“You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend.” Psalm 88:18 NLT



Psalm 88 aches with dark despair. Beginning with a cry for God’s help, it ends with a sad confession: You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend. (Psalm 88:18) Though we don’t know the exact nature or extent of the psalmist’s pain, we do sense that he has mostly given up hope. I am as good as dead, he laments. (Psalm 88:4)

I find it striking that Psalm 88 includes virtually no words of reassurance. Nowhere does the psalmist add parenthetically, “But you are the Lord of mercy and compassion,” or anything else like that. Most psalms of lament include words of hope. Not Psalm 88. Here, we find dark despair.


Yet, even in the lowest pit (Psalm 88:6), the psalmist keeps talking with God. He hasn’t stopped reaching out to the Lord, even though he has no apparent confidence that this will do any good. By putting his prayer in writing, the psalmist encourages us to keep in dialogue with God, no matter what.

God can handle our despair, our doubt, our anger, and anything else we might throw at Him. I believe God has put this psalm into the canon of Scripture in part to permit us to tell Him anything. It’s one of those psalms that encourages us to pray with no holds barred.


O Lord, how I thank You for the blunt honesty of Psalm 88! This psalm encourages me to tell You anything and everything on my heart, holding nothing back.

Today, I am reminded to pray for people in a place of dark despair. Help them to open their hearts to You. Make Your presence known to them, even if they cannot figure out what You’re doing in their lives. Hold onto them, Lord, so they might remain in relationship with You even when their lives are so painful and difficult. Amen.

A Prayer of Dark Despair first published by The High Calling, January 10, 2014, Theology of Work Project Online. Materials by The High Calling are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Used with permission.

Questions For Reflection

1. Have you ever prayed anything like Psalm 88?

2. When you feel despair, do you keep on praying? Why or why not?

3. What helps you turn to God even when you’re not sure it will make a difference?

Rev. Mark D. Roberts

Rev. Mark D. Roberts


Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a pastor, author, retreat leader, speaker, and blogger. Since October 2007, he has been the Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, a multifaceted ministry in the Hill Country of Texas. For sixteen years before that, he was the Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California. Mark served on the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood as Associate Pastor of Education preceding his time in Irvine.


Step in slowly. Sit with God. Allow yourself time and space to feel and experience your pain. When you’re ready, take up your pen and explore the precious and life-giving gift of lament.

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