in the not okay

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Yes, I believe our salvation is in Christ, and that it’s a grand and glorious salvation. But I distrust teaching or theology which has easy answers, and doesn’t seem to take seriously the struggle and plight we can find ourselves in, even if confined largely to our experience. This is why we can turn again and again to the pages of Scripture. We find it’s for real people, and as we keep going, by faith we’ll come to see that God is just as real. To help us through. But sometimes we do feel alone and overcome. And if I judge correctly through this psalm, that’s okay.

when overwhelmed with darkness

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Sometimes, especially for some of us, we feel quite down and not far from despair. At times lack of sleep may be the culprit; we need proper sleep. But some of us easily drift into this state of despondency when so much seems wrong to us, or when at least we don’t feel good inside.

This is so very true with the psalmist here. Someone said they made darkness an idol. I don’t agree at all. They were simply stating their experience to God.

The crucial point for us to hold on to when we’re struggling is the importance of addressing our concerns and baring our heart to God, holding nothing back. We can see that eloquently done in this psalm.

I like the way this psalm ends with a sense of being stuck in the mire, lost in the darkness, akin to “the dark night of the soul.” Because it’s real to life, not some phony pretense of saying “All is well” when it’s not.

Fortunately the Bible and the psalms don’t end there. God is good and God will work everything out for good. When we don’t see the good, when essentially we don’t feel good, we need to practice what the psalmist does here. Cry out to God, and keep talking to God, looking to God for the help that only God can give. In and through Jesus.

(Medical and/or psychological help may also be needed. Some of us are just more prone this way, but others need special help. And that can include any of us. So we need to be open to that possibility, as well.)

when feeling beat up and torn from limb to limb

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

1 Kings 19:1-9a

The Bible calls God’s people loved ones as in family (children, sons and daughters), servants and slaves to God and for others, and oddly enough soldiers engaged in battle– spiritual today. Sometimes in the wear and tear of life, what one has to physically, mentally, emotionally go through wears one down to the point of exhaustion. And with exhaustion frequently comes depression.

But God’s care will also be present. Elijah himself lived in a most difficult place during a dark time in Israel’s history. His life seems one of extremes, especially if you consider this story alone. He had confronted the prophets of Baal, God had shown himself to be God, the people had responded, but the dreaded Queen was out to get his life. And Elijah had the sense that he was all alone.

But God met him at that difficult place. And God is able to meet us as well. We may not know what we need, but God does. We must continue on in faith. A faith which might wonder about things and question God. But with the realization that God will meet us where we are, and give us what we need to carry on in his will. In and through Jesus.

for those who often don’t feel all that well

ד Daleth

I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
teach me your decrees.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, LORD;
do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding.

Psalm 119:25-32

There’s not much room in Christian evangelical circles for people like me. A person who often feels “laid low in the dust.” And when people ask me how I am, it’s usually “pretty good.” Some people would call that down in the mouth, not rejoicing and living in the joy of the Lord as I should. That somehow my mind and faith isn’t right.

We come to God just as we are, and we don’t try to hide. We confess our sins, and pray God will keep us from deceitful ways, like justifying what we ought not to. We don’t let our inward struggle dictate what we do, of course only through God’s help.

I’m glad there are the psalms for people like me, which express the way I feel. “My soul is weary with sorrow…” But also with God’s help in the strength and provision given to us in answer to prayer, the prayer to live in God’s will with God’s answer forthcoming. For people like me, for everyone. In and through Jesus.

the fake world of pop theology in denying the reality of mental illness

A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88

Another Christian, this time a pastor (we could say another pastor) has committed suicide. He was well aware of the danger, probably entered to a significant extent into the depths of others, and didn’t get out himself when he sank into his own depths of darkness. Once I led a team devotions at a Christian ministry where I work, going over this psalm. I asked if anyone there thought this psalm is meant for us today, and no one raised their hand. Based on what I gather, most would say “no,” though maybe it would be more like “I don’t know.” I think I remember at least one head shaking no.

I am glad to be part of a ministry that takes mental illness seriously. It’s not swept under the rug or attributed to the demonic or considered a sign that someone lacks faith. It is an honest illness which humans struggle with. Maybe the psalmist would have been diagnosed with mental illness such as a bipolar disorder. I think such a psalm and other Scripture similar to that can be helpful for such people to realize they’re not alone. That others struggle too with darkness.

I wonder if maybe I suffer with a mild case of something such. I don’t know. I have struggled not feeling good internally for years, decades, and that might be related to head trauma. So it’s easy for me to identify with Psalm 88.

