The following is an excerpt from the 1985 television miniseries, Anne of Green Gables (based on the Anne of Green Gables book series by Lucy Maud Montgomery). This clip showcases the orphaned heroine, Anne Shirley, during her memorable first meeting with one of her new guardians, Miss Marilla Cuthbert:

Marilla: “You must be hungry.”
Anne: “I can’t eat. I can never eat when I’m in the depths of despair.”
Marilla, baffled by Anne’s dramatics: “‘The depths of despair?‘”
Anne, unaware and uninhibited: “Can you eat when you’re that way?”
Marilla, immovable and impassable: “I’ve never been that way.”
Anne, persistently: “Can’t you even imagine you’re in the depths of despair?”
Marilla, insistently: “No, I cannot. To despair is to turn your back on God.”

Whenever I think of the word “despair”, this poignant scene comes to mind. How often we, like Anne, can find ourselves slipping into “the depths of despair“. When troubles arise, there is a certain unhealthy craving to indulge in the “woe is me” mindset. When we are at our weaker and more childish moments, we practically wallow in our misery. It’s times like these that we need our strong and mature side – the “Marilla” within – to remind us to snap out of the despair, to simply “never be that way”, nor imagine it.

Marilla Cuthbert was not far off the mark with her definition of despair. To “despair” is to lose all hope. If we wallow in “the depths of despair“, we insult God’s faithfulness, hinder our own usefulness, and damage others’ hopefulness. When wallowing becomes custom, our light diminishes into darkness. Instead of “turning our backs on God”, we must acknowledge and accept that trials are to be expected in this present age, and resolve to be “perplexed, but not despairing” when life is unkind. (2 Corinthians 4:8)

Today, I want to share ten simple tips that I find incredibly useful when I am tempted to pull an “Anne Shirley” and sink into “the depths of despair“. If you, at times, battle with feelings of hopelessness and defeat, this one’s for you. May these simple techniques shine a bright light in the deep waters. Tip #1:

I know, I know…telling someone going through a trial to pray, or that we will pray for them, sounds about as cliché as you can get. However, I once heard prayer described this way: “it’s not the least we can do, but the most we can do.” What a lovely reminder! We must realize that talking to The King of Kings and Lord of Lords about our cares and concerns shouldn’t be regarded as a last ditch effort, but as our first line of defense. Sheryl Crow’s song “Light in Your Eyes” puts it like this: “You gotta talk to the one who made you. Talk to the one who understands. Talk to the one who gave you all the light in your eyes.” Yes, indeed. Talking to the one who breathed life into your soul and put the very light in your eyes is one powerful battle strategy. When a tear falls upon your cheek, don’t despair – bow your head and pray. When you feel a surge of discomfort soar through your heart at the thought of your trial, don’t despair – give it to God. Every single time you feel the weight of your burden, seek Him and ask for His help. Our loving Father has an open ear for His little ones. Are you in the depths of despair? Say your prayers!

In my distress I called upon the Lord, yes, I cried to my God; And from His temple He heard my voice, and my cry for help came into His ears. – 1 Samuel 22:7

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. – James 5:13a

Tip #2:

“Counting our many blessings and naming them one by one” is more than a cute idea to sing about in the pew, it’s an excellent practice for daily life. Spotting our perks is a great way to get our minds off of everything that’s going wrong in our world, and onto everything that’s going right. Now, the idea of counting our blessings can sound like little more than dull routine…like counting sheep before falling off to sleep. What a snore! But did you ever notice how easy it is to “count” things that we truly appreciate? A man, while driving, might exclaim to his passengers, “Whoa, did you see how many Corvettes just drove by?!”, or a woman, while tidying her bedroom, might gush to herself, “just look at all these beautiful clothes lining my closet”, or an exuberant toddler, while at the park, might boast to his playmate, “I had one…two…THREE lollipops yesterday!”. We love to count those things that light us up inside. The key is to allow all the little things in life to catch our attention and delight us…from sunlight pouring through the trees, to cheerful birdsong, to freshly laundered sheets. Are you in the depths of despair? Spot Your Perks!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits. – Psalm 103:2

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. – John 1:16

Tip #3:

This tip builds on the previous one, for it also involves taking account of one’s blessings. While Tip #2 focused primarily on our acknowledgement and enjoyment of our “perks”, Tip #3 is about reinforcement of those positive feelings by vocalized praise. Women have a tendency to “think” through speech. When we “talk through” our feelings about something, it often helps us formulate and organize our thoughts, making sense of our otherwise insensible emotions. Unfortunately, many women choose to “talk through” their feelings in an evil and unfruitful manner…using their voices for slandering, gossiping, meddling, complaining, arguing, boasting, male-bashing, etc., and of course these godless activities are to be strictly shunned. But, with careful self-management, “talking through” our feelings can be a useful tool. Have you spotted a perk in your day? Speak! Say, “Thank you, Lord.” Have you received an answer to prayer? Speak! Glorify God by telling someone about it. Have you experienced growth in some area? Speak! Remind yourself how far you’ve come by the grace of God. Are you in the depths of despair? Speak Your Praises!

