Psalm for the Depressed

Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?

[42:1] As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
[2] My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
[3] My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
[4] These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
[5] Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
[6] my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
[7] Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
[8] By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
[9] I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
[10] As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
[11] Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

(Psalm 42 ESV)

Dealing with pain, as apparent from this psalm, takes more than just defiance. Note the repetition: turmoil doesn’t simply go away. You can’t say to your soul, “Why are you cast down, and why are you in turmoil within me?” and then just add, “Come, let us just move on,” or, “Let us just go and live as we were, ignoring this.” It’s not possible to just decide that you’re better or OK or happy or will go on to new things. You cannot just replace what was broken and expect to be healed. Humans aren’t cars that only need new parts – or new jobs or new friends to get better. Our souls need to hope in God, where hope is holding out for the unseen goodness in the land where God will bring us. Hoping in God is not hoping for better/best situations or better/best times, or else you will forever be sorely disappointed by a broken self and a broken world. Biblical hope is not hoping that God will eventually give you the earthly desires of your heart; it is learning to actually desire God beyond all, and sometimes, or even quite often, that will mean laying your desires on the ground and walking away.

As with Lot’s wife, the one who looked back and turned into a pillar of salt (ironically enough the mineral in tears), it is hard not to look back, wondering all manner of things. It’s hard not to want to replay, and you can replay levels and whole games in video games, probably pandering to this desire. Perhaps I sucked at gaming, but I always made the same mistakes even when I replayed. This is not necessarily a theological link I wish to draw by mentioning Mrs. Lot, but more so just a visual. At the weekend retreat that I mentioned in another post (Throwing off burdens (and some spectacular use of grammar in the Bible)), I was told something else that made me sit up:

Exercising self-control in our thinking and living (i.e. casting the whole of your care once and for all on Christ) involves:

  • not multiplying our suffering by rehearsing or reliving our troubles
  • keeping from futile speculation (Romans 1:21 in AMP)
Funny that we do these things, but we do. There’s some weird satisfaction in it. Thinking is the hardest to exercise self-control over. You can beat your body and make it your slave much more easily than you can beat your mind and make it your slave. (Ref: 1 Cor 9:27 NIV) Futile speculation, too, can seem like it’s not an entirely futile activity: we think we protect ourselves by speculating a worst case scenario so that we’re prepared for the worst and save ourselves the hurt, but in the meantime, that’s just more constant and fictional pain for something that might not even happen. More so, it’s indicative of not casting all cares, anxieties, worries and concerns on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7 AMP) and throwing off those burdens.
Now I will quote verbatim my favourite introductory paragraph from the prayer guide we were given:

Have you ever felt helpless? Helplessness is an unsettling and sometimes terrifying thing to most of us. We resist it, deny it, and when we are finally face to face with it, we sometimes find that we are unable to endure it. But helplessness is actually one of the greatest assets a human being can have. Crisis brings us face to face with our inadequacy and our inadequacy in turn leads us to the inexhaustible sufficiency of God. Spectacular answers to prayer can come following a period when you can do nothing for yourself at all and therefore find yourself waiting on God alone. This hemming in process is one of God’s loving and effective ways of teaching you that he is gloriously adequate for all your problems.

The Puritans had it right in this prayer from The Valley of Vision:

Desires

O THOU THAT HEAREST PRAYER,

Teach me to pray,
I confess that in religious exercises
the language of my lips and the feelings
of my heart have not always agreed,
that I have frequently taken carelessly upon
my tongue a name never pronounced above
without reverence and humility,
that I have often desired things which would
have injured me,
that I have depreciated some of my chief mercies,
that I have erred both on the side of my hopes
and also of my fears,
that I am unfit to choose for myself,
for it is not in me to direct my steps.
Let thy Spirit help my infirmities,
for I know not what to pray for as I ought.

