Depression is Biblical

Psalm 88Depression carries a stigma for those who suffer under its weight. On top of the burden that already exists for those who live with it, we place shame and doubt and frustration. It’s cruel and unnecessary.

There is a particular stigma that exists within the Christian subculture that depression is somehow wrong. People are led to believe it is somehow a sign of not having enough faith or not being inside God’s will or having done something to displease God.

That idea is not biblical. Not in the slightest.

I challenge anyone who says that depression is outside of the experience of a person of faith to read Psalm 88. These are the words of someone who is in the midst of deep anguish. In fact, at the front end, the Psalm declares itself “A song to be sung to the tune 'The Suffering of Affliction.'”

Listen to the words of Psalm 88 from the New Living Translation.

O LORD, God of my salvation,      I cry out to you by day.      I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer;      listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles,      and death draws near. I am as good as dead,      like a strong man with no strength left. They have left me among the dead,      and I lie like a corpse in a grave. I am forgotten,      cut off from your care. You have thrown me into the lowest pit,      into the darkest depths. Your anger weighs me down;      with wave after wave you have engulfed me.      Interlude You have driven my friends away      by making me repulsive to them. I am in a trap with no way of escape.      My eyes are blinded by my tears. Each day I beg for your help, O LORD;      I lift my hands to you for mercy. Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead?      Do the dead rise up and praise you?      Interlude Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love?      Can they proclaim your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds?      Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness? O LORD, I cry out to you.      I will keep on pleading day by day. O LORD, why do you reject me?      Why do you turn your face from me? I have been sick and close to death since my youth.      I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors. Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me.      Your terrors have paralyzed me. They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.      They have engulfed me completely. You have taken away my companions and loved ones.      Darkness is my closest friend. 

This is not a Psalm of easy answers. It is filled with brokenness and pain.

I think this Psalm teaches us an important lesson: let’s stop trying to fix people. This Psalm does not have platitudes. It does not pretend things are explainable. It does not fix. It does not resolve.

Psalm 88 sits in pain with its singer. Its words come alongside like a friend, offering the safety of honesty and presence.

Parker Palmer has written about his experience as a Christian suffering from depression and how people responded to him. Many people visited him during his darkest days, trying to help, but many of them just added to the hurt.

But one friend, one friend brought his presence in the most beautiful way.

“Blessedly, there were several people, family and friends, who had the courage to stand with me in a simple and healing way. One of them was a man who, having asked my permission to do so, stopped by late every afternoon, sat me down in a chair, knelt in front of me, removed my shoes and socks, and for half an hour simply massaged my feet. He found the only place in my body where I could still experience bodily feeling—and feel connected with the human race.

He rarely spoke a word, and when he did, he never gave advice but simply mirrored my condition. He would say, “I can sense your struggle today,” or, “It feels like you are getting stronger.” I could not always respond, but his words were deeply helpful: They reassured me that I could still be seen by at least on person, life-giving knowledge in the midst of an experience that makes one feel annihilated and invisible. It is almost impossible to put into words what my friend's ministry meant to me."

Let’s follow this example. Let’s enter with people in their pain and not try to fix them. Let’s give those who are suffering space to simply be without adding the burden of shame to their already heavy load.

Psalm 88 shows a God who wants to be present with us in the midst of it, without easy answers. Let’s provide that presence for one another.

That was my reflection on Psalm 88. Link up with your own reflection below. Or stop back next week with a reflection on Psalm 89.

What Makes a Good "God Story"?

It was one of the ugliest hospital rooms I had ever seen. The finishings were a time warp back to the seventies. The room was drab, outdated, and uncomfortable. But due to construction in the “pregnancy complications” wing, this is where I landed for my bed rest.

In so many ways, it was not where I wanted to be.

Laying in a hospital bed on my side, scrolling through B movies while my husband was at work.

My baby wasn’t due for over eight weeks. The complications had begun on Monday, and for the middle of the week, I was on bed rest at home. But now it was Thursday, and I was there. In the gloomy, outdated hospital room, with my only company the swirling questions about the future.

My solitude was broken by the ring of the phone. I picked up to hear the voice of a well-meaning loved one, calling to remind me that God was in control and it would all turn out all right.

I hung up, turned over, and sighed.

I believed that God was good. I really did. I truly believed that no matter what was headed my way, He would bring me through.

But knowing that did not mean I felt it, not at that moment.

I was irritated that someone was trying to hurry me through to the other side. I needed to stay there for awhile, lingering in my sorrow and uncertainty.

