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Illuminate the Cave of Emotional Despair

Do you know what an oubliette is? Commonly found in castles during medieval times, it was a special dungeon underground with a tiny trapdoor in the roof. Agonizingly out of reach from the prisoner, it was the only means of entrance. Or, for that matter, exit. They just drop you in. Forever.

It was literally the “forgotten room.” A forgotten place where criminals and undesirables were condemned to perpetual imprisonment and left to die. It was a punishment far, far worse than simply being thrown into a castle dungeon.

The oubliette. From the French word meaning “forget.” It symbolized the darkness of actual and imagined fears of loss and isolation. With no possibility of redemption. Cold, shivering in the dark. Alone. Empty. A pit of despair. Searching for a squint of light every morning – never knowing if it would come.

Regardless of our spiritual maturity, there are times in our lives when we’ve reached moments so low we actually feel everyone – including God – has abandoned us. That was David. Isn’t that exactly what we find written in the words of Psalm 13?

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Psalm 13.1-2

Here we find the deeply wounded areas of David’s life. And his confessions at times strike a chord in our own hearts. Four times he cries out to God, “How long?” The length of his suffering has been so long that David asks if God is going to forget him forever. For David, he truly was in the cave of emotional despair.

Some theorize that this psalm was composed by David when his son Absalom conspired against him. But any attempt to link it to any specific moment in David’s troubled life is conjecture at best. Rather the psalm gives voice to feelings that arise in many of the trials that we undergo in life.

When our faith is tried… really tried, we find ourselves feeling much like David did. All of us acquiesce and talk about our reliance on God, but it is not until we are confronted with unending suffering or the nearness of death, that we reach a deeper understanding. It’s the nature of trials, isn’t it? Very rarely are we able to see when the trial will end or even what the outcome will be. We may see ourselves as weak and despondent, but that may not be how God sees us at all. What we do know is that we are part of a larger and unseen spiritual battle. And part of that battle is that our faith will be put to the test. For it’s in these roller coaster moments of life when the Chief Shepherd captures our rapt attention. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom or traverse dark waters to realize He’s been there with us all along.

Fortunately, the psalm does not end in despair. When God seemed distant, David called on Him.

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13.3-6

To rise above the downward pull of our emotions, we but have to look up and talk to our God. The test of our faith is not when God’s presence is real. No, the real test of our faith is when God seems distant. And it’s in those moments we must call to Him and trust in His unfailing love. Our Father never wants us to wallow in feelings of hopelessness, abandonment, despair, and dejection. He wants us to turn to Him, our everlasting light.

One of the great promises regarding what would happen after Israel’s return from exile was that the darkness would be banished forever as the children of the Lord dwelled in His presence. The presence of pure, undefiled light.

The sun shall be no more your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon give you light;
but the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.

Isaiah 60.19-20

We see the same sentiment expressed by Jesus Himself in John 8.12. “Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” When we allow God to light up our eyes, we see things and understand things better. We become enlightened. Holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness look different and better under the light of Jesus Christ.

So find hope in our darkest hours. Allow troubles, trials, and temptations to push us towards the Lord. And don’t be afraid to walk out into the light. We don’t need to dwell in the darkness of despair in the “forgotten room.”

Hope still and you can sing praises to Him forevermore. To God, our everlasting light. Trust in His unfailing love. Rejoice in God’s salvation.

Even the mighty struggle mightily. Let His light illuminate our paths out of darkness.