First, in darkness or with depression, the forgotten element is often Psalm 88.1: O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. It is often forgotten because at least in North America, we are so secularized and psychologized. I do not mean that secular counseling or psychology is all bad - in fact, on the balance it has done much good. But in the search for help, especially in the church, the cry to the God who saves is often left out of the picture. However, for the psalmist, it is the beginning point. This does not exclude the usefulness of medicine or other helpful techniques but it does say that the greatest help is missing if the cry to the God who saves is not in the heart or on the lips of the person in darkness.
Second, the psalmist describes his trouble. He articulates his darkness. This is why I think it is often helpful for a person who is depressed to journal - to write down his or her thoughts concerning their darkness. In fact, it almost seems to be a natural occurrence for someone in depression because it can be that they do not even understand the darkness and they just need to see if they can explain it to themselves. If you are with someone who is in darkness, ask them to describe to you their darkness. Don't interrupt. Just listen. And if they have left out verse 1, ask them if you can just pray for them to the God who saves.
How does the the psalmist describe his darkness?
- His soul is full of trouble: interesting that when he sees his inner self, he sees only trouble - it is full.
- Life draws close to the grave - hopelessness.
- Counted among those who go down to the pit - again, if we were to use today's language, we would put the psalmist on suicide watch.
- I am a man without strength - you will find with those in darkness, they are often tired - physically, emotionally, spiritually. The battle is overwhelming, their thoughts are unsettled and tiresome. They are often without strength so some will just sleep - not so much because they are tired but because they are too tired to deal with reality.
- I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave - you notice this a lot in the psalm - his fixation on death. Darkness is like death - something has died and they need life. A good description for some on depression - a part of me has died and I see no life.
- Whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care - this is interesting as depressed people can often feel like no one cares for them. Someone may be intimately involved in their life, but still, no one cares
And that is only the beginning, the first 5 verses. There are 12 more to go. When dealing with someone who is in darkness, we may say - well, are you just exaggerating? Isn't there anything good in your life? Are you a half-empty glass kind-of person or what!! That becomes the importance of listening as mentioned above. When we read this psalm, do we say - just get over it? No, we listen to the psalmist and seek to enter their world taking their words as the reality in which they live.
If you suffer with depression, pick up a pen and begin to freely write about the darkness. If someone comes to you with depression, listen. Let them talk and express freely their thoughts and emotions.