Updated: Dec 28, 2020
“Miss Krummen, are you okay?”
My spine straightened and my chin lifted so that I was making eye contact with my professor. I noticed the frames of several students turning so that they could see me. Their faces ranged from confusion, concern, fatigue, to slight annoyance.
I let out a lighthearted laugh. “Of course!”
“You look burdened.”
The fluorescent lights began stinging my protected, fragile face. The mask was off. This wasn’t fair. I could feel my brows furrowing, and my blood chilling with an ice-cold sting. My body was going into fight-or-flight.
Who am I kidding.
I was entering fight mode.
Despite your typical perceptive skills professor, burdened is an understatement. I’m miserable. I’m confused. I’m thoroughly exhausted. And I do not have the energy to fight with you for pointing that out.
I sat quietly the rest of class, smiling and laughing to convince my classmates, and my professor, that I was fine. Normal. Okay.
The only one who needed convincing was myself.
When class was dismissed, I bolted out of the room. The hot tears stained my face. It did not make sense. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t grieving a horrific, unthinkable loss. The source of my tears wasn’t emotion. It was the absence of it: I was filled with overwhelming despair.
“The source of my tears wasn’t emotion. It was the absence of it: I was filled with overwhelming despair.”
The despair I was feeling had been growing moment by moment since my first day on campus. I say moment because the despair did not grow from a period of days, hours, or minutes. It manifested from a series of events, decisions, epiphanies, and rejections.
A city girl dropped off at a school surrounded by cornfields was a mental breakdown waiting to happen.
Most of my moments were mere sentences:
“Stop using big words. No one can understand your rich-kid city talk.”
“You want to be a lawyer? We have too many of those.”
“You don’t drink? Good luck fitting in the rural Midwest. All we do here is get wasted and go to class a couple hours a day.”
All of those sentences suggested one overarching critique: You don’t belong.
Words are easy to ignore, especially when one realizes the lack of truth they contain. For me, words were the least of my problems. I would continue using big words, because I am not myself without them. I would continue to pursue my law dream, because if I don’t, someone else will. I would continue not to drink, because my medications are prone to have fatal interactions with alcohol.
I make it sound so easy. But it’s not. There’s more to it than self-affirmations.
The definition of despair is “to lose all hope or confidence.” When I gave myself those affirmations, I assumed they would give me hope and confidence. But how can I possibly be hopeful in a place where I don’t belong?
I called my mom crying saying that I couldn’t take it anymore. The drinking culture in the rural Midwest is so different from the drinking culture of the inner-city. People here are more daring. People here are more stupid. People here blackout and get put in ambulances headed for the cities more than once a night. People here don’t care for their future. People here don’t have anywhere to go, so getting wasted (and drunk out of their minds) just makes sense to them. It doesn’t to me. This isn’t my culture. This isn’t my turf. There is no “advantage of home field” here. It’s an epic struggle of trying to fit in and understand a society that I don’t.
I was filled with it.
It was flowing in my veins. Flooding my vicinity by way of my own tears.
How does one stay hopeful when they are filled with despair, the utter absence of hope?
We create it. We fill the void. We rely on distractions to numb the pain. We make our own drugs, our own personal anti-despairants (my own word for it).
You can make a drug out of anything if you try. Netflix. Sleep. Eating. Driving. Excessively checking social media. Marijuana. Nicotine. Boys. Sex. Makeup. Self-care. Work. Exercising until your body gives out. Running until your lungs scream. Youtube. Magazines. Homework.
For me, it was applications. As long as I had options, I had hope that I would be okay.
I filled out application after application. I applied to mid-sized, Southern universities located in metropolitan areas buzzing with activity. If the mall is only a 5-minute walk away, what’s the point of drinking hard liquor on a Tuesday night?
To me, it was and still is obvious: there is no point. Go to the mall. Duh.
The possibilities gave me distractions from my current situation of despair. I could direct all of the energy stemming from my disappointment, sadness, and inferiority at getting to a better place. But as it always is with distractions and self-made drugs, there is a catch.
The catch was this: There was nothing I could do after I filled out the applications, and before I received a decision.
It was like running in a circle. Point A was my despair, Point B was my distraction. As soon as I finished up with my distraction, I was back at Point A. I had a plan. Study hard, be patient, and get out of my rural prison. Surely God wouldn’t allow me to remain somewhere I did not belong.
Until He did.
I received news that my application was denied, for the time being. What does that even mean? The feeling of despair came running into my body, like a crazy acquaintance entering a room where they are not welcome.
The dark, answerless question haunted my mind again: How do I stay hopeful when all I feel is the absence of hope?
God has an interesting way of answering the toughest questions.
I was back in that horrid classroom, with my professor and classmates. The lecture was boring, and I was flipping through my planner, thinking about the week I had ahead of me. The verse for this week in the planner was this:
“I remain confident in this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” – Psalm 27:13 (NIV).
Despair is the absence of all confidence and hope. David was confident that he would see the goodness of the Lord on Earth, in his lifetime, in his life. I smirked. So much for that, King David. I thought I would see the goodness. I haven’t yet. I’ve only had another seed of despair planted in my garden of life.
The professor paused his lecture and decided to give us free work time. I didn’t work. I decided to research that verse more. It fascinated me that someone like David could say he was confident in such a seemingly impossible phenomena. David didn’t have any reason to believe what he was saying. After all, he was the youngest of all his family, he lost his best friend when he had to flee from his best friend’s father, he had to hide in the middle of nowhere for years to avoid getting killed, need I go on? The guy had a life full of despair. I joked with myself and said that he was probably intoxicated when he wrote that one. Until I came across a different translation:
“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” – Psalm 27:13 (New American Standard Bible).
There was that word I felt. The word that was causing the tiring ache in my bones. David nearly felt it too.
But he didn’t focus on the situation at hand. He didn’t focus on the despair he was feeling, and the misfortune that never failed to come upon him.
He combatted despair with faith.
He combatted the absence of hope with the presence of truth.
The truth that God was and is with him in the land of the living. His goodness is present, all David needed to do was believe that it was there.
As soon as he traded his despair for faith, he was given hope for his hopeless situation. The faith he had in God was his hope for a moment in his life when despair was all that surrounded him.
I have confidence that I too, can trade my despair for faith. I have faith that God will give me hope for my utterly hopeless situation. It may not come in the form of an admittance letter from the college of my dreams, but it might. All I need to do is have confidence that I will see the goodness of the Lord in my lifetime. And it comforts me to know that His goodness isn’t particular to any form. It isn’t only shown in the form of an admittance letter. I am able to find joy in the knowledge that His goodness is here, and it is only a matter of time before it finds it’s way into my line of vision.
All the peace and patience,