I read a post on another corner of the internet tonight that moved me. A man was talking about how he was unable to buy a gun because his aunt went to the gun shop and told them about his history of mental illness. Essentially, he wanted to buy a gun to kill himself, but his aunt interceded on his behalf. Because of this event he decided that, if he must live, he might as well start improving his life.
The post made an impression on me. It reminded me of the times in my life when I was hit with depression and how low that feeling can bring you. It reminded me that not everything we do in life is “rah rah rah” and happy-go-lucky rainbows with sparkles. There’s a dark side to life, a depth that we all reach at some point that drags us down. We are all faced with grief and suffering and many of us never make it back to true happiness.
Some of you reading this today are in the eye of the storm. Maybe you’ve been there for a long time. Maybe you feel your whole life has been this storm. If you don’t know how depression feels, I urge you to search out some psychology forums where people go to talk about their depression. You’ll find that it’s enlightening. Or, if you’re like me, your heart will go out to these people. You’ll feel their pain and feel helpless in the ability to help them see beyond it.
Today I want to share a scripture from Psalms 30. If you follow this blog, you know I like to try to bring out three solid points from whatever scripture I’m talking about. Today I am going to break from that pattern and speak as directly and candidly as I can. Let’s look at the scripture…
8 To you, Lord, I called;
to the Lord I cried for mercy:
9 “What is gained if I am silenced,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
Lord, be my help.”
11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.
A psalm. A song. For the dedication of the temple. Of David.
Now if you read the whole Psalm, you’ll find the gist is pretty simple. He’s praising God for lifting him up when he was down and for putting joy into his heart. That’s about it. The ironic part, to me, is that this is the song they chose to sing for the dedication of the temple. You’d think for dedicating the temple they would choose something that is more relevant to Israel’s experience. A song about being delivered from Egypt. A song about conquering Canaan. A song thanking God for giving them a home.
Oddly enough, he doesn’t do that. The song he sings to dedicate the temple is simple: he was descending towards depression, and God lifted him from the depths and put joy into his heart. At first glance, this might seem a little weird to sing at the dedication of a religious and spiritual building. No, this may not have been THE temple (the one built by Solomon), but the commentary on this Psalm says this is the song they used to dedicate synagogues and other important buildings.
More background on the Psalm says that David had sinned. He had numbered the people (which was what they did when they were preparing for war). Since God was not a part of this numbering, he offered David a choice of three punishments: seven years of famine, three months of defeat, or three days of pestilence or sickness. David chose the latter, and because of it 70,000 people died (and David himself became sick). When the punishment was over, he built an altar and asked God for forgiveness. Then he wrote the Psalm and dedicated the altar. In this one event, a Psalm was written that was used to dedicate synagogues and important buildings in Israel. (So, I imagine that the heading to this song means that this song must have been sung at the dedication of the temple years later when it was completed.)
I find the history of this Psalm to be fascinating for this reason. The building of the temple in the Old Testament is expressed to us so that, when Jesus came to earth and brought about the new age of grace, we would have a solid allegory for what happens within us when salvation reaches us. The temple in Jerusalem is an allegory for the temple that is our body and soul. The temple in the Old Testament was a physical place that represents a spiritual concept in the New Testament. For Jesus had said on one occasion: “The kingdom of God is WITHIN YOU.”
And in the middle of all of that we have this Psalm. A Psalm that talks about falling into the pit and God’s anger. A Psalm that talks about being full of pride when we are secure, but shaken and dismayed when we fall into the pit. A Psalm that talks about crying out to God in our sin and having him restore us to our former glory and joy when he redeems us. Or as the King James Version succinctly puts it: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. And at the very end he says: “you turned my wailing into dancing.”
The Storm of Depression
Going back to my original story about the man who couldn’t kill himself because he couldn’t buy a gun, I decided to reach out to him and offer him some comforting words. I thought about my own experiences with depression. I thought about what it was like to descend into the depths of depression. I used to think that depression was simply something that happened to you when your life was in shambles or you were unhappy with something in your life. I used to think that depression was merely your internal reaction to an external event (or events). It wasn’t until earlier this year that I learned that wasn’t true.
You see, I have a relatively happy life. I wasn’t always like this, but I worked for several years to build the life that I wanted, and I eventually attained most of the goals I set for myself. I have a great job that gives me lots of time off to do what I want. I have two awesome kids who I love more than life itself. I have a caring mother and father that I try to keep in touch with on at least a weekly basis. I have people who care about me. I have a nice apartment. I’m not rich, but I make enough money now that I am not constantly strapped and worrying about how I am going to pay my bills (I remember those days, though).
So why is it that, back in January, a feeling of utter dread washed down over me? Why did I lay in my bed paralyzed with deep, pounding sadness? Why did I imagine dealing with those intense feelings by getting up, running to the nearest bridge, and hurling myself into the water? It simply didn’t make sense to me. I have a good life! No, let me say that more strongly: I have a good life, dammit!
