What can we do when we’re out of sorts, not ourselves, and lost in emotions of inexpressible heaviness? What if, on top of it all, we’re feeling guilty for not being able to think or pray ourselves out of whatever is consuming our focus and energy?
Spiritual talk that is supposed to help leaves us cold. Imagine meeting with a group of counselors to see if any of them can help us. One is a pastor carrying a Bible. Another drives up in a car marked with the Christian symbol of the fish. One identifies herself as a doctor of psychiatry. Two are psychologists. The last to arrive is carrying a folder of papers with a sticker on the cover that has a fish symbol with the name Darwin inside.
The questions start coming: How long have you been feeling like this? Hours, days, months? What’s been going on in your life? Disappointment? Boredom? Overwork? Loss of job, marriage, or loved one? Any family history of depression? Any reason to be angry or afraid? How long since you’ve had a complete physical? Recent surgeries, birth of a baby, financial stress? What drugs are you taking?
The questions keep coming. How much sleep? What do you eat? How often do you exercise to get your heart rate up physically, socially, and spiritually?
After we’ve done our best to answer their questions, the senior member of the group says, “We all sense the darkness you are struggling with. But as you can see, we are each listening to you out of our own area of specialization. We need some time to compare notes among ourselves, and I’d like to recommend that you go home and take some time to consider the questions we’ve asked before we meet again.
“In the meantime, if you find that you need immediate help, here’s a list of our phone numbers along with an additional hotline number. Any of us will do anything we can to help.”
Now that we are alone again, we realize that even in hearing the range of questions asked by the counselors, we’ve been reminded of what we sense to be true.
There is a delicate, complex relationship between body, soul, and spirit. We are so wonderfully and fearfully made that a disruption in our physical health can cloud our mind and alter our mood, just as anger, fear, or a loss of hope can affect the chemistry of our body.
There are times when a change of thoughts and perspective can dramatically alter our mood (Psalm 73). Sometimes it takes a good night’s rest, a walk in the park, thoughtful conversations with friends, or a few good laughs. On other occasions, an honest, heart-wrenching struggle with God—to the point of surrender—is desperately needed.
And there are also times when, as we wait on the Lord for His wisdom and help, we need to remember that “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). Especially when the sadness continues and we don’t know why, and nothing we do seems to help, it may be time to get the help of a reputable doctor, or counselor, without leaving behind the kind of ongoing spiritual counsel and support we need from a wise pastor or spiritually mature friend.
But even if we are struggling with a known biologically based depression, let’s not forget those who can gently help us find strength for the moment and hope for the future by looking at life through the windows of the Bible. The apostle Paul reminds us: “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
The shepherd-songwriter David gave us poetic expressions that are full of dark and desperate emotions. But those same songs show how often his overwhelmed heart ended up celebrating what God alone could do for him.
Imagine how down David was feeling when he wrote, “O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your wrath . . . . For my [terrible wrongs] have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. . . . I am feeble and severely broken; I groan because of the turmoil of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before You; and my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart pants, my strength fails me . . . . My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague, and my relatives stand afar off . . . . For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin. But my enemies are vigorous, and they are strong . . . . Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (Psalm 38).
This song isn’t saying there is a direct relationship between our sins and our suffering. Neither does it give us a formula for results. It offers no guarantee that all of our hopes and dreams will be realized in this lifetime. But together with the rest of the Scriptures, a song like this can give us the most important perspective. It can give us comfort in knowing that others before us have felt some of the same dark and desperate thoughts that might be troubling us right now.
What makes this song so important is that it reflects a heart that, from the bottom of a dark pit, looks up. Not down, and not around—but up. From the dust of which we were created, a broken heart expresses the patience of faith that gives God a chance to show Himself faithful.
Father in heaven, our sight and our strength is so limited. And we are so often tempted to think that our well-being depends on what we can see or feel. Please help us in this day to look beyond this moment to the love of Your heart, to the suffering of Your Son, and to the promise of the home and future You are preparing for us. —Mart De Haan