Let him produce in me wise desires by which
I may ask right things,
then I shall know thou hearest me.
May I never be importunate for temporal blessings,
but always refer them to thy fatherly goodness,
for thou knowest what I need before I ask;
May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers,
or that I am rich unless rich toward thee,
or that I am wise unless wise unto salvation.
May I seek first thy kingdom and its righteousness.
May I value things in relation to eternity,
May my spiritual welfare be my chief solicitude.
May I be poor, afflicted, despised and have
thy blessing,
rather than be successful in enterprise,
or have more than my heart can wish,
or be admired by my fellow-men,
if thereby these things make me forget thee.
May I regard the world as dreams, lies, vanities,
vexation of spirit,
and desire to depart from it.
And may I seek my happiness in thy favour,
image, presence, service.

Thus far, this post has mostly been me amalgamating a bunch of things I’ve read, heard and thought about in recent weeks, hopefully tying them together in a new way such that I’m not really just quoting them. I don’t know if it’s of any use to anyone else reading. In any case, since the title indicates there is a psalm for the depressed here, let me finish off with a part from a more hopeful psalm for the depressed than that first one:

[13] I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
[14] Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

(Psalm 27:13-14 NASB)

The goodness of the Lord in the land of the living… that means while he’s still alive. Although I have said that our hope should not rest solely upon the goodness of the Lord’s provision in earthly things, I do think it is alright for that to be a part of our hope, because it’s not as if God keeps everything we desire from us either. Maybe just not in ways we expect.

Funny last thought, though not accurate: I always get mad at myself for speculating about how the Lord will provide, because I feel as if everything that I randomly or thoughtfully come up with will not come to pass because the provision can’t be anything I would think of… and sometimes I rather like my speculations.

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Throwing off burdens (and some spectacular use of grammar in the Bible)

Abel. Enoch. Noah. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Sarah. Joseph. Moses. The people of Israel. Rahab. Gideon. Barak. Samson. Jephthah. David. Samuel. The prophets. (Hebrews 11, the list of the faithful.)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)

First of all, thank goodness the people included in this ‘great cloud of witnesses’ are flawed to various degrees, just like I am! When I was younger, I used to mistakenly imagine Christians of the past in heaven looking down at me disapprovingly and being disappointed/disgusted – not to mention Jesus or God’s perspective. (Couldn’t even bring myself there.) That sort of watchful ‘accountability’ is terribly disheartening, and resulted in my greatly desiring to let no one get to know me, lest they discover what all these heavenly witnesses knew better. Nevertheless, I know better now: Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is my identity, as with all of those in that cloud of witnesses. None of us could stand before God but for Christ, even if some appear somewhat more righteous than others. (Truthfully though, it also helped my acceptance of this truth to discover how others too were more sinful than I had first assumed, and that I wasn’t too sinful to be forgiven, or too damaged to be made new. Due to the helpfulness of this discovery for myself in making my acceptance of salvation in Christ a joyful thing, it has since been a personal conviction to freely share my dirt as is appropriate to the situation, but regardless of my own discomfort.)

Returning to that verse in Hebrews, the ESV Bible mentions “weight” rather than things that hinder, and the New KJV uses “ensnares” to describe sin rather than entangling. A snare, being a trap, is more active than the action of entangling, which seems more passive. Nevertheless, the idea is the same: we are bound and held captive by sin. Kinda like a slave. Last summer I received a copy of Slave by John MacArthur which I will finish this summer. (On my word, I shall!) It emphasizes the very Biblical but unsung idea of switching loyalties from being a slave to sin to being a slave of the Lord Jesus, and how this second ‘slavery’ is, in actual fact, freedom from sin and the various burdens of a sinful nature.

Recently, at a women’s retreat, I’ve been privileged to be read a list of hindrances by which we may be trapped, and these made me sit up and pay rapt attention.

Hindrances:

  • self-preoccupation
  • false accusations
  • worry and fear
  • bitterness
  • unforgiveness
  • pain of past and present hurts
  • circumstances (health, physical limitations, finances, jobs…)
This made me sit up because as a Christian, I tend to unthinkingly categorize everything negative as sin when not every burden is technically sin, even if it resulted from sin or could result in sin in some way. The point is, though, that both burdens and sin are debilitating to our ability to run the race, to be a new creation, to have the courage to go and be a witness, to rejoice and to worship. Burdens are a yoke of slavery that prevents us from living as those who have been freed.

