Summary: There are some tools that God has given us to deal with depression.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalms 42
I have read many articles and books concerning depression and despair. It is amazing just how much literature is written about personal struggles. Advice abounds. Theories are a dime a dozen. Experiences are as varied as the people that describe them. Treatments are as varied as cognitive therapy to intervention by medication to hospitalization. But one thing we have in common is this: when I say the word despair, you know what I mean. As varied as our experiences in life are, we understand the word despair. I will venture to go further; most of us not only understand it cognitively, but we also understand it emotively. When someone says “despair,” we can relate because we have either known it as a struggle of our own, or we have seen someone else struggle with it.
I told you I have read much about depression. I knew about depression before I ever entered my graduate training in counseling. I have lived it, and I have seen it. That is more than you can receive from any book. To read about it is one thing...to live it is another. Living with despair does not make me an expert on it. It just makes me human, I suppose. My grandfather began alluding to the “suffering of the mind” in some of the final sermons he gave at National City Christian Church. Maybe it was because in early 1975 he saw a doctor in New York about his untreated manic depression. He was in the waiting area, and he struck up a conversation with a woman.
Eventually she asked him about his vocation. He replied that he was in the ministry. And her response was, “Then what the hell are you in here for?” Maybe my grandfather felt the need to assert that even ordained ministers of the Gospel had the right to visit a psychiatrist. Even in 1975, depression and especially manic depression were hardly understood or accepted at that time.
There has always been some unwritten rule that seems to have read, “If you are a ‘real’ Christian, if you really had your relationship right with God, you wouldn't have despair.” What a tragic message to communicate to people.
Instead of giving “padded” answers to problems, the Church Universal should be in dialogue about issues, and we are beginning to see this. We don't need to “preach” at problems. We need to admit problems. We need to come out from our hiding places and begin to remove our facades, however slow the process. We need to say less and listen more.
People who experience despair or depression often lead isolated lives, afraid that it is only about them, that they are the only ones who have such feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. With all my experience with counseling and the use of medication, as important as those ingredients are to a clinical depression, I still believe that Christians also have the Scripture and their faith as the most valuable medicine in their arsenal against depression and despair. So let us examine Psalm 42.
I. The Honesty of the Psalmist
James Draper, in Psalms for Everyday Living, refers to the self-absorbed nature of the psalmist's writings: “Oftentimes depression is selfish, when we focus in on ourselves too much, when we begin to dwell on our problems, our needs, our wants, our desires. Throughout both Psalm 42 and 43, he (the psalmist) wanted his questions answered, his plans fulfilled, and his feelings improved. In fact, in the 16 verses of these two psalms, the author asks `Why’ ten times. In one instance he asked ‘When’ and ‘Where’ twice—thirteen questions. He merely wanted his questions answered. He was so wrapped up in himself, he had trouble seeing God.”