to spend too much time just sitting and thinking about what used to be. Experiencing the pain and loss over and over will not be helpful. God’s plan is to give you a future and a hope! Rather than living in the past that no longer exists, begin to invest in your future that is yet to come. Jeremiah 33:3 says: “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things which you do not know.”

God has a plan in mind and things that He wants you to do yet! Avoiding the pit of despair is essential to seeing those accomplished. Don’t get stuck sinking in the muck! Take the first baby steps into your new season and see what God will do through you!

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and share it with others who would be encouraged. You can also email me at sheryl@freshhope.us.

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