Walking in a Valley? You're Not Alone! Nestled in the Psalms...along with the prophecies, praises, and worshipful doxologies, we find a few moments of despair...an honest and transparent disclosure of the soul by the Psalmist.
Whether it was from his own sin, or the pursuit of others against him, the Psalmist David provided an honest narrative of crying out to the Lord from his affliction. Our times of despair have many names...depression, dark night of the soul, blues, and melancholia.
Former prime minister of England Winston Churchill personalized it by calling it his "black dog". For many, it may be as simple as walking through a few weeks of 'darkness', and then getting back to normal. But others walk in valleys with incredible pain and despair, making daily life itself a challenge.
While the features of this season vary, people often can experience a sense of prolonged depression, anxiety, fear, panic, feelings of isolation, unusual guilt, sense of worthlessness, rejection, or failure. Causes can include physiological illness, emotional trauma, continued stress, insufficient sunlight or exercise, and spiritual oppression from the enemy of our soul.
As we read through Psalm 42, there is a sense of undulation between despair and hope. The Psalmist recognized his despair without shame, yet he also recognized the hope that comes from the Lord. Walking in a tunnel of darkness is a journey that requires us to hope in the Lord in the moment, sometimes a moment at a time. In our present day culture, we have grown accustomed to the quick fix...the instant relief and satisfaction that is ours with minimal effort.
Our prolonged exposure to instant gratification has allowed us to grow soft when times of perseverance are necessary. And walking through a valley of despair often takes an enormous sense of perseverance of walking with the Lord moment-by-moment.
One of the mockeries of depression is the erroneous sense that we are alone...that God has abandoned us, and no one can understand our pain. While nothing could be farther from the truth, a despairing person may have a hard time grasping that they're not alone. But no matter how dark the clouds, the sun is shining brightly above the veil. It's the absolute truth. The Psalmist recognizes this in verse 11 of Psalm 42: "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God."
But the Psalmist is not the only one in the Bible who experienced despair. Job may be the most lamentable sufferer of despair that we see. He says in Job 7:11, "Therefore, I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Job doesn't even try to hide his pain. He even cries out a couple verses later that he can't even find relief while he sleeps.
Sometimes God allows us to walk through such times. While we may not readily ascertain why He takes us through the valley, I've talked with very few people who haven't emerged from that tunnel stronger in their faith because of it. Job walked in victory again, and lived to praise God. There are others, but time would fail me to elaborate on men like Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and even Jesus as He cried out to the Father in anguish from the garden, and from the cross.
In more modern times, Winston Churchill was well acquainted with despair and depression, as was Abraham Lincoln, and even Charles Spurgeon. A well-known hymn writer in the 18th century named William Cowper spent much of his life in a sanitarium for the insane as he struggled with unimaginable mental illness. Yet he would recover to times of lucidity and write poetry as this:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel's veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains. (Public Domain - William Cowper)
Such words are drawn from the well of deep suffering, birthed from undulations of life's demons of condemnation and the brightest light of forgiveness. The hymn writer John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, was an ongoing friend to Cowper during his lifetime. Newton himself had experienced his own dark night of the soul. It seems the Lord uses our times of despair to bring encouragement to others.
Ministering to the Depressed
It is important to realize that being depressed is not a character flaw. People normally cannot be expected to snap themselves out of it, or to fully think quite as lucidly or cheerfully as we might want. The Bible speaks of accepting the one who is weak.
Isaiah 35:3-4 says, "Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, "take courage, fear not. Behold your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save YOU"
In Hebrews 12:12, we read a similar encouragement, "Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak, and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not to be put out of joint, but rather be healed"
I see in these verses a heart of compassion, encouraging us toward healing and restoring others who are hurting. Truthfully, we will all find ourselves in a place of need someday. While it may be easy to think that we are the strong ones, it may be that we are weaker than we might think. It could be that the one we help strengthen today, will help strengthen us tomorrow.
We can look at depression in two ways...
- As a condition that we attempt to remedy
- As a mechanism that God is using to train and teach us reliance upon Him
Depression can be a sign...a symptom that something within our body, life, or mind needs attention. Seeing a medical doctor first thing is recommended, to eliminate any organic or other problems going on that may need medical treatment. Your doctor may prescribe some kind of antidepressant medication for you to take. Discuss with him/her the pros and cons of this decision. In some instances, they can be very helpful. Antidepressants are not 'puppy uppers' as some claim, but actually enable the body to produce necessary neurotransmitters that help control and stabilize moods.
But sometimes our season of despair or darkness is more of a spiritual matter that God uses to draw us closer to Him.
What to Do...
1. Draw Near to God James 4:8 says, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you..." Spend time in prayer, and seeking the things of the Lord. Review the things in your life that may be dragging you down...not every book, movie, or TV show is helping us. In fact, they may be hindering us. We have grown accustomed to inviting a lot of different influences into our lives and homes, and many of these things may be spiritually harmful to us. Carve out for yourself a quiet time with the Lord...in fact, you may want to schedule several of these throughout the day during your darkest times. Cry out to the Lord and ask Him to show you what He wants to teach you during this time. We often cry out to be delivered from our darkness, but fail to ask the Lord to use this time to learn.
2. Draw Near to His Word Psalm 119:105 "Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path" Read and meditate on Scripture daily...even hourly if necessary. There is healing in the Word of God...it is a lamp that God gives to light your path.
Cling to the spiritual truths written in God's Word: Jesus said, "I will never leave you or forsake you" He hasn't broken that promise yet to His children, and He's not going to start with you.
Cling to the Word of God: The Psalmist talked of his tears being his food day and night. Well...add some bread to the meal. Instead of just tears, make the Scriptures become your food day and night. 1 Timothy 1:7 - "He has not given us a spirit of fear..." Psalm 34:18 - "The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit" Proverbs 3:25 - "Do not be afraid of sudden fear nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes." Panic won't help you...Satan uses it in your life to bring confusion, fear, and distrust.
3. Draw Near to Other Believers We need each other. There is comfort in two walking together. But there is also healing in walking with each other, because others have walked this road too
4. Understand the Deception in Depression We all know that our feelings betray us...we think one thing, but the truth is something else entirely. We are never more betrayed by our thoughts and feelings than when we are depressed and discouraged. Things appear worse than they are...problems are intensified
5. God Uses Our Depression for His Glory Listen to this quote by Pastor Mark Abbot in an article in Preaching magazine
"Much of American Christianity is preoccupied with therapy, with offering cures for whatever ails us, including depression. But could it be that, instead of searching for cures for everything that ails us we ought to be listening for God's voice in all the experiences of life, even in depression? Could it be that depression isn't all bad? Maybe there are some things we learn, some growth possible ONLY through these low, dark times."
In spite of our shortcomings, our handicaps, our weaknesses, and other things we deem insufficient in our lives, God is able to take our emptiness, fill it with Himself, and use it for His glory. There is HOPE. God has not been caught by surprise by your depression. He may have even planned it for your good.
He Giveth More Grace
- He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater, He sendeth more strength as our labors increase; To added afflictions He addeth His mercy, To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.
- When we have exhausted our store of endurance, When our strength has failed ere the day is half done, When we reach the end of our hoarded resources Our Father's full giving is only begun.
- Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision, Our God ever yearns His resources to share; Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing; The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
- His love has no limits, His grace has no measure, His power no boundary known unto men; For out of His infinite riches in Jesus He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
(Public Domain - Annie Johnson Flint)