The Psalms: Praying to Alleviate Depression 7-22-12

Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his names’ sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.


Our sermon series on the Psalms continues today by considering the most familiar Psalm of all, and arguably close to the most familiar chapters in the whole Bible. We are looking this at how the Psalms aid our prayer life, particularly in relation to the difficult struggles we have with addiction and depression and other issues. As we did last summer, we are looking at how the

Ephesians 2:11-22

July 22, 2012

The Psalms: Praying to Alleviate Depression

Lynn Ellen was a classmate of mine in college. I didn’t know her well, but a few years ago she wrote an article for our school alumni newsletter about her struggles with depression, struggles that she was quite reluctant to let anyone know about. She said she had been to many doctors trying to get help, and she felt so bad. She had been suffering for eight years from a number of elusive symptoms – exhaustion, migraines, insomnia, chronic bronchitis, fevers, and hypoglycemia.  She was bed-ridden for months and tests for mono, Lyme disease, and other maladies were always negative.

At some times Lynn Ellen could only manage an errand or a phone conversation on a good day, and was totally bedridden on others, watching life go past.

Lynn Ellen noted that most people think of depression as something that is under someone’s control. If you are depressed, you just need to buck up, and take charge of your life; take a break, or change what you have to change; take the right drug or be with the right people; realize that you are a good person or that God loves you. We have dozens of prescriptions for depression that can be infuriating to the person dealing with depression, because they all seem so obvious to everybody else. It is easy for them to say, and it sounds and feels to the person suffering like they are being blamed for not being able to find their way out of the difficulty.

Depression is sometimes a much more intractable, difficult place to be than any of these platitudes, prescriptions, or palliatives can reach. If anything I say today sounds like an easy solution that makes light of the struggle and difficulty of dealing with depression, please know that is not my intention. One of the beauties of faith and of the Psalms, as we noted last week, is how they can express the hardest experiences of our lives. The laments are from the depths and the celebrations of God’s power ooze with enthusiasm.

The 23rd Psalm is a psalm of great confidence. Obviously, I am not going to suggest that praying with the 23rd Psalm in mind would alleviate depression. That would be far too simplistic. There is a reason we read this Psalm so often at funerals and in the context of death and dying, however. It is such a powerful reassurance and beckoning of the power and presence of the Living God. Because we read it at funerals, the Psalm might resonate with depressing connotations, but I hope that would not keep us from digging a little deeper and realizing how powerful this passage can be for us.

The Psalm begins with the assertion, “God is my shepherd, my guardian, my care-taker. I shall not want. I will lack for nothing.” All by itself, that prayer could be deeply reassuring. I know I have made depression sound huge and daunting, and it really can be. But it is also true that all of get depressed at times. We all need the reassurance that this Psalm provides – that there is a power beyond ourselves, a caring heart that can let us know that this depression will not last forever, that it is temporary.  You know how even a common cold can make us feel so bad, we think it will never go away. We need the reminder that God is there, and that other people are there for us as God’s hands and ears, so that we can talk through the issues of our life.

Psalm 23 goes on: God makes me lie down in green pastures; leads me beside still waters; restores my soul; leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.  Notice which of these is different than the others. Out of 4 phrases, God make me; God leads me; God leads me, only the phrase in the middle sounds different, “God restores my soul.” God restores my soul. God cause my life to return.”

Lynn Ellen talks about this return to a life when her doctor began to talk about remission in her disease, and she finds herself at a friend’s wedding with her feet in the water and the wind blowing through her hair. She found that one essential element to her recovery was exercise. She tried everything, including the anti-depressant drugs. And she found them some help. But exercise has been shown to be as effective or even more effective than anti-depressants in dealing with depression.

As we get to the middle of the Psalm, we hear get the analogy that makes this psalm most applicable to funerals and for dealing with depression: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” Notice how the Psalm has changed from talking about God to talking to God in an I-Thou relationship. And because of that presence, there is no fear – even though the speaker is in the scariest of places. The phrase “Thou art with me” is at the exact center of the poem, 26 words before and 26 words after it. God’s presence is the reality on which our restored souls turn.

Depression always has a source in the fears of our lives, and I’m not sure there’s finally a way to drug most of our fears. We have to face them and realize that with God’s presence we can go through the valley of facing our fears. Denying and repressing our fears just makes them worse, and makes the depression worse. I wouldn’t tell anybody never to take anti-depressants to help them in an interim period, but I don’t think that drugs deal with the root of the problem.

Talking with a friend or therapist or pastor or counselor helps us get to the root of our fears and depressing thoughts. Exercise helps to pull us out of a rut or a pattern; helps us to get into the present rather than living in the past. And finally having the assurance of God’s goodness and mercy which follows us all our life long.

The Psalm assures us of God’s abundance, hope, and grace. It is the relationship with God that makes the restoration of our soul possible. It is not an assurance that there will be no scary valleys of shadows, just that we can get through them because of our relationship with the Living God.   This is God’s good news.  Responsive Hymn  2202 Come Away with Me