There is within the Christian tradition, “the dark night of the soul,” hardly acknowledge in the evangelical Christian circles I’m a part of. I don’t at all for a moment think a person, yes a Christian has to be clinically depressed or mentally ill to experience such. There are all kinds of reasons in this world why we can get down. Of course there’s what’s considered normal depression, maybe over not meeting a goal, or losing a friend, even a marriage. Just maybe it would be helpful to consider mental health problems as also being like temporary sicknesses such as physically catching a cold or the flu, so that one might have a bout with melancholy over an extended period of time. Of course no one can possibly be the same after an unexpected death of a loved one.

The Bible reflects real life with all its complexities. For those who take Scripture at its word, spiritual warfare can be accompanied by a spiritual darkness. A time and space where God seems to be absent. And where hope seems all but gone, replaced by fear, or more like a gnawing shock in which little seems real.

At any rate, I take Scripture seriously in part because I find it takes life seriously. People of faith question God and struggle in their experience. The psalms are repeatedly helpful, this psalm a prime example.

Psalm 88 ends on a realistic note. Because God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want. We don’t always find the help we want. But we hold on in faith regardless, this psalm an expression of that. Something we should thank God for, helping us not only live through such times, but do so knowing that the Lord is somehow with us (Psalm 23:4).  The end of Psalm 88 is an end, but not the end. In and through Jesus.

persistent prayer

And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”

Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

1 Kings 18

God was confronting Israel over its idolatry and the evil that came with that. The land was suffering from drought. We see in this chapter what probably Elijah is best remembered for, God making himself known as God, and Baal as no god.

What follows that is most interesting. Elijah tells King Ahab (his wife, Jezebel) that there is the sound of heavy rain coming. There’s not a cloud in the sky. And then Elijah goes off and prays, literally on his knees. And his request is for rain. He was surely led to thus speak to King Ahab, and then to pray. But it didn’t come easily.

Six times Elijah prayed with seemingly no answer. But the seventh time a small cloud emerged. Elijah then somehow knew God had answered, and sent word to King Ahab to be ready, precisely to escape the downpour. And then we read more Elijah like stuff. God’s power comes on him, and he runs by foot, and actually outruns King Ahab on Ahab’s chariot. Remarkable stuff.

But we can’t forget the entire narrative, what follows. Elijah is paralyzed in fear over Jezebel’s threats, and comes crashing down into a depression in which he asks God to take his life, feeling in despair and clearly exaggerating that he was the only follower of God left. James points to this incident for our application today:

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

And notice what preceded that:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5

We’re to pray, and keep on praying until God’s answer comes. Really pray. What people used to call, “pray through.” We may need to pray only one time. But ordinarily we’ll have to pray repeatedly for whatever reasons. Something God has given us, a vital role for us to play here and now, in and through Jesus.

for the downcast from the psalms

BOOK II

Psalms 42–72

Psalm 42

For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, my God,
    and plead my cause
    against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
    deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
    Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

 

Psalm 42-43

“In many Hebrew manuscripts Psalms 42 and 43 constitute one psalm” (NIV footnote). I am working on memorizing and meditating on this passage right now. It speaks powerfully to me in ways I sorely need.

Anyone who would get to know me would learn I can be downcast. Though I’m surprised and relieved, really over people near me not picking up on that. But my wife knows. The psalmist here engages both in some self-talk, and in reflection before God within the community of faith. We sorely and desperately need that for various reasons.

The psalmist struggled with what we might call depression today. And with some good reason. Things weren’t the same as in days past, and people were questioning both his faith, and his God as a result.

But the psalmist turns to God in a questioning yet sincere faith, and finds hope. In fact to just turn to God was what we might say, the cure for his depression. Hope sprung to life in his heart. Even in the midst of the ruin and despair.

A good passage for me, for us all to reflect on, and pray over. In and through Jesus.

work in part as a remedy to the soul

[Elijah] replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

1 Kings 19:14-18

I don’t condone all that is written in the Old Testament and ascribed even to God’s servants. Some of it I see as plain wrong in light of Christ. I refer in this passage to the violence ascribed to the upcoming prophet, not to mention the violence done by Elijah himself. But they were people in process and God was moving them along in preparation for what was to come in the fulfillment in Jesus. That said, there is much we can learn from all the pages of scripture, and something (even if we don’t always know what) from every passage, at least in context. And this passage is no exception.

Elijah had a mountain top experience so to speak on Mount Carmel challenging the prophets of Baal, with a miraculous, powerful witness of the reality and supremacy of Yahweh. But afterward he fled from a threatening Queen Jezebel, and sunk into a deep depression. God took care of him and eventually put him back to work, giving him something to do (click the link above for this story from 1 Kings 17-19).