I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he has granted them according to His compassion and according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses. – Isaiah 63:7

And a voice came from the throne, saying, “give praise to our God, all you his bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.” – Revelation 19:5

Tip #4:

I’ve said it before and I say it again now – women have a fabulous knack for remembering. God gifted us helpmeets with the uncanny ability to recall such things as birthdays and anniversaries, family appointments and events, homemaking tips and tricks, and the list goes on. Our little record-playing brains come as a great asset to the family, but they can also get us in a world of trouble if we’re not careful with what records we allow to take up residence in our memory core. When a woman uses her stellar memory to retain negative past experiences, she will do great harm to herself, and quite possibly, to others. (I don’t mean to say that we ought never to remember anything bad – we don’t want to be so forgetful as to become like a dog that returns to its vomit, or a sow to wallowing in the mire – my point is that we should not dwell on these things, playing them back again and again as an unhealthy obsession or addiction.) If we’re constantly looking backward, we can not see our way forward in life. “Yesterday is history”, they say – learn from it, but don’t live in it. Are you in the depths of despair? Stop Your Playbacks!

Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. – Proverbs 4:25

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. – Philippians 3:13

Tip #5:

When I was a child, my father taught me the oddly effective technique of smiling when I was stuck in a depressive or cantankerous way. It sounds absurd, but flashing your pearly whites when you least feel like it really can help to brighten a bad mood. We are so accustomed to smiling only when happy, that the very act of wearing a smile can trick our brains into believing that everything is a-okay. (Please do not misunderstand: I am not recommending this tip for times of deep anguish such as the death of a loved one, but only for minor trials or merely unpleasant circumstances.) The trick is to smile in a way that looks and feels natural during our joyful moments. Pulling the sides of your mouth up in a pitiful half-frown/half-smile won’t produce the desired effect. You have to smile like you mean it. It might feel ludicrous at first, but the silliness just might make you laugh and help pull you out of your sour mood. “Turn that frown upside down” and show a smile. Maybe soon you’ll find that the only thing keeping you down was the grimace you were wearing before. Are you in the depths of despair? Show Your Pearls!

A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam. – Ecclesiastes 8:1b

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! – Philippians 4:4

Tip #6:

“Getting your mind off of yourself and onto others” (as my father is wont to say) is a surefire way to rise above pain. By shifting our focus from our own needs to the needs of someone else, the troubles we have can seem as diminished before our very eyes. Now, lest you be overwhelmed by the thought of service, know that “serving your people” doesn’t always have to be a monumental feat. Ordinary acts of service performed in love are praiseworthy. The deeds of the famous Proverbs 31 Woman were as ordinary as they come, and yet she was called virtuous. Many of our deeds are without renown, but nonetheless make our Heavenly Father proud and provide us with personal fulfillment. We serve when we make love to our husbands. We serve when we cook meals for our children. We serve when we write sympathy cards for widows. We serve when we make strangers feel welcome in our presence. We serve when we offer someone a cold drink on a hot day, or a hot drink on a cold day. The more we seek to bring joy to others’ lives, the more joy we will experience in return. Are you in the depths of despair? Serve Your People!

The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered. – Proverbs 11:25

In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – Acts 20:35

Tip #7:

Brace yourself for another (seemingly) cliché tip, but it’s gotta be said…read your Bible! The scriptures are an indispensable aid to the weary soul. When we realize that Jesus Christ Himself is the Word of God, we realize that getting into the Word is getting into Him. Between the pages of our Bibles, we read accounts of others who were tested and tried in all manner of ways…and persevered through the power of their God. We read of God’s mercy, deliverance, and healing. We read of despair transformed to hope, defeat transformed to victory, and death transformed to life. The Word is no mere relic to collect dust on a shelf – but a living, active, very present help in times of trouble. Along with your Bible, reading high quality books is an excellent tool for pulling one out of despair. Great works of fiction can inspire and ennoble the best in us. I highly recommend the incomparable works of J.R.R. Tolkien. For non-fiction, Debi Pearl and Helen Andelin are invaluable resources. (I may not agree with their every belief, but they are both nearly spot-on when it comes to feminine ethics.) Are you in the depths of despair? Study Your Parchment!

