August 28, 2016

Psalm 42

There was a time when depression was as foreign to me as using chopsticks to eat my meals, but then one day it knocked on the door of my house.  As a husband I struggled to understand my role in helping my wife let go of something that had hold of her.  We found help in counseling at what was then the Baptist Hospital in Atlanta.

Three years ago, I went through a depressing time in my own life.  I felt a lot of pressure in my work and I knew I needed some help in managing stress and bringing balance back into my life.   I asked the personnel committee for permission to get involved in Clinical Pastoral Education at Northeast Georgia Hospital because a component of that chaplaincy program is a support group that I knew would help me work through some of my struggles.  That group became my salvation.

Letting go of depression is a process that takes time.  Its hold on the mind, body and spirit is complex.  No two persons’ depression is exactly alike, nor its cause, nor its path to healing.

I can’t reduce this message to a few bullet points and say do these three things and you can let go of depression, but I can say a few things that can help your understanding what depression is like and how you might help someone that’s dealing with it or find your own way out of the sinking sand that it is.

The more we understand it, the more we can reclaim our power over it, and the more tools we can have at our disposal to help us let go of this emotional prison.

First I want to help everyone understand what a depressed person feels, with the disclaimer that not every depressed person feels the same way.  Just as not everyone that battles cancer, or addictions, or has a heart attack feels the same way, not every depressed person feels the same way.  However, it would be fair to say that each person that goes through a similar problem has enough similar feelings to relate to one another.

star2.comSo, listen to Tim Lott describe his depression and you will have a general idea of what depression feels like.

Tim says that “the symptoms are similar to Alzheimer’s.  You become forgetful, confused and disoriented. Making even the smallest decisions can be agonizing. It can affect your mind and your body.  You become, in your head, two-dimensional – like a drawing rather than a living, breathing creature. You cannot conjure your actual personality, which you can remember only vaguely, in a theoretical sense. You live in, or close to, a state of perpetual fear, although you are not sure what it is you are afraid of.

“There is a heavy, leaden feeling in your chest, rather as when someone you love dearly has died; but no one has – except, perhaps, you. You feel acutely alone. It is commonly described as being like viewing the world through a sheet of plate glass; it would be more accurate to say a sheet of thick, semi-opaque ice. (Ibid)

“Thus your personality – the normal, accustomed ‘you’ – has changed. This transformation is barely perceptible to the observer – except for, perhaps, a certain withdrawnness, or increased anger and irritability. Viewed from the outside – the wall of skin and the windows of eyes – everything remains familiar. Inside, there is a dark storm. Sometimes you may have the overwhelming desire to stand in the street and scream at the top of your voice, for no particular reason. (Ibid)

“Self-pity, guilt, apathy, pessimism, narcissism – make it a deeply unattractive illness to be around, one that requires unusual levels of understanding and tolerance from family and friends.  (Ibid)

“For all its horrors, it is not naturally evocative of sympathy. Apart from being mistaken for someone who might be a miserable, loveless killjoy, one also has to face the fact that one might be a bit, well, crazy – one of the people who can’t be trusted to be reliable parents, partners, or even employees. So to the list of predictable torments, shame can be added. (Ibid)

“There is a paradox here. You want the illness acknowledged but you also want to deny it, because it has a bad reputation.  (Ibid)

images-1Perhaps those of you who have never experienced this deep dark night of the soul can understand depression a bit better, and those of you who have can relate to this man’s description of it.

Most people who suffer from depression suffer in silence.  Others around you either don’t know or our culture of care prevents us from ministering to one another.

If you have an appendectomy or a knee replacement, we are going to put you on the prayer list.  People are going to come by and visit you.  People are going to send you cards and prepare meals for you.  If you break your arm people are going to sign your cast and asked, “What happened?” and you will tell your story.

But if you are depressed, no one is going to bring you a meal or send you a card or talk to you about your condition because we are not likely to know about your condition or have permission to minister to you in these ways.  Yet the depressed can suffer as much as or more than those who go through a surgery.

This magnifies the problem.  The aloneness and isolation feed the depression.

Depression is complex.  There are many types of depression and many things that trigger depression.

So while this is overly simplistic, here are three causes of depression:

  1. Depression is a side effect of something taking place in your life.
  1. Depression can be a reaction to an event that has happened in your life.
  1. Depression can be a disease in and of itself.

(Counseling the Depressed, Archibald D. Hart, Word Publishing: Dallas, 1987, p. 42)

Depression always has a cause.  It has a trigger.  Sometimes we can pinpoint its cause without too much difficulty.  Other times it’s more difficult to find the root or roots of depression.

Depression can be a side effect of something that is happening in our lives, like an ongoing illness, or lingering financial problems, or stress in our marriage or work.

At other times depression is a reaction to a life event like the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or a tragic accident that destroyed a person’s home and all of a person’s possessions. Without a healthy understanding of grief and ways to move through it, a person can spiral into depression.

Part of letting go of depression is being able to recognize that you are not yourself.  You cannot get better until you acknowledge that you are getting worse.  Some people refuse to acknowledge this and this becomes part of the demon that rises up and tries to claim our spirit.

The 42nd Psalm is very helpful because in this Psalm the depressed individual recognized that he was not himself.

“I cannot eat. I weep day and night,” he said. (v. 3a NET)

Changes in appetite, eating and sleeping habits, body fatigue, headaches, decreased sex drive and general increase in aches and pains throughout the body are all physical changes that could be signs of depression.

It is not enough to recognize that these things are happening to you.  You need to have some initiative to get the help, to do something about these changes.

