Conversatio Divina

Part 18 of 18

The Gift of Desperation

Mindy Caliguire

If you were to ask a room full of people, as I often have, what instigated the greatest level of transformation in their lives so far, the number one answer is always the same: pain. It comes under varying names, of course: “my divorce,” “my illness,” “losing my job,” “finally hitting rock bottom.” Many different ways of saying the same thing: pain.

This last answer has always been curious to me. Finally hitting rock bottom. I’ve mostly heard it in the vernacular of twelve-step groups, but the concept is easy enough to understand. We come to a point where we have no more options. We can’t go any lower. We’re in a pit, and we know it. We’re trapped, and completely powerless to do anything about it. Have you ever been there? I know I have.

As unappealing as that sounds (doesn’t it, though?!), I love hearing stories from those in recovery. Amazingly, I found they always shared with great remorse and great gratitude for having landed at “rock bottom”—whatever the path of pain, chosen or unchosen, that brought them there. Eventually, I learned a clever and striking turn of phrase from the recovery community. A phrase used to describe that season of hitting rock bottom. They called it the gift of desperation.

Over the years, I’ve come to believe the gift of desperation is actually one of the most precious gifts anyone who longs to live a deeper life with God can be given. Rather than a burden or source of depression, it’s the kind of desperation a deep-sea diver has for scuba gear, or the desperation an astronaut has for a rocket and space suit. A matter-of-fact sort of desperation for a way of living—desperation for another minute to breathe in this great universe.

Every one of us shares this same desperation for a life sustained in God. We were made for another world, another way, a truer Kingdom. And Jesus leads us to that way, that truth, and that life. But while we all share that desperation, we are often asleep to it. We don’t feel our disconnection as quickly as a diver who loses their air supply would, nor do we generally consider the disconnect as severe.

That’s why the awareness, however it comes to us, is actually a gift. It opens us up to the path of life. I don’t say this flippantly. I understand, ever so intimately, the cost, the confusion, the betrayal of our experiences of pain, of hitting rock bottom. But I also understand that they are gift.

Lots of leaders I work with squirm at that thought of aspiring to desperation. I try to convey that desperation is the safest place for the human soul to be—and, admittedly, I can see why they squirm. It does seem like conflicted advice, given our typical understanding of the word “desperation.” Still, I hope that we can reclaim this great concept and allow it to stimulate our imaginations and actions.

Desperation is, truly, one of the many gifts of pain. It is where the pain can actually point us in a promising direction. Pain is awful. It is, well, painful. Some pain we earn, some pain is coming our way from drive-by strangers we never knew, some pain is random, dysfunctional evil that lurks in our cells, some pain is aimed directly at us by those who with great precision know and aim for our weak points. Unfair, unhealthy, unwise, unjust. Whatever the source of our pain, we can allow it to fuel a true sense of desperation, and then drive us to God. To God’s heart for us, God’s ability to redeem tragedy, God’s intimacy with us in it.

We can allow pain to produce in us the right kinds of desperation.

Listen to the levels of deep dependence described by the Psalmist, below. You can use a pen or highlighter to mark words that seem especially desperate to you—how comfortable do you typically feel about expressing words of this kind of desperation to God? (Feel free to answer this question in writing.)

Psalm 130All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™
A song of ascents.


1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;

2 Lord, hear my voice.

Let your ears be attentive

to my cry for mercy.

3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,

Lord, who could stand?

4 But with you there is forgiveness,

so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,

and in his word I put my hope.

6 I wait for the Lord

more than watchmen wait for the morning,

more than watchmen wait for the morning.

7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,

for with the Lord is unfailing love

and with him is full redemption.

8 He himself will redeem Israel

from all their sins.


One of the greatest gifts pain can bring you is to help you to begin praying prayers like this one. In desperate times, we must cling to real life. To something, or Someone, good and grand enough to actually hold our hope.

Can you paraphrase, personalize, and pray this prayer for yourself today? Can you pray it for someone you know who is experiencing great pain?

If you can, in the mist of pain, allow it to forge true soul-level desperation for the living God, then the promise that pain holds for your life is great indeed.


Mindy Caliguire is founder and president of Soul Care, a spiritual formation ministry, and serves as a frequent speaker and consultant for ministries and churches. She has authored several books, including Spiritual Friendship, as part of the Soul Care series. She and her husband, Jeff, make their home in Algonquin, Illinois, and are active members at Willow Creek Community Church.