Swamps of Sadness

January 23, 2022

One of the movies from my childhood that impacted me was The Never Ending Story, an English-language, West German film that released in 1984. The movie is about a boy who is given a book that seems to have magical powers as it tells of a young warrior who tries to stop “The Nothing” (a darkness) from overtaking Fantasia. He finds himself impacting the story and takes on a critical role to defeat The Nothing. If you’ve never seen it, you might as well watch it on Netflix.

I remember watching it for the first time at my Granny’s house in West Texas. She had a knack for picking out interesting and thought-provoking movies, like The Secret of NIMH, The Natural, Batteries Not Included, and The Never Ending Story among others. We would visit every so often and she’d treat us with Sweetwater Lake, Fried Chicken, movies at her house, and peanut butter, miracle whip and pickle sandwiches. (Don’t knock it till you try it!)

The first time I saw The Never Ending Story, I really disliked when the warrior, Atreyu, found himself in the Swamps of Sadness. Movies are supposed to be an escape from reality, not a journey into sadness. The swamp is a miserable, muddy, wasteland of sadness. At one point, he loses his horse to the swamp, meets this unhelpful giant turtle that tells him to head off in a direction that is 10,000 miles away, and almost sinks into the swamps himself. It was a stressful scene for a young boy. I always hated it, but it sticks out more than any other part of the movie. Of course, all is not lost when Falkor, a kind of lucky dragon, saves him from the swamps and flies him to his next destination. (Btw, Falkor’s back freaks me out to this day 😬).

Why does this movie and time come to my mind as I’m sitting in the hospital with Kristi? She is battling cancer and is hardly living a fantasy life. Here’s why: cancer, the darkness, is rapidly taking over her body. She is on a never ending quest to fight for the cure. She also finds herself in a never ending swamp of sadness. At every turn, we find more threats to her life.

David, the King of Ancient Israel, knew the swamps of sadness all to well. His catalogue of songs we call Psalms give us an up close and personal look into his struggles with loneliness, sadness, grief, despair, repentance, injustice, and sin. He knew how to put you right into the situation he was experiencing. Thousands of years later, many of his cries ring true. For example:

“O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?”

Psalms 13:1-2

How long? We have all asked this. How long will the sadness remain? How long will the anguish linger? How long will the journey be? How long can we suffer?

“Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.”

Psalms 13:3-4

David begs God to respond. He begs God to restore his joy and happiness. He is desperate for a turn around. He asks God to not let it end here. He begs for it not to be over. He asks him to lead him out of the swamp.

He ends this short Psalm with:

“But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.”

Psalms 13:5-6

Do you notice that he was not out of the swamp? Do you see that he was still in despair? Nothing has change about his situation. He simply chose to trust and sing. He chose to believe God would rescue and restore. He chose to believe even though his surroundings were bleak.

Kristi and I have seen our fair share of sadness – marriage conflict, relational conflict, finances, infertility, adoption journey, separation from family, loneliness, and now cancer. Through it all, the constant is Jesus. He will never leave us or forsake us. He would journey with us, near us, and at times carry us.

David was looking into the future at the coming of the Messiah and he chose to believe. Even when he sinned and chose to walk a different path, he always remembered the promises of God.

“I will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me. You refused to let my enemies triumph over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you restored my health. You brought me up from the grave, O Lord. You kept me from falling into the pit of death. Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones! Praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Psalms 30:1-5

(Read the rest of this Psalm and feel the back and forth.)

He clung to joy. He knew it was right there. The sadness would not last forever. The sorrow would turn.

Now, Kristi walks through the swamp of sadness. She is unsure of how long it will last. She has chosen to trust the salvation of the Lord. She had chosen to trust His calling on her life. She has chosen to not walk alone in the swamp. She has something Atreyu never had – an army walking with her. She has me, she has her kids, she has her family, she has her community of friends, she has her supply line from around the world, and most importantly, she has God. He will never let her go it alone. We will never let her fight alone. He will use people around her to lift her up and carry her forward. Walking this swamp today, we’ve been impressed by something greater than a movie from my childhood – we have seen that this is WAR! And. We. Win!

Ray Rhoton



3 thoughts on “Swamps of Sadness

  1. Thank you Ray for sharing your heart with us. I love how you put your thoughts into words. It might be therapeutic for you and Kristi but at the same time you both are helping more people than you realize. The “Swamps of Sadness” are a real thing and most of us have been there. Maybe there right now?
    But we have hope because of what Jesus has done for us.
    Love you both. Thank you again for your words!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Psalms 23: the valley of darkness. A wonderful verse of promise. It has always been kind of scary to think about that valley. I have never been where Kristi is or you. I pray to God I never am. If I am I pray I can trust and believe as well as the two of you. Thank you for sharing with us. Hug your girl for me❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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