One of the things I love about the Psalms is the permission they give to be in that place.

Psalm 10 begins with

Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? – Psalm 10:1

Yet, Psalm 10 does not stand in isolation. In fact, the Greek translation of the Old Testament puts Psalm 9 and 10 together as one Psalm. The two together have some repeating themes and the loose structure of an acrostic poem.

Scholars disagree about whether or not these two were at one time one Psalm, but they do agree that at least they are related.

Yet, the two could not begin more differently. Psalm 9 begins with

I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High. – Psalm 9:1-2

Psalm 10 has the raw honesty of someone frustrated with God in the midst of difficulty. Psalm 9 has the faith that God brings us through difficulty and calls us to sing His praises.

Something inside us wants to separate these two things, the questioning and the praising. But they are often simultaneous.

It is possible to believe that life sucks and God is good at the same time. We do not need to rush through the pain to demonstrate that we have faith.

Because Psalm 9 also gives us a truth that is true hope in the midst of any circumstance.

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you. – Psalm 9:10

The Lord will not forsake us.

When we call on His name to yell, complain, vent, throw a fit, cry, and question, the Lord will not forsake us.

When we call on His name to praise, thank, rejoice, and trust, the Lord will not forsake us.

God is trustworthy. We can demonstrate our true feelings without fear.

I once heard a woman talk about the experience of losing her daughter in a tragic car accident at age seven. She said, “I knew that if God was really God, His chest was big enough for me to pound on.”

In difficult times, I picture us getting close enough to pound on God’s chest, so that He can wrap His arms around us in love.

And all this ties back into the beginning of Psalm 9.

As people of faith, it is our job to recount the deeds of God. To tell stories of how He has been faithful, how He has redeemed, and how He has not forsaken. This includes stories of when we have been angry or questioned and the Lord has stood by our side.

I am grateful, so grateful, that my son’s birth story became one of blessing. The Lord was with us in a mighty way. It is a story of one of God’s wonderful deeds.

But God’s other wonderful deed was earlier. And it is a story worth telling, too. A story of how God did not leave me when I was in that hospital room, surrounded by doubt and fear.

God was in the happy ending. God was also in the messy middle. He did not forsake me.

A Cup Accepted and A Love Revealed

This post will not begin with a story from me. What story do I have that compares with THE Story?

It is Holy Week- a time to remember Jesus’ final days on earth.

In His final days, Jesus prays. He doesn’t run. Or worry. Or strategize. Or plan a counter-attack. He prays.

He prays for Himself. He wrestles with the future that is now just moments away. But yet, always, always, His desire is for God to be glorified, whatever the cost.

And that is not His only prayer.

Jesus also prays for His followers. Moments before His own arrest, Jesus is found praying for His disciples- that they would be protected when He is taken from them. And us, the followers yet to come: that we would be one so the world would see His love.

God’s glory and love. It has always been and will always be about that.

And then, it happens.

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.  – John 18:1-6

This is a holy declaration. This is Jesus of Nazareth. This is I AM, Yahweh, the Holy One. The voice that asked Moses to take of His sandals now causes soldiers to fall down.

This is Jesus. God in human form who walked on seas and could stroll right out of that garden unharmed if He wants to. That might show His glory.

But it would not show His love. And it is in His love that glory is most clearly revealed.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” John 18:7-8

In this moment, still in this moment, Jesus thinks of others. He cares for His disciples.

It is always about love.

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. –John 18:10-13

The cup of suffering. Jesus always knew it would come to this. And He is ready. He is ready to accept this bitter cup from the Father on our behalf.

Jesus, the great I AM, takes the cup. He is ready to spill His love in blood.

And then, in just few verses, the contrast. Oh the contrast between this loving, selfless, honest Jesus and fickle, egocentric, lying humanity.

After Jesus declares “I am he,” Peter declares “I am not.”

An acceptance born of love and a denial born of fear.

And I realize I am Peter. We all are. We are the frightened humanity unable to bear the cup that Jesus bore for us.

Jesus runs towards what we all run away from. But the cup He takes leaves His arms open wide, ready to hold us when we come running back.

This is what Jesus saying “I am he” when He is arrested reveals to me. What does it reveal to you?

Read the post before this one: How do we bear fruit in our lives?

P.S. Looking for a way to reflect this week? I highly recommend watching The Gospel of John. It brings the words of Scripture to life for me. (Though The Passion of the Christ is also good for reflection, I appreciate the more holistic view of The Gospel of John.)