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your word has revived me. – Psalm 119:50

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – John 1:1

Tip #8:

Our environment can have an immense influence over our emotional well-being, be it for better or for worse. Let’s face it: living in a dump only serves to keep us down in the dumps. See, despair often stems from a lack of control over one’s environment. And while it’s true that we can’t always control the environment in which we live, it shows a lack of character when we neglect to positively impact those areas that are within our control. Sprucing the home is one way we can have a say over our small corner of the world. Will that which is within our control be messy and chaotic? Or will we rather nurture a place of beauty and well-ordered arrangement? Cleaning and tidying our home comes with many benefits. The visual appeal of a spruced home helps us feel at peace. The daily routines help us foster self-discipline. The pleasant atmosphere helps us offer our husbands a restful haven. The faithful and cheerful work ethic helps us introduce Biblical womanhood before our children. The freedom from embarrassment over a filthy home helps us open our door to guests. Are you in the depths of despair? Spruce Your Palace!

The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands. – Proverbs 14:1

encourage the young women to be…workers at home… – excerpt from Titus 2:4-5

Tip #9:

Pets add many smiles to the lives of their masters. And while you will not find me advocating for “emotional support animals” and such like – nor do I buy into the nonsensical notion that “animals are people, too” – I will readily say that pets can bring joy to a troubled heart by way of their adorable antics. Our animals can provide a welcome relief to us when times are tough – for when we place our love upon another living, breathing, creature (whether man or beast), it gets us outside of ourselves and renews our vigor for life. What pet-owner has not felt a surge of joy when seeing their treasured cat or dog frolicking among the leaves? What pet-owner has not temporarily forgotten their anguish when petting their little pal? What pet-owner has not felt their eyes light up in wonder at the arrival of a healthy new litter of puppies or kittens (or bunnies, or hamsters, or lambs, etc. etc.)? A pet does not have the capacity to love its master, yet the love a master gives a pet fills the master’s heart with care for living beings and causes them to magnify and glorify the Master of All Life. Are you in the depths of despair? Snuggle Your Pet!

But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you…and let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing – excerpt from Job 12:7-10

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made… Romans 1:20a

Tip #10:

When we are in despair, lying around feeling sorry for ourselves is what feels natural. But lying around in a spirit of self-pity only breeds more despair. We have to make an effort to get up and get active. When was the last time you played a board game, or a card game, or kicked a ball around in the yard? Some healthy competition with loved ones is a fun way to get the heart racing and the blood pumping. Activity is often just what the doctor ordered when we are in a bad way. In our present day, activity is decreasing and anxiety is increasing. It’s the age of the couch potato! Hours a day are spent on smartphones, and many live essentially inert lives. Let’s be the exception to that lifestyle. It is liberating to free oneself from the chains of modern day technology for much of the day, and participate in some good old-fashioned play. It’s pretty hard to feel down when your brain is wrapped up in keeping a hold on Park Place, remembering to yell “Uno!” or making that hole-in-one. Aside from the benefits to your mental health, playing some games just might benefit your relationships, too. Are you in the depths of despair? Score Your Points!

And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in the streets. – Zechariah 8:5

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25

In conclusion…

Have you ever been in “the depths of despair“? I know I have. Unlike the exemplary and dearly admired character of Marilla Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables, I cannot claim that I have “never been that way”, nor imagined it. Rather, I have mimicked Anne Shirley’s character on too many occasions. I have at times felt crippled by grief, I have wallowed in misery, and I have dressed my wounds with the poisonous balm of self-pity. I have at times been so overcome by bitter circumstance, that going on another day seemed a nearly impossible feat. But by God’s grace, on dark days, the “Marilla” within has reminded me:

May these ten tips serve to pull you out of the abyss on your dark days, as well.

Do not despair, damsel. Lift your eyes to the mountains where your help is found, and never give up hope.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God. – Psalm 43:5

For God’s glory,
Mrs. Dustin Bolks

Chaste Bolks is a church of Christ preacher’s wife, and the home educating mother of two children. She and her family currently reside in Northwest Iowa.