God, I Want to Ask You

Seven Questions When Facing Death

The Fourth Question

"Why Am I Depressed?"

Note to God:
Lord, I drag through my days, my energy gone.  The smallest tasks require the greatest of efforts. Happiness seems like a dream long ago. My pillow is wet with tears shed during the night. Life is bleak. Do I lack faith? Does my sorrow dishonor You? Am I guilty of sin to slip into this pit? If You are with me in this darkness, please send a ray of light. Grant that my last days will not be sad and hopeless feeling.

Quicksand is frequently a danger in jungle movies. Someone stumbling down a path steps into mud. To his horror, he realizes that this ooze swallows one whole! He struggles to free himself, but to no avail. The last thing we see is his hat floating on top of the muck. The scene always leaves us thinking, "I wouldn't want to get caught in quicksand."

But we do. Here we are, stumbling down the path of terminal illness. We're startled, confused, and alarmed. Then it happens - we step into emotional quicksand. Despair begins to swallow us. Our spirits sink. We can't seem to shake free of the hopeless feeling consuming us.  Everything looks bleak. This quicksand has a name. It's called "depression."

If you are experiencing depression, no one needs to tell you how bad it is. But did you know it is not inescapable? There is a way to respond to depression that can lift us out of the mire. We find it in two psalms that were written by a person whose circumstances were similar to our own. Overtaken by tragedy and feeling close to despair, the writer was clearly depressed, but he recognized that there was a way out.


The Sad Song of a Depressed Man

Does it surprise you that a writer of the Bible was depressed? It's true. Saintly people experience the full range of emotions that the rest of us do, including depression. Consider Psalms 42 and 43 (which were originally one psalm):

42:1 As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, 0 God.

2 My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?

3 My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?

4 When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.

5 Why an thou cast down, 0 my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.

6 0 my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.

7 Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.

8 Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.

9 I will say unto God n rock, Why host thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

10 As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?

11 Why art thou cast down 0 my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

43:1 Judge me, 0 God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: 0 deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.

2 For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

3 0 send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.

4 Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, 0 God my God.

5 Why an thou cast down, 0 my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God

This man was depressed. His despair is evident in his shedding of tears (42:3) and his frequently voiced feeling of being "down" or "downcast" (42:5, 11; 43:5). He descriptively reveals his emotional depletion when he says, "I pour out my soul" (perhaps a way of saying that he felt drained). The poor man probably had a sad look about him, for in the Hebrew text of 42:11 he speaks of God as "the Savior of my face." The agony of painful memories is voiced in 42:4, which begins "When I remember these things," and in thoughts of being forgotten and rejected by God (42:9, 43:2). He mentions that his tears have been his food (42:3, meaning he could not eat) and this both day and night (which might indicate difficulty in sleeping). Moreover, anxiety gnawed at his insides. We know this because he uses a verb form in 43:2 that means, "I walk myself' (i.e., he paces), indicating a restless anxiety. Other evidence of anxiety is found in 42:5, 11, and 43:5. There he speaks of being "disquieted." This word literally means "to growl or roar," and indicates a churning in his stomach familiar to anyone who has experienced anxiety.


Stressed - Out

Why do people get depressed at all? Depression is the body's way of responding to excessive stress. With a high degree of accuracy, physicians can predict who will get depressed by assigning "stress points" to life events. Persons with a high number of stress points in a short amount of time will, in most cases, become either depressed or ill within a year. Of the many stressful things that can happen, few compare to the stress of terminal illness. This is because terminal illness is not one isolated stress, but a cluster of stress factors. The stress of illness is compounded by the stress of grief, financial pressure, changes in lifestyle, and possibly residence. No wonder depression particularly stalks those who are terminally ill.


Do Other Things Cause Depression?

Sometimes depression is a consequence of the disease itself The bodily chemistry that governs our emotions is finely tuned. When disease strikes, the balance can be disrupted. Also, depression may be a side effect of a medication. Any drug capable of crossing the blood-brain bather is capable of upsetting the emotional chemistry of the mind. These are two good reasons to discuss feelings of depression with your doctor.


Fighting Back

Is depression hopeless? Should we resign ourselves to being melancholy the rest of our days? Not at all! Depression, while normal, need not be lasting. We can and should fight back with every weapon we have available. In some cases, fighting back will involve taking medication prescribed by your doctor, or discussing your feelings with a pastor, chaplain, or counselor. Most hospice programs offer counseling. However, there is something that you can

- and must - do regardless of whatever other steps are taken. You must remind yourself that there is hope in God.

The psalmist doggedly held on to his hope in God. Three times (42:5, 11, and 43:5) he pointedly addresses himself Each time, the self-directed message is the same: "Why art thou cast down, 0 my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God." No matter how bleak he felt, the psalmist refused to let go of hope. He stubbornly believed that God would be present to help. Was he kidding himself? Not at all, for he knew that his hope lay neither in his circumstances nor in his feelings, but in God.

What did the psalmist know that gave him hope in God? He understood God's lovingkindness. If kind, He cares. If He cares, He will help. Like the psalmist, our hope resides in the lovingkindness of God. He has not forgotten us. He has not abandoned us. He has assured us through Jesus that better things lie ahead for us. "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32) All things include joy for sadness (Psalm 16:11).

Encourage yourself with this thought, and get out of the quicksand.

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