“…abandoned among the dead”
(NOTE: I am beginning my series of reflections on the Psalms again after a month’s absence. This reflection is longer than many, but I need to share this with you.)
Deep depression and paralyzing anxiety have been part of my makeup since I can remember. For many years I had no words with which to describe my condition. I have vivid memories of lying awake for hours, paralyzed by anxiety, unable to reach the light on the nightstand next to my bed. I can remember hours in my study unable to reach for the phone. I can remember seasons when I could barely function. Oh, I went through the motions. I showed up for work. I preached and led worship. I made visits with my church family. I led in evangelistic meetings. I collaborated with other pastors in community events. I spent time with my wife and kids. All the while at times my mind and heart were racing with anxiety and/or deep and often uncontrollable despair.
I remember hearing more than once how believers, particularly pastors, should be so spiritually attuned to God that peace would totally prevail. So, instead of sharing my experiences I hid them, and when I couldn’t hide my actions I blamed stress for my failures.
In the past thirty years I discovered several powerful resources. First, I spoke to my physician. He and I agreed on a course of medical treatment that has been helpful. Second, I make sure to stay in touch with a group of trusted believers with whom I can be totally transparent. Third, and perhaps most helpful I rediscovered the Psalms of the Old Testament.
The prayers and songs composed by believers centuries before the birth of Christ voiced almost every emotion I have ever experienced.
The 88th psalm begins not with a note of discouragement, but an pronouncement of faith - “Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out before You day and night.” (Psalm 88:1, HCSB). God IS the Lord of MY salvation. Without that anchor for my soul the darkness may well have claimed my life. As I immersed myself in the psalms, the prayer book of Judaism, I began to find fellow-sufferers who often voiced my deepest hurts and hungers to God. Using the their words I learned that I am not alone.
Some would read Psalm 88 as a prayer of failure. Blaming God (vs 6, 14-15, 16-18) and expressing abandonment may strike some as words of a failed servant. I read them and pray them not as one who has failed, but as one who knows that God alone can rescue me from the pit of despair, the overwhelming paralysis of anxiety.