What The Psalmist Teaches Us About Recovering Joy
We hear the anguish in the words of Psalm 77, “I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help…Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?”
Maybe you can relate. Maybe there have been times in your life when your perception of God didn’t line up with God’s description of Himself in the word…Compassionate. Promise keeper. Comforter. Our help in times of trouble. Rescuer. I have certainly been in that place. And it feels like anguish. So what can we learn from the writers of the Psalms about depression?
Psalm 77 teaches us that Lost Connection Can Trigger Depression. While this may seem obvious, it’s easy to miss the depth of pain that disconnection can cause. Maybe the one we feel disconnected with is still a part of our daily lives. Maybe they’ve passed away. Either way, the lack of physical or emotional connection causes pain.
If you find yourself in this place, a good question to ask is: “When did it start?” Was it a death? A miscarriage? A time when someone you loved just stopped making an effort? When did the disconnection happen? Was it an emotional wall that went up, rejection, a church split? The psalmist felt depressed when he thought about the connection that had been lost: “My heart is in anguish within me…If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.” (Psalm 55)
The Psalmists teach us to express the pain that disconnection brings. The most healing place to process the pain is in our prayer time. This not only builds intimacy with God, but it also gives Him the opportunity to comfort us.
The enemy tries to compound the pain of lost connection with others by convincing us that we’ve lost connection with God too. He loves to kick us when we’re down. When we feel depressed it’s common to feel oppressed by the enemy. He whispers his questioning of God in the first person, “Where is God when I need Him?” “Why won’t He come to me?” “Where is the abundant life He promised?” The enemy whispers his questioning of God in the first person so that we think it’s our own thoughts. His questioning is intended to make us believe lies about God. Lies that God has abandoned us when we needed Him the most. Lies that God doesn’t see. Doesn’t care enough to intervene. Lies that God doesn’t care about our pain.
When I was in a place of agony caused by depression, I questioned, “WHY?” Why would God allow the enemy to oppress me like this? I didn’t understand. I longed for God to jump on a chariot and come to comfort me. Rescue me. Deliver me from the assault I felt like I was under.
Those who feel depressed are in agony. The need is real. The question is, how do we move from a place of emotional agony to a place of joy? What remedy does the Psalmist offer us?
The writer of this psalm teaches us to Identify and own our emotions. There’s a pattern in the Psalms. The writers are brutally honest with God about how they feel. They choose intimacy (into-me-you-see) with God by inviting Him to see inside their hearts. When we tell God what we’re feeling, we invite Him to experience intimacy with us. It was my daughter that taught me that intimacy also says, “This is how I see you.” Can you hear it in the Psalmist’s lament, “Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?” There’s a time to be honest with God about how we feel about Him: “God, where are you? You feel so far away when I need you the most!”
Intimacy cannot happen without honesty
Even if we know that our feelings are wrong, acknowledging them is the first step toward healing. God knows those feelings are in our heart anyway, so let’s just put it on the table. Talk to God. He can handle it. We need to process our feelings, because stuffed emotions don’t just dissipate. How much better to process the pain and have our emotions restored. The only other option is to continue carry that pain inside us. If we’re going to walk away restored, it’s imperative that we don’t stop here. This next step is key. This is where the healing begins:
Declare God’s faithfulness before we feel like it’s true. This is a huge step of faith. This step says, “I trust God’s word more than my feelings and perceptions to tell me what is true.”
God wants us to run to Him when we’re in pain, or scared, or just feeling needy. But what about those times when we try to find refuge in God, but He seems so far away? It can feel so confusing. Isn’t this what I am supposed to do as a Christian? Run to God instead of alcohol, or drugs, or shopping, or whatever we humans tend to run to for pain relief instead of God? Are we left with no place to run for help?
If you have found yourself feeling this way, you’re in good company. King David gives us a glimpse of moments just like this in his life in the book of Psalms. Since David was known as a man after God’s own heart, I think it’s worth taking a look at how he handled this kind of situation.
In Psalm 22 David wrote about just such a time. In it we find not only a record of David’s experience of finding God silent during a time of crisis in his life, but also a prophetic glimpse into the future when the Lord Jesus Himself would feel the pain of the heavenly Father turning His back when Jesus needed Him the most…on the cross.
Psalm 22 begins, “My God, my why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.”
David was doing his part. He had resisted the urge to run to HIS earthly comfort. In those moments when David felt abandoned by God, when he needed Him the most, David CHOSE to praise God. CHOSE to remember the times in the past when God HAD come through for him. Psalm 22:3-5,22-24 says, “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed…I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the LORD, praise him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
King David set the example for us when experiencing depression: honestly bringing our pain/complaints before God, then declaring God’s praises BEFORE he felt comforted. The majority of the time when I follow this pattern, I experience comfort. For those times when I’ve had to wait for God’s comfort, my goal is to remind myself that “the righteous shall live by faith,” (Gal. 3:11) and those who wait for the LORD will not be disappointed.(Isaiah 49:3)
Overcoming depression requires that we come to God on His terms. When I was suffering the crushing weight of despair, I was angry. Angry that God didn’t come and sooth my pain the way I thought He should. God calls Himself the Comforter. Scripture says, “The LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore He rises to show you compassion, for the LORD is a just God. Blessed are all who wait for Him.” The problem was that in my pain, my heart demanded to be the center of attention. If I wasn’t constantly being held up by others, I began to sink. The problem is, God doesn’t share His throne with anyone, not even His dearly loved children. He is the center. This is why scripture tells us to enter His presence with praise…focus on Him rather than on that which has been lost. Make declarations of who He is BEFORE we FEEL it’s true. The Psalmist declares that God is “my joy and my delight”, my Rock, my Savior, my stronghold. (Psalm 43:2,4; 42:9,11) We may think we’re doing God a favor when we take our eyes off of our own pain and look at Him. Our praise does bless God, but it also restores our emotions.
May we, like the Psalmist, find our souls restored as we agree with Who God is even before we feel it,