Depression and joy
Not everyone will experience depression – and thank goodness for that! – but many, many will. I don’t need to be told the sobering stats to know how prevalent it is – once I began talking about what I’d gone through numerous others started coming out of the woodwork, saying that they have in the past or presently struggle with depression. Christian or otherwise, it’s a big issue.
Below is Psalm 13, a short psalm by David. I think it’s important to realise that God felt David was a man after His own heart, but David nonetheless still experienced some dark, dark times, and was given to despairing. David wasn’t a lost cause, and he wasn’t ‘faulty’ – he loved God and God loved him.
1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
This psalm was sent by David to the choirmaster, so we know it was meant to be sung. I found that hearing it to music made it hit home more than by just reading it. A version of this psalm is sung Brian Doerksen. It’s beautiful. Verses 1 to 4 are soulful and melancholic. I heard it during a period of my life when it captured what I was feeling, but hadn’t yet really verbalised to myself: that it felt as though my prayers – repeated so often, for so long – were going unanswered, and that God had for all practical purposes forgotten me. The lines “Look on me and answer, oh God my Father, bring light to my darkness, before they see me fall” felt so close to home.
David knew genuine sorrow and heartache. His life had glorious seasons, but he also went into extreme declines. God chose to record both in the Bible, perhaps in part so we would see that when we struggle with depression we are not alone. I think it can be liberating to hear others echo the thoughts that David shared, as the indirect message is: ‘It’s okay to think them.’ None of the psalmists were scared of expressing doubt and angst; they let it out and asked God questions. We can do the same.
I don’t fully know why some of us struggle so much with depression (and I don’t think one-size-fits-all type answers are helpful), but I know God’s plans for our lives are always redemptive.
The second part of the song is full of hope: “But I trust in your unfailing love; yes, my heart will rejoice”. The promise here is that your heart WILL be able to rejoice again. At the time, I felt sure that sorrow was my lot, and that I would always feel bereft and alone, without hope. Thankfully my life is not about me holding onto God, but instead about him holding on to me. He’s shown me many times that He is not going to let me go. Healing did eventually come, and I went back and played that song over, this time gratefully singing the latter verses, because I was again able to rejoice.
I think that sometimes, in the deepest part of our despair, we need others to believe for us that sorrow and fear are not all there will ever be. I may not know who you are, but maybe I can be the person who believes that for you, and I do. This is not the end. God’s promise to you is that you will experience joy again. Hold on to your trust in His steadfast love.