I find for myself that keeping busy is important for maintaining my equilibrium emotionally. We do need our times of rest, for sure; that is important. But I have often found work a blessing, especially when I’m troubled by something, which was the case here with Elijah. God did give him an answer to his thought, but also put him to work.

Work is a blessing. Work then rest is a cycle for us physically in this life. Spiritually we want to work from and out of God’s rest in Jesus in which we live. Nevertheless we do work, God has something important for all of us to do. Especially for the blessing and good of others, as well as providing for our own needs, and gathering the provisions God gives us. In and through Jesus.

living well in the well

Scientific American has another article well worth the read entitled, “Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.” If one reads the Bible, one really should have surmised the truth in that already. The psalms highlight negative emotions, Psalm 88 being perhaps the prime example.

I am a person who has been plagued much of my life with what might be called an emotional deficit. Someone who counseled me, to whom I shared that struggle called me an emotional cripple. Supposedly my emotional quotient (EQ) would be low. That simply has meant that I’ve layed low and withdrawn, not the life of the party, though strangely at times, experiencing so many low points can result in a lot of off the cuff humor.

But I’ve learned, and still am learning to accept such downtimes, sometimes seemingly overwhelming, and when I finally do I find that the negative emotions subside, and a kind of peace and joy, or sense of well being sets in. Another thing I’m learning more and more is not to allow negative emotions rule the day. We can turn them into prayer, into silent waiting on God, into reading, maybe even into sleep.

The point of the article cited above is to accept the entire gamut of human emotions and to find the good in such. Pain is not to be either medicalized or ignored, sometimes even denied, or as counselors say, suppressed. Problems will remain, and it’s not a matter of simply not worrying, but being happy. We are to present our concerns to God to avoid anxiety (Philippians 4), but they are still concerns, and for us not to be sad and and at times even angry over what goes on in the world would flat out be wrong.

We do need to bring them to Jesus, himself called  “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 52-53). He understands our experience firsthand, and is thus uniquely able to help us in our times of great need and struggle (Hebrews 2, 4).

And so we need to learn to live well in the well, the depths of despondency and despair, knowing that even there in and through Jesus there is a hope that doesn’t shun the reality of life, but in and through Jesus actually begins to transform it, as we wait for the great change to come (Revelation 21-22).

holding on for God’s peace (waiting on God): my experience with depression

Yesterday, as I recall it, I read at least one message about waiting on God which was confirmed later in the day. I myself struggle with what might be called clinical depression, maybe a mild form, especially when I read that one of the signs of clinical depression is to not be able to get out of bed. Well, I suppose it manifests itself in various ways. Although I’ve never been diagnosed as such, at one time I asked our general doctor if I could try a med for possible depression, so that along the way I did two of them, then quit. The first helped a lot, it seeemed. One person who knew me said I was a different person, like I had been born again. But it wore off over time. The second gave me splitting headaches. So I quit taking them, and went back to my old self.

When I look at biblical writings such as in the psalms (Psalms 13 and 88 being two good examples), Jeremiah and Lamentations, along with other writings in scripture, I realize that a good number of people in scripture were not immune to this kind of suffering. We surely would have to include Jesus himself at certain points, certainly in Gethsemane, and when he cried out with his sense of having been forsaken on the cross.

For me what is helpful is being in scripture and from that, in prayer. And remembering that all and everything is linked to the gospel which good liturgy keeps in front of us, along with our necessary response to it. So that it’s the message of the good news of Jesus in the fellowship of the church by the Holy Spirit which keeps me sane, and hopefully helps me to grow in conformity more to Christ.

Although I have experienced some of the “charismatic” side and believe in some of that, I don’t at all get help from any ecstatic experiences, since I don’t experience them, and really am not intent in seeking such. Not that my experience ought to be the measure of anything, but that is the way it is for me. I am not a believer in trying to enter into the right experience, or find some life changing book. Some of that here and there, if it happens, might help, but by and large the kind of help I think that makes the needed difference is what God gives us little by little, and how God helps us grow in ways which are quite well beyond us through the gospel in the word/scripture, in the fellowship and communion of the church, and through the experiences, even hard knocks and places in life.

“Wait on the Lord.” Not a fun place to be, but important for the growth of our faith. When we feel overwhelmed, or are looking for an answer to a problem, or simply in prayer over a matter, we need to hold on to faith by waiting on God. God will come through: God’s peace, presence, protection and provision according to his will and promises in and through Jesus. And hopefully this can be more and more our set response to the inevitable difficulties we will experience in life. Something even at this relatively later stage in my life, I continue to work on.