(Based on Psalm 13)
(Author’s note: The following is a message I gave in my church in April of 2005. The topic of depression and mental health is so important and we don’t talk about it enough. I hope that it helps someone out there who may be dealing with mental health problems or knows someone who is…may God bless you as you get the help you need. ~Robyn Mulder)
May is Mental Health Awareness month…a month set aside to raise public awareness about illnesses that affect many people in our nation and even in our community. Often TV and movies portray the mentally ill at two extremes. People with mental illnesses are either shown as being so funny that their illness isn’t even taken seriously, or they are seen as so out of control that they are people to be afraid of.
The truth is that people with mental illnesses often are just ordinary, normal people. I know that many of your lives have been touched by someone suffering from a mental illness, or you’ve gone through it yourself. It’s hard, isn’t it?
Before we get too far into this, I want to assure you that I know what I’m talking about. And yet, I have to admit to you that I don’t exactly know what I’m talking about. Do I sound a little confused? Well, let me explain – or try to.
When I say “I know what I’m talking about” I mean that I can share my experience with you. I’ve struggled with varying degrees of depression for many years. I can tell you what I went through and how I dealt with it. All of that is very real to me and I know what I’m talking about.
When I say that “I don’t exactly know what I’m talking about” I mean I can’t give you any surefire specific solutions for problems that you or a loved one may be going through because each case is different. This topic is so complex, and it relates to so many other subjects like emotions, hormones, faith, stress….
God made our bodies wonderfully complex – our veins, nerves, lungs, muscles, digestive system – we can hardly fathom how our bodies work to keep us alive, but we sure know when something goes wrong. If we have problems breathing, or if we’re bleeding and it won’t stop, or if a bone is broken or some other physical problem – we go to the doctor and get it fixed, right?
Well, there are times when our brains aren’t functioning correctly…sometimes a chemical imbalance occurs and we need help to get that problem fixed. Like I said, I don’t understand it completely, but I can point you in the right direction to get help if you need it. I’ll be sharing a little bit of my story with you this morning as we look at Psalm 13 and let it guide our thoughts about mental health.
First of all, God cares about our feelings. Let’s look at verses 1 and 2 again:
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
In this Psalm, David is in great distress. We see him feeling forsaken by God, wrestling with his thoughts and dealing with sorrow in his heart every day. He may be seriously depressed.
When the Bible talks about the heart, it isn’t just talking about the organ that pumps blood through our veins – the heart basically referred to the very center of a person’s being – the very source of emotions, thoughts, feelings, and motivations.
David is doubting God’s care in these verses, but if we look at other Psalms, we see many examples of God’s care and concern for our feelings:
In Psalm 6 we read: “the Lord has heard my weeping”,
Psalm 22:24 says, “he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”
And Psalm 25 asks, “according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.”
Over and over again in the Psalms we see a similar pattern woven – the Psalmist begins by crying out to God. He is in despair because of enemies, or illness, or the realization of his own sin…but after he cries out, by the end of the Psalm we see him turn his thoughts around and proclaim his trust in God. He once again proclaims the Lord’s goodness, His strength, His love. As we read the Psalms we can remember, too, that God cares deeply about our feelings. Let’s go back to verse 3 in our text (Psalm 13):
3 Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
Here, David may be giving up hope. He’s asking the Lord for help – to give light to his eyes again – or he’s afraid he might not make it through this time alive. He recognizes the depth of his despair.
This brings us to point 2. Recognize the signs. There are many different forms of mental illness, and each of them has its own specific symptoms – I couldn’t possibly list all of them this morning, but I would guess that most people with a mental illness know that something is wrong.
Life gets overwhelming as they struggle with the symptoms they’re experiencing. If the person himself or herself can’t see the signs, usually a loved one can recognize that something is very wrong and needs some attention.
One of the most serious symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses is suicidal thoughts. The pain is so deep and the darkness is so great that some people think they would be better off dead – they can’t take any more of the despair they’re feeling.
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s very important for you to get help so that you don’t hurt yourself. A doctor or psychologist can help you figure out what’s wrong and get you on the path to recovery. Recognize the signs and get help if you need it.
The next point is, we are not to judge.
Looking at verse 4, it says:
“my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.”
In this verse we see that David is worried about what his enemies will say – he’s afraid they’ll take the credit for his downfall and that they’ll celebrate because he has failed.