For the first time in my life, I finally understood what it truly means to be depressed. Depression is not a feeling of sadness because of an external event. Depression is a wave of hopelessness that sweeps over you out of nowhere and rocks you to your knees in utter anguish and agony. It sweeps over you like a storm, pushing out any ability to enjoy life. It’s a bleak, dark, empty hole into which your soul retreats. The feeling is like tiny prickles inside your heart that pulsate and morph into a dark, thick, black, abyss. You become short of breath. You cry so hard your body physically hurts. You cry so hard that your eyes no longer produce tears. And, at the end of it, you lay in your bed feeling like you can’t move. And then, when that wave of emotion is finished, the next several weeks, months, or even years involves walking around like a zombie — going through the motions of life, pushing the hopelessness down inside your chest, hoping that nobody can see.
For those of you who face this horrible awful disease, did I get that right?
Thankfully, my story doesn’t end there. When that feeling hit me, I found the one thing I could latch onto — my kids — and kept them in my mind as much as possible to remind me why throwing myself over a bridge would be a terrible idea. Then, I started doing things I knew would help me move beyond it. Fortunately, this wasn’t my first round with depression and, over the years, I’ve developed some strategies to help cope. I started exercising and going to the gym. I tried to eat as healthy and green as I could. I did things to keep my mind occupied. I would solve puzzles while watching TV. In fact, this was the event that led me from being an atheist to going back to church.
I remember sitting outside the church on a cold January Wednesday night. I almost didn’t go in. I felt weird about just showing up to a random Wednesday night service. If it had been Sunday morning, I might have felt less weird because I could lose myself in the crowd of hundreds of people that attend this particular church. But I knew that there would only be 30 or 40 people at most, and that I wouldn’t be able to hide. I pushed myself to get out of the car and go into the building and the rest is history for me. The pastor spoke about Romans 8:28 and the message was clear: God wants to help you clean up your mess AND he has plans for you. I was blown away.
I started thinking about the nature of God. I had previously seen God as this bearded old man who sits up in the sky shooting lightning bolts up people’s bums. Strike down the wicked! Kicking ass and taking names. But as I sat through service after service, I would think about what God really was and how maybe my perception of what God is was flawed. I began to realize that God isn’t a bearded old man. I began to see that it’s probably more accurate to see God as a spirit…the spirit of love. In fact, I John 4: 8 explicitly says: for God IS love.
It doesn’t say that God is LIKE love. It says that God IS love. I started to understand that I may never actually be able to physically hold onto God because God isn’t a physical being. God is a spirit. It’s a spirit that exists on a level that we can’t access with our five senses directly and it moves through us. Seeing God in this manner makes the notion of God being everywhere make more sense. Love exists right here in this room. But it also exists halfway across the world to the person who might be reading this in Australia.
God is that still small voice within is (the kingdom of God is WITHIN you). Jesus came to earth to fulfill the law. He came to give us a spiritual root to what was once a physical process. He came to show us that the kingdom of God isn’t some tangible physical place, it’s a spirit that exists within us.
So why the heck did I just go off on such a crazy tangent? Because this Psalm, the one used for dedicating special buildings in Israel, is now a Psalm meant to reach inside of us to that temple that exists within us. The guy in the story at the beginning of this post talked about how he said a prayer and his words were essentially that he hoped that a powerful being was out there to hear him. My response? There is a great and powerful being, but he’s not out there. HE’S INSIDE YOU. And you have the powerful to access him.
Depression is a storm that comes over us like rain. But what is a storm if not an event to water the earth and provide a basis for life in fallow ground? Depression is the storm that hits us, and sometimes all you can do is ride it out and wait. But that storm brings the rain that is necessary to grow some of the most powerful things in our lives. Consider this…you have the power to create a feeling so strong within yourself that it makes you want to die. If you can create that inside of yourself, then the you have the power to create the opposite. From the remains of the storm comes the water and food necessary to build relentless joy. YOU TURNED MY WAILING INTO DANCING. I think David had a pretty good understanding of what depression was.
So, this simple Psalm is a message of hope for those of you in the storms of depression. It’s a song of dedication of the temple (your body and soul) that talks about how God (the spirit of love) can come down and pull you from the pit (depression) and turn your wailing into dancing (redemption). Your punishment for sin (the things that we do to ourselves that harm us) may be a night of weeping or sickness, but joy comes in the morning! Out of the fallow ground of your heart (your cultivation of the spirit of love within you), come the seeds for joy that makes you dance.
So, take hope! Cry your tears, for those tears are the water that nourishes the soil of your soul. Take heart, because this storm doesn’t last forever. Ride it out! And then come back to this Psalm and remind yourself that your suffering is only temporary. I’ll close this post with one of my favorite scriptures in the bible:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. — Romans 8:18
You can’t see the whole puzzle yet. You just see the pieces. There is something beyond your understanding working in your life. Have faith and trust that this is all leading you towards something. And repeat after me: this is only temporary. This is only temporary.
If you enjoyed this post, feel free to leave a comment below. Also, please share it with someone who could use encouragement. Thank you for your patience and God bless!