Thursday, June 07, 2007

Depression and Psalm 88 - II

We are going to look at the psalmist's description of his darkness but before we do, we mention two matters briefly.

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.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Dealing With Depression: Psalm 88

Psalm 88 is a dark psalm. In many other psalms, the writer is going through troubles as he is surrounded by enemies or as he is dealing with his rebellion or sin. As the psalmist finishes, he usually ends with his eyes refocused on God and a word of trust and praise. Psalm 88 ends with the words You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.

There is no further word of trust, no glance heavenward. The psalmist stares headlong into the life given him and his conclusion - darkness is my closest friend.

The first thing we notice about the Psalm is that it is a song. The inscription reads: A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leanoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite. Imagine standing up Sunday morning and singing this psalm with one another. But that is what this psalm is - a song set to music to be lead by the director of music.

What is the response of the church to be for those who suffer with depression? While depression often remains hidden in the church, as if the depression person must be either rebuked or pitied, Psalm 88 teaches us to sing to one another about darkness. While we love to praise God with songs of thanksgiving and salvation, there is a place to talk about the darkness of the soul. Depression/darkness is to be out in the open. The people of God are to address the issue.

That means two things:

First, those who struggle with depression must learn to talk about depression and second, the rest are to learn to listen to those who struggle with depression.

Sounds simple? Well, no because if someone struggles with depression, one of the hardest moments of their life is to talk about their darkness. Sure, they may talk but listen to receive words of hope? Or they may not even be at the point of talking. At times it may be like no one will understand or at other times it is like laying on the weight bench with too much weight on the bar - they just cannot lift this to a conversation. Darkness is a lonely place.

On the other hand, those who listen must learn to listen and not give out cliche, religious, empty answers. Or they must be able to patiently draw out a persons darkness, which takes time and trust. It is usually not time to be looking for sin or casting out demons - it is a time to listen, love and patiently suffer alongside of the one in darkness.

How does the church deal with those who struggle with depression? Psalm 88 tells us to speak about it, sing out loud the struggles with darkness. God's Word is profound here. What happens when we sing about it? First, God is found in the pciture. Second, the person living in darkness understands this will not be swept under the rug and the church is not filled with Christians who have it all together. And third, those who sing for the depressed person are reminded to love them, to have mercy on them and to above all remember them.