Unfortunately, denial is a big part of depression.  We want to think, “I’ll be O.K.  I’ll get through this on my own.”

In addition, when we become depressed, we lack initiative.  We stop exercising and have no desire to do the things that used to bring us joy.  So with denial and a lack of initiative, we slip deeper and deeper into the abyss.  We don’t rush out to get help.

We need to do like the Psalmist and admit, “I am depressed.”  There is great power in being able to say those words.

We cannot let go of depression until we have named our demon and called it out.  Admitting that we are not self-sufficient and that we need help is one of the first steps to recovery.  This takes humility.

Part of letting go of depression is finding hope that we will overcome it.  For us as Christians, our hope lies in the Lord God and utilizing all the tools of healing He makes available to us.

However, did you notice that the Psalmist was honest about his faith and the struggles he was having with his faith in the midst of his depression?

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 are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? (9-11a NET)

When we are depressed, even God can seem far away.  However, we must rely on what we know to be true about God and not just on what we are feeling at the time.

So, the Psalmist held onto hope because he remembered the joy he once had and the strength his faith once gave him.

Without hope, a depressed person will eventually slip away from us.  Hope is what sustains us all, but for a depressed person it becomes as important as the air he/she  breathes.

We cannot let go of depression without hope.

So notice that this Psalm is bookended with hope.  It begins with these words:

“As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God! 2 I thirst for God, for the living God. I say, “When will I be able to go and appear in God’s presence?” (1-2 NET)

These are words of hope.  He has not given up hope of being in the presence of God and being delivered from his depressed state.

The book ends with these words, “Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my savior and my God.” (11b NET)

Depressed people don’t always know whether they will be accepted in God’s presence in their current state of mind.  This is a man who used to go to God in confidence when all was well in his life, but now things have fallen apart and people are mocking him and asking him, “Where is your God?”

When we are vulnerable emotionally and physically, it is a prime time for us to be vulnerable spiritually as well.  We will be attacked and doubts about our faith will rise.  Satan’s plan is to get us to cast aside all hope in the God that we know and love so that we will be entombed in the depression that has come over us.

This psalmist says to us that even in the most depressing of times, even when doubts enter our minds about our faith, we should hold on to our hope and wait on the Lord.

The Psalmist found hope in memories of his faith.  He said, “I will remember and weep.  I was once walking along with the great throng to the temple of God, shouting and giving thanks along with the crowd as we celebrated the holy festival.” (v. 4 NET)

Even though he realized he had lost these precious experiences, he had not lost God.  He realized that He had not lost access to God.  The temple might be gone but the God of the temple was still near. He might be depressed, but he realized He could still pray.

Part of letting go of depression is to take inventory of what you cannot change, and then take inventory of what is in your power to change and decide to focus on that.

This person realized he could not change being exiled, but he could still pray because God was still present.

Even though the temple of God had been taken away, even though he had been removed from his homeland and could no longer celebrate at the holy festival, God had not been taken away.  He needed to wait for God to restore his soul.

When you are depressed, waiting is very, very difficult.  Relief from the emotional pain cannot come soon enough.  Yet he had hope that he would once again give thanks to God for intervening and saving him.

Being freed from depression is a process that takes time.  The more we are in touch with our bodies and our souls, the more we are able to let it go and grasp onto a saving and intervening God.

It’s very important to affirm that this saving and intervening God works through many different methods to heal people from depression.

While depression is sometimes a symptom of something that has happened in life and sometimes a reaction to life events, there are other times that depression is a result of a chemical imbalance in our bodies which needs the assistance of medication to help us heal and remain stable.

While some people refuse to take medications for depression, taking medication for depression under the care of a doctor should not be viewed any differently than taking medication for high blood pressure or taking insulin for diabetes.

If it has been determined that your depression is due to a chemical imbalance, then why should you suffer?  Why should you deny your body and mind the help it needs?

Medication, of course, is no substitute for prayer.  Nor is it any substitute for eliminating any circumstances in our lives that might be sinful or might contribute to our depression.  Nor is medication a substitute for seeking God.  However, if a doctor determines it is a necessary part of the cure, then allow God to use it.

Two final things:

Let’s remember that the Psalmist wrote this Psalm down, presumably so that it could be shared with others.

Depression is usually an issue we suffer alone.  We withdraw and we do not share our pain with others because we do not want anyone to know about our condition.  We don’t think others will understand.  We are afraid of being judged.  We feel embarrassed.

However, part of letting go of depression is finding a skilled listener, a person of empathy and compassion, a person who understands depression and can help us walk through this dark valley until we come out on the other side.  These people can help us discover the triggers of our depression.  They can help us figure out what we can change and what we cannot.  They can help us accept grace and learn to love ourselves.

It is true that some people are more prone to depression than others.  Depression runs in some family systems.  I cannot tell you why some people become depressed and some do not, given the same set of circumstances. I can tell you that God does not will or wish that anyone be afflicted with this terrible form of suffering.  I do not know why some get well quicker than others or why some struggle with depression all their lives.  I just believe that God knows, God loves, and God cares.

Like the Psalmist, I believe it makes all the difference to hold onto hope that God is near.

I believe that we must continue to live with hope that healing in some form is possible for everyone by God’s grace.  It is with that belief that we wait on the Lord.

With that I leave you with these words from the Savior, “28Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  (Matthew 11:28 NLT)

So with words like these we should know that depression is an enemy of the Savior, a demon he wishes to free us from,  so we can have the joy and peace of our salvation.