Anyhow, imagine a hot air balloon, the pictorial theme of the retreat weekend. Being tethered to the ground prevents it from soaring, but soaring willy-nilly is dangerous. Like us, when the balloon is tethered to Christ as a guide, then it can soar freely in safety.

But I don’t always feel like I soar, or am safe!

Where is Christ then? And there, something that John Piper said brought comfort: One of the greatest heartaches of the Christian walk is our slowness to change.

Didn’t Jesus wash me clean? Aren’t I free now? That certainly is a heartache of mine.

The following verse is so wonderful I’ll state it twice, in different versions:

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV)

“…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14 NIV)

I promised spectacular grammar in the title of this post, and there it is. That Jesus “has made perfect” is stated in present perfect tense, which deals with a past event that has present relevance. (E.g. “I have lived in Vancouver.” I can call myself a West Coaster, but Eastern Canada is my home now.) On the other hand, “those who are being made holy” is in present continuous tense, which deals with events that are in progress now and will be in progress for an unspecified time yet. These two different time tenses happen in unison. Perfect. Holy. Finished and still in progress.

The good news, as I was reminded that weekend, is that “being on the way is proof that we have arrived.” Are we there yet? No, but yes. So keep going, whether the way is slow, tortuous, or quite circular at times. Take heart in the good news of the gospel of grace, and our sanctification that follows. “Our fight against sin is not simply to become perfect, but because we are.”

The funny thing is, when we are weak and struggling through little fault of our own, it is easy to turn to God and rely on Him. In stark contrast, when it is our folly, our lack of self control, our empty purpose, our pig-headed stubbornness, our self reliance, our apathy, our resentfulness, our bitterness, our unwillingness to forgive or anything else like that which has caused us to stumble, struggle and be faint, or even caused others to be hurt, it is harder to rely on God. “Do I have a right to?” subtly comes to mind.

Yes. Most assuredly so. You didn’t earn the right, but Jesus earned it for us, and at this time, you need to rely on the one who sanctifies us. You just gotta suck in your pride and look upon glorious, undeserved grace.

My favourite image from that hot air balloon themed retreat was that of the fire in the burners. In those times of fire and trial, our dependence on and closeness with Christ in the uncomfortable environment of hot air gives us lift to soar that a mild and cool environment does not. It’s like the special treat of trials, almost like a consolation prize, except that it’s much more, and conversely, is really the point of the trial, I would say. It’s hard to complain about difficulties when you see that God is bringing you closer to Himself through these things.

One last scribble that I took from just the first talk of the retreat: Living for Christ – waiting for our emotions to catch up.

Hope

You know chick flicks? They’re mostly run-of-the-mill pieces of mediocrity that directors make to guarantee some femme group-spending on a ladies’ movie night. On the contrary, there’s something to be said for the power of a feel-good flick watched with good girl friends.

Realist movies aren’t as fun to watch as the unrealistic fast food of a chick flick.

[Below are spoilers for the movies Alfie and Sweet Home Alabama.]

Take Alfie – despite the possible chick flick designation for having Jude Law in the cast, this movie ends as a downer. Alfie’s really messed things up for others and himself with his playboy lifestyle that includes personal attachments to many women. He thinks it’s ok; he always makes it clear beforehand that he’s not the type ready to commit. Still, the movie ends and he is lonely and guilt-ridden. Realistic? Maybe. Droll? Definitely.

Take Sweet Home Alabama – despite definite chick flick flavours such as good-looking screen personnel and a fairytale storyline of economic success and ‘true’ love, it does kind of subvert fairytale romances of the urban fashionable blue-blood strain where the rich marry each other or some poor girl or boy. (It does upkeep the childhood sweetheart fairytale though.) In any case, we admittedly hope for our own fairytale.

Back to the point. “S/he/It is so real.” That’s what we say when we’re impressed with how something has moved us deeply. Like when something has the raw power to connect with a part of ourselves that we believe to be ‘real’. What is real? We keep returning to the chick flick; whether we say it is real or we don’t, we include it in the functions of our life.

Perhaps the ‘real’ thing we see in chick flicks is the hope it inspires. That hope may not be for any realistic target, but the act of hope is viscerally real. And hope is far more appealing than despair.