What to Do When You’re Depressed

Tonight was one of those nights I casually flipped through my Bible looking for something to speak to the crap in my heart. Usually, I can rely on David to put pen to paper for me, so I broke open the Psalms and started reading at random. About ten minutes into it, I found what I needed to ponder.

Psalm 13.

Allow me to mash the NIV, ESV, and Amplified versions together to propose the most impactful reading possible:

How long will You forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and have sorrow in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; lighten the eyes [of my faith to behold Your face in the pitchlike darkness], lest I sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. 

Cheery so far, no?

It’s important to point out that David is speaking like this to God. I know that seems pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth mentioning because I have a hunch a lot of religious people and/or new believers don’t understand they have the freedom to be transparent with the Lord.

David is depressed, and he just can’t keep his overwhelming thoughts to himself anymore. Although he has tried to keep his thoughts sorted out and his emotions in check, verse 2 tells us he hasn’t been successful. He’s spinning his spiritual wheels, and he can’t take it anymore. So, to borrow an expression from my friend, David verbally vomits all over God.

Now, David is not blaming God for whatever challenging circumstances he has found himself in that are causing his depression. And David is not being disrespectful toward God by expressing his feelings, albeit passionately. Yes, we’re allowed and encouraged to be candid with the Lord, but we still must be mindful that He is God and we are not, and, therefore, He is due respect at all times.

David communicates his painful feelings of sorrow, neglect, and frustration, and then he asks the Lord to “lighten the eyes” of his faith to behold God’s face in the utter darkness of his depression. That’s an interestingly worded request.

David understands his feelings are not necessarily reflective of reality. He feels forgotten and abandoned by God, but he knows he isn’t. Why else would he continue to pray? If he truly believed God had left him, David wouldn’t be calling out to Him anymore.

As inaccurate as they may be, his feelings are still a powerful force that needs to be dealt with. So David asks God to refocus his heart. David asks for his faith to be refreshed and his spiritual eyes to be put back on God.

Why does David make this request of God? Perhaps because David knows he can’t accomplish this feat himself. In the throes of depression, David doesn’t have the strength nor the will power to “pull himself up by his boot straps” and “turn that frown upside down”.

He asks the Lord to “lighten his eyes” because he can’t possibly lighten them himself. If you’ve ever been around a depressed person, you know this is true. There is no light in their eyes – no hope or faith in God – and no amount of them wishing there was makes it so.

[Note: I am not saying depressed people are not people of faith. Don’t send me letters. Read this instead.]

David knows if God doesn’t correct his eyesight – restore hope to his soul by refocusing his vision on the Lord – he WILL be overcome. David is in a desperate place, and, in a very literal way, his life is at stake. I don’t know that we can go so far as to say David’s lament that he will “sleep the sleep of death” if God doesn’t rescue him from his depression is an indication that he may have been suicidal. But I don’t know that we can rule that out, either. Most of the commentaries like to think of this as a reference to spiritual death – David’s soul will be so utterly overwhelmed if the Lord doesn’t deliver him that he will be as good as dead. In either case, David’s life will be profoundly changed for the worse – either literally through physical death or spiritually through spiritual collapse.

Just when this psalm couldn’t get any graver, David pens this conclusion:

But I have trusted, leaned on, and been confident in Your mercy and loving-kindness; my heart shall rejoice and be in high spirits in Your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Wait, what?

Where did that come from?

In verse 4 David is on the brink of spiritual annihilation, and in verse 5 he is skipping through fields of wildflowers with Pharrell’s “Happy” as his soundtrack.

This is about the point I want to shut my Bible and say, “I can’t even.” David and I had been tracking together just fine until now…

Just after he says he can’t pull himself up by his boot straps, he does? No, I don’t think this change of heart came from David’s can-do attitude. Remember, he just got done communicating he didn’t have what it took to overcome his thoughts and sorrow himself. He needed God in the worst way!

No, I think David’s sudden change of heart wasn’t of his own doing; I think it was a direct answer to David’s prayer in verse 4.

(I legitimately wonder how much time passed between David recording his plea with the Lord to deliver him from his depression in verse 4 and his inspirational self pep talk in verses 5 and 6. I’m thinking DAYS.)

The Lord answered David’s request to refocus his heart on God by empowering David to recall God’s trustworthiness, dependability, mercy, and unfailing loving-kindness, as well as by reminding David of his salvation and other blessings from the Lord. No matter how long it did or did not take for David’s tune to change, the Lord pulled him out of his depression by directing him to mediate on these things.

You and I can take a page out of David’s book when we’re flat on our backs emotionally. We can be honest with the Lord – passionately and transparently, yet respectfully honest – about how we’re feeling when we’re down. And we can fervently ask the Lord to “lighten our eyes” and refocus our hearts on Him. And then – and this is my favorite part – we can wait for the Lord to lift us from our sadness by empowering us like He did David to think truthful, helpful thoughts.

We don’t have to get ourselves together. Frankly, often we can’t. But God can. He did it for David time and time again (see Psalms 42, 43, and 55 for more examples), and He can do it for us too. Ask.

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