It’s so important not to judge people who are going through a time of mental illness. There’s already such a stigma attached to mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar, panic attacks, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Have you noticed that not many people talk about it?
It can be embarrassing to admit that you’re taking a medication for depression or some other mental illness, you don’t know what people will think – if they’ll trust you in the future – if they’ll understand what you’re going through and still love you.
I went through those feelings for many years before I finally got help. I resisted the idea of being clinically depressed – I thought I was just weak, or sinful, and I just needed to get my act together and I would be fine. I wasn’t fine.
I struggled along for many years dealing with sadness and anger – sometimes it was mild, at other times it was so strong I didn’t think I would make it.
When it got very bad we were living in Orange City and Gary was going to school. I was involved in a Bible study group during those two years and I look back in awe at how much my friends loved me and didn’t judge.
I don’t know how they could have been so patient with me. I often cried during our study. I asked their advice but didn’t take it when they suggested I get help for depression. They laid hands on me and prayed when I was just sure it was a spiritual problem that could be solved with a time of prayer. They didn’t judge me, they were just there for me in my time of need.
As you look around at your family, your community, and your world, do your best to not judge others. Pray for others, accept them, love them unconditionally. Judgement separates you from them.
You can care a great deal about others, but if they feel you’re judging them, you’ll seem more like an enemy to them than a friend. And definitely don’t be the “enemy” that will boast about someone else’s downfall, don’t be the foe who gossips about someone’s mental health and adds to someone’s hopelessness.
Finally, we see in verses 5 & 6 that God restores our hope:
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.1
David does an abrupt about face. One moments he’s talking about death and enemies, and suddenly he’s proclaiming his trust in God’s love and singing because the Lord has been good to him. We don’t see what has happened between verse 4 and verse 5. Maybe he’s been completely healed, or perhaps he still feels just as bad, but he makes a choice to trust God and praise Him again. As we think about mental health this morning, I want to assure you that God can bring healing to you, too.
God restored my hope in life…but it took a long time. You know, Gary likes to kid me about always doing things the hard way. Sometimes I think it’s funny, and sometimes I’m annoyed, but I have to admit that it’s true.
I don’t know why I do that – but that’s how I dealt with depression, too. I prayed, and wrote in my journal, and talked to my friends, and cried buckets full of tears.
It could have been so much easier if I had gotten professional help sooner.
I finally admitted I couldn’t handle the problem about four years ago and I got some counseling and went on some medication for depression.
That was very hard – I hate taking medicines – I do things the hard way, remember? I’ll usually wait until my head is about ready to explode before I even take aspirin…but I was amazed to find that an antidepressant evened out my mood swings and helped me feel much better.
It was also helpful to talk to a counselor for a few months and work on some of the wrong attitudes and beliefs I had that contributed to the depression. I got off the medication a while back, and things are going quite well, but if the symptoms of depression come back again, I won’t wait as long to take something for it.
So, as we close today I want to remind you of these four things:
1. God cares about our feelings – He loves you and He wants you to tell Him everything that is going on in your heart – the very center of your being.
2. Recognize the signs. Whether it’s depression or some other mental illness, we have to know ourselves and be willing to get help when something is wrong.
3. We are not to judge. This means not judging others, but it also means not judging ourselves. Part of the reason I fought getting treatment for so long was that I didn’t want to admit defeat. I was so proud.
I felt like I should be able to kick this depression if I just had more faith, if I just prayed harder. Well, maybe depression in its early stages can be turned around, but there comes a time when it’s a chemical imbalance that needs to be fixed. Don’t judge yourself or others.
4. God restores our hope. I don’t know how He’ll do it in your life, but hold on to hope and keep trusting Him. He may restore your hope as you talk to a doctor or a professional about your symptoms. He may restore your hope with just the right medication for your illness. God works in a multitude of ways.
If you feel like your emotions are just out of control, and especially if you feel that life is a burden rather than a blessing – I urge you to talk to your doctor, or me, or Pastor Gary. You can talk to someone and it will remain confidential.
Our God is a God of Hope…and Hope is something that’s scarce in the life of a depressed person.
But your hope can be restored… You don’t have to live in isolation. If you’ve held your despair in for a long time, it’s time to get it out. Share it with someone else…share it with God…and most of all show yourself enough grace that you admit to yourself that it’s time to get help. That’s when hope will finally be restored.
Then we can say with the psalmist:
“I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.”
© Robyn Mulder 2005, therobynsnest.org