March 23, 2020
I am the one who has seen the afflictions
that come from the rod of the Lord’s anger.
He has led me into darkness,
shutting out all light.
He has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and flesh grow old.
He has broken my bones.
He has besieged and surrounded me
with anguish and distress.
He has buried me in a dark place,
like those long dead.
He has walled me in, and I cannot escape.
He has bound me in heavy chains.
And though I cry and shout,
he has shut out my prayers.
He has blocked my way with a high stone wall;
he has made my road crooked.
If you have ever experienced depression—either for a short time, or as a regular part of your mental landscape, these nine verses sound achingly familiar. If you’ve never experienced depression, take note. This is a painfully accurate description of what it feels like to be in the middle of it. The hardest part about depression is the feeling of being cut off from everyone and everything. Relationships, joy, God—all feel distant, even if they are sitting in the same room. The author of Lamentations speaks of being buried in a dark place, being walled in. Perhaps most painfully, he feels that, even though he cries and shouts, God has shut out his prayers.
Depression affects one out of every 10 adults each year. It is the leading reason of death by suicide. Here we can see that depression is not a modern phenomenon, but something humanity has been navigating for thousands of years. The problem of depression in our relationship with God is the same as well. How do we navigate the feeling of being blocked off from God? The bootstrap method works for only some. Just keep plugging away until the sun starts shining again. For many more, we need to learn to rely on others to begin building the pathway to the surface. Unfortunately, most people don’t know where to begin when navigating the complexities of depression in a relationship. So we rely on what has worked for us: optimism, exercise, a vacation. But if someone is living in a place like Lamentations describes, none of these strategies will work.
The core issue described in these nine verses is one of profound separation. What a separated person desperately needs is connection. If connection to God is hard to see, we can offer instead, or as a first step, the connection to us. The author Parker Palmer, in the depths of his own crippling depression, had a friend who came by each day and simply rubbed his feet, often in silence. As Palmer describes it:
“By offering me this quiet companionship for a couple of months, day in and day out, Bill helped save my life. Unafraid to accompany me in my suffering, he made me less afraid of myself. He was present — simply and fully present — in the same way one needs to be at the bedside of a dying person.”
The full blog post by Parker Palmer is here if you would like to read more. But for now, let’s focus in on what God might be saying to us in these verses. First, if you are struggling with depression, hopefully these verses show you that God sees your struggle, and is intimately acquainted with how it feels. He is not as far as he seems. If you know someone who is in a dark place, use these verses to provide a deeper understanding of who they are. Look for an opportunity to simply be with them. Or, like Palmer’s friend Bill, be the physical, healing hands of Jesus in their hour of need.