1 To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah. As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help
6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me, therefore I remember thee from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts; all thy waves and thy billows 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 hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
The United States is the birthplace of the blues. Guitar wielding singers like Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King and Muddy Waters sing their despair. “Don’t nobody love me but my mama, and she might be jivin’ me!”
Actually the oldest form of the Blues is not from America but from the Middle East. The Psalms of the Old Testament were written several thousand years ago. And fully fifty, or one third, of the Psalms take the form of a lament.
One such blues psalm is the forty-second. It is a psalm of depression. Let’s open ourselves to it and see what light there is for the living of our days.
What Is Depression?
In the Psalm the singer laments, “As a deer pants for the flowing streams, so my soul longs after thee, O God.” This “longing” is further detailed as a sense of “thirst,” being “cast down,” “disquieted within.”
Health experts call depression a misery that may include feeling blue, down in the dumps and grumps, sadness, fatigue, hopelessness, and a feeling of dejection.
In Herman Melville’s book, Moby Dick, depression is called “a damp, drizzly November in the soul.”
A friend of mine describes his depression as “one of those days when you get up but can’t get your closet started, one of those moments when your shoe laces seem to weigh 40 pounds each.”
In a “Peanuts” comic strip, Lucy has hung out her “The psychiatrist is in” sign. Charlie Brown confides, “Some days I’m up, the next day I’m down.” Lucy replies, “Like an emotional roller coaster?” To which Charlie Brown responds, “No. More like bumper cars!” And most of us can relate to getting bumped around by the hurts of life.
What is depression? A feeling, an emotional experience of varying intensity, that may include sadness, listlessness, dejection, and hopelessness.
What Are The Symptoms?
The psalmist is very honest. In but eleven verses he describes himself as full of longing, thirst, weeping night and day, soul cast down, disquieted within, suffocating beneath waves, feeling forgotten, mourning, and bearing about in his person a deadly wound. My! But what an eloquent expression of the blues!
Health care experts give ten major symptoms of depression.
- Unexplainable jumpiness or anxiety.
- Unusual irritability.
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty in concentrating or remembering.
- Physical pains that are hard to pin down.
- Appetite loss or overeating.
- Loss of interest in job, family, sex, hobby…
- A downhearted period that gets worse or just won’t go away.
- Frequent unexplainable crying spells.
- A loss of self-esteem, an attitude of indifference.
If you discover 3 to 5 of these symptoms in your life at any one time, in every likelihood you’re suffering depression. And, hey! That’s okay! It’s no sin to be downhearted. Rather, it’s all a portion of what Shakespeare’s Hamlet called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…that flesh is heir to.”
In the Bible some real spiritual heavyweights spent time in the doldrums. Fact is, three major prophets hurt so badly they wished for death! Moses… Elijah… Jonah… So you’re in good company!
What Causes Depression?
What causes depression? Many things!
- Fatigue. If I run 10 miles, I become physically tired. Likewise, each of us has a tank of emotional fuel. When it is spent, I may feel blue. Certain events in life guzzle lots of emotional energy–difficult people, rapid change, family weddings and funerals, making a speech, rejection, etc. Take Elijah for example. He dueled with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, slew their priests, had his life threatened by wicked Queen Jezebel, and fled into the wilderness emotionally drained. “I, only I, am left…” he lamented.
- Circumstances. A friend moved against her wishes to a huge city in another part of the country. Everything is strange, her network of friends is far away, and she is feeling blue. Depression in her case is circumstantial. She’s using her emotional energy to deal with change.
- Nutrition. Junk food diets can lead to a junky emotional life. Today’s American eats in a hurry, swills down pills and alcohol. Truman Capote, in one of his last interviews, showed up depressed, haggard looking, his speech slurred. He confessed he hadn’t slept in 3 days, had quit eating. He said he was given to mixing his pills and alcohol and drinking it as a sort of cocktail. And he was blue. Little wonder!
- Biology. The human body is a delicate machine. And sometimes it gets out of sync. The thyroid gland can act up. There is the feminine change of life. Chemistry can become unbalanced, causing mood swings.
- A bitter spirit. Jesus said that unforgiveness turns us over to torment (Matthew 18:34). One of the worst things we can do is hate. Such creates an emotional focus wherein we eat, sleep, drink, and wrestle with our hated adversary over and over until we’re thoroughly sapped by it.
- Negative thinking. You’ve seen the downward spiral or whirlpool in a tub when you pull the plug? Some of our thinking can be such a downer. I stayed on a campus after a chapel recently. The student who hosted me was a freshman. “How do you like it so far?” I inquired. Thus began his litany of gripes–too small, boring classes, nothing to do, no cool girls, and the dining hall food is lousy. When I asked the young man where he’d rather be, he didn’t know. No wonder the student was depressed! His thoughts were an anvil around his neck.
- Grief. At different times in our lives, we suffer loss. A romantic breakup, job loss, a child leaves the nest, a pet dies, divorce, estrangement from a friend, a spouse passes away. Such can lead to depression.
- Sin. Facing the consequences of poor choices, carnality, quenching the Spirit, a bad conscience, failure to combat the accusations of Satan, wallowing in sin–these can depress us. If I go hiking, I like to carry a light pack. Who’d even think of toting a 40 pound rock around in his knapsack? Yet sin is weighty. And many of us go through life carrying huge burdens of unconfessed sin.
