Some days, life feels relentless.
Just when I have come to terms with the wave that has almost toppled me, another one comes up unexpectedly. Nothing feels safe and I wonder if the waves will ever end.
Right now, my physical losses confront me daily. Years ago, I gave up painting and scrapbooking because they were too taxing on my arms. Writing became an alternative way to process my pain. While it wasn’t my first choice, I grew to love it because I saw God using it. But now, I fear that gift will slip away as well because my arms are wearing out, even with voice-activated computer software and a trackball mouse. I’m tired of continually adjusting to a new normal. I want the old one back.
I feel myself slipping into depression and I don’t know how to pull out. And this depression, which is largely based on the lies I’m telling myself, is much harder than the suffering itself. What I am telling myself about my future is more debilitating than the actual pain I’m feeling.
God feels distant, mostly because I’m pulling away. But Psalm 43 pulls me back. Like the psalmist, I cry out, “For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning?” (Psalm 43:2)
For the psalmist, darkness is falling quickly and the walls of his life are closing in. He has known the Lord intimately. God has been his refuge. He has experienced God’s steadfast love and presence. But now, with troubles all around him, he feels rejected. He is mourning. It seems like the enemy is triumphing over him.
So what does the psalmist do? Rather than continuing to listen to himself and spiraling downward, he starts talking to God.
He says to the Lord, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” (Ps 43:3-4)
In his trouble, the psalmist pleads with God for light and truth. He knows that God’s light and truth can lead him out of his own darkness and lies. The darkness that seems hard to penetrate and the lies that the enemy loves to whisper to us. Lies like: “It’s only going to get worse.” “God doesn’t care about you.” “Your life is going to be miserable.”
God brings his light and truth through his Word and his presence, which are the best way out of depression. The psalmist knows the power of God. And he knows that God can miraculously lift the enemy’s oppression and give him joy again. So he is looking past his circumstances, choosing to ask God for what seems impossible right now.
After the psalmist talks to God and asks for help, he begins talking to himself. He questions why he is depressed, asking “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Ps 43:5a)
These are important and revealing questions. I often feel vaguely depressed, unable to articulate the core of my fears. But when I purposefully write down everything that is troubling me, I can look at my situation biblically. If I’m able to follow my fears to the worst potential conclusion, I can face them. Even if the worst happens, I know that God will be there. He will walk with me through the valley of the shadow of death. (Ps 23:4) He will never ever leave me. (Heb 13:5) He will make sure the waves do not overwhelm me. (Is 43:2).
Lastly, the psalmist exhorts himself to hope in God. He says, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Ps 43: 5b) His situation has not changed. If it had, he wouldn’t need hope. As Paul says, “Hope that is seen is not hope. Who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Rom 8:24-25)
The psalmist is trusting that God will bring him to a place of praise. Right now everything looks dark. His soul is cast down. He is in turmoil. He feels rejected by God and is mourning what used to be. And yet he chooses to tell himself truth, based on who God is, rather than listen to himself, based on his own fears. He doesn’t let his own assessment of the circumstances have the last word. He lets God’s word have that.
Martyn Lloyd Jones says in his book, Spiritual Depression, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”
When we listen to ourselves, we allow our emotions to take over, and the voices of self-pity and defeat become deafeningly loud. In those moments, God calls us to start preaching to ourselves. And the best way to do that is to read the Bible, reminding ourselves of God’s promises.
Paul Tripp reinforces this idea in his devotional, New Morning Mercies, saying: “No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do. It’s a fact that you and I are in an endless conversation with ourselves.… We either preach to ourselves the gospel of aloneness, poverty, and inability or the true gospel of God’s presence, power and constant provision. You are preaching to yourself the gospel that produces fear and timidity or one that propels you with courage and hope.… Today, when it feels as if no one understands, what gospel will you preach to you?”
So today, when life feels overwhelming, what gospel will you preach to yourself?