- Spiritual. Times of testing come our way come our way, what we theologians call Great Dark Nights of the Soul. Job is an example. Attacked by Satan, tested by God, Job lost his fortune, his family, his health, his reputation. In agony he sat on an ash heap languishing. “Behold, I go forward and He is not there. I go backward and I cannot find Him. I turn to the right and left and cannot perceive Him. But He knows the way I take. And when He has tried me I shall come forth as gold!” Indeed, many saints of history have struggled through wilderness experiences–Wesley, Luther, Elijah, Moses, Jonah, J.B. Philips….
- A Mixture. In the language of depression we speak of “triggers” as events which set off depression. And many depressions are multi-barreled. They have several triggers. For instance, at work you are hit with financial reversals and you come home grumpy. This is the last straw for your wife and she packs up and leaves you. Depression sets in . You start eating poorly and suffer insomnia,. You are so ashamed you avoid your friends, quit going to church, and begin to wallow in Satan’s accusations. Suddenly you find yourself buried under an avalanche of depressive causes.
What Is The Cure?
Once when I was downhearted I took a walk in the woods with my son. I told him my troubles, of my bleak outlook, and asked what he thought I should do. “Dad,” he said, “this is serious. In any case, don’t do nothing!”
In the psalm the blues singer gives us some solid advice in healing depression.
- Admit it. “My soul is cast down, disquieted within,” he confesses. So many of us fake it. We think the Christian life is all rainbows and mountaintops. Yet when we’re not there, we fake it. And nothing is more pathetic than watching a half-filled Christian trying to overflow.
- Express yourself. Don’t bottle it up. The psalmist poured out his soul, wept, prayed to God, talked things over with people. Many of us, when we get down, throw a pity party. And we’re the only one invited. So we lounge on the sofa, guzzling beer, downing chip and dip by the car load, blearily watching TV. “I, only I, am left. Woe is me!” Not the psalmist! He honestly vents his feelings to God, to helpful people.
- Hope. The word is used several times in the text. I call hope enjoying the things of God’s tomorrow today. Note how the psalmist is not allowing his thoughts to drift aimlessly like lint in the wind. He directs his thoughts. He gives himself an order: “Hope in God!” “Yes, things are bad now. But not forever! I have a wonderful Savior. He’s in full control. Nothing happens to me that doesn’t first come by God’s permissive will. If He has allowed it, it is for some good. And I will trust all this to Him and wait hopefully.”
- Praise! This word is used twice in the psalm. It means to ascribe worth to God. Many of us ministers experience “Blue Mondays.” We can get really wrung out on a Lord’s Day preaching. I know I sleep a little later, get feeling sorry for myself, and mope about. Then I catch myself ascribing too much worth to people and circumstances. I’m gazing at people while only glancing at God. So I reverse it by praising Jesus! I ascribe worth to Him, gaze at Him and only glance at the world. I fill my heart with hallelujahs!
- Physical labor, exercise. In verse 4 the singer mentions going with the throng on a long walk up to Jerusalem’s temple. In physical education we call this “re-creation.” Nothing relaxes, recreates us like yard work, horseback riding, an art event. It’s a smart person who learns what works for him.
- Memory. “These things I remember” (verse4), the psalmist breathes thinking of the light of better days. Again he’s arresting his thoughts, taking charge, practicing positive thinking. Each of us has in our memory videos of the perfect day skiing, a candlelight supper, oh, so romantic, a fishing trip. And the confidence of such past days can bolster us to face the days ahead with poise.
- Accepting relapses. When one first meets the lamenter of Psalm 42, he is down. But as the psalm progresses he improves. Then suddenly he succumbs to a relapse. In verse 7 just as he gets his head above water, another wave comes crashing over him. I’ve known some victims of depression who have been healed in a moment. But most I know are healed by process. And it is usually three steps forward and two steps backward. Now, for some helpful insights in curing depression that is beyond the scope of this particular psalm….
- Look to your nutrition. The book of Leviticus is a study of nutrition. So, evidently the good Lord is concerned with our eating habits.
- Are you practicing forgiveness?
- Have you come to know yourself? What triggers your depression? What allows you emotional rest?
- Recognize the healing therapy of service. A woman struggling with the post-partum blues wallowed in the emotional doldrums over her lost figure, being up all night with a sick child, and instant full-time responsibility. For two years, the blues lasted. It lifted when she and the baby started going round to rest homes ministering to the elderly some of whom hadn’t held a baby in decades.
- There’s plenty more but neither the psalmist nor I have the expertise. Even the best of doctors will confess depression to be mysterious.
Thirty million Americans suffer from depression right now. That’s one in nine.
Five percent of us are struggling with a major depression at any given time. 25% of us will do so at some time in our lives.
What the psalmist is saying needs to be heard. You are not alone. Others have been there before you. There is help. God can meet you where you are and still bring a blessing to and from your life!
Winston Churchill called depression “a black dog that follows me about.” Abe Lincoln suffered from severe, debilitating bouts of depression. So did George Friedrick Handel, the composer; Vincent van Gogh, the artist; Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut; Robert E. Lee, the general; Marilyn Monroe, the actress; and the sweet psalmist from Israel.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, know that God cares. And so do His people. Reach out for help. And let the healing begin!
Lord, you know. You know! And you care. Thank you. Help me to clasp my hand in thine! For Jesus’ sake. Amen.