Helping a Hurting Friend: Anxiety and Depression
Pastor Matt Sturtevant with Emily Reimer, MS, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
(Video includes Matt’s interview with Emily, plus entire worship service.)
Hear now these words from the psalmist:
1 O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
3 My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O Lord—how long?
4 Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise?
6 I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eyes waste away because of grief;
they grow weak because of all my foes.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my supplication;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.
Perhaps you can hear these words in a new way after listening to Emily. Let me not suggest that with 100% certainty we know that the Psalmist was suffering from either anxiety or depression…as I say, it is dangerous to provide a psychoanalysis some 3,000 years later. We don’t know exactly what malady was impacting the psalmist, but we do know it was bad. Some have suggested it was physical illness. Others think it was an emotional or mental health concern. Others see the spiritual language and talk about a crisis of faith.
But let me suggest that perhaps it doesn’t matter. In fact, what we tend to do is isolate and categorize these things as different, but the ancient Hebrews wouldn’t have done it that way. For them, physical and emotional and mental and spiritual health were all tied up with each other. Look at the way that the psalmist floats back and forth between all of these categories. There is language of the bones wasting away, the soul in terror, grief and languish, and anxiety from the inability to worship. In and out of these categories, the psalmist reminds us that they are so often related. Chemical impacts emotional impacts mental impacts physical impacts spiritual.
And look at the depth to which this pain hurts the writer. “I flood my bed with tears…my couch with weeping.” I imagine one who is awake all night in significant mental or emotional or physical pain. “My eyes waste away…” Verses 1-7 are this litany of pain and agony and anxiety and depression and pain.
And then we get to verse 8, and it all seems to go away. All of a sudden, the psalmist is extolling God’s goodness! We struggled in the Two-way this last week…”what happened there? Is there something missing?” What changed between verse 7, where the writer is in agony, and verse 8, where the writer is in praise and adoration of God? Was there healing? Was there restoration? Some scholars even wonder if there was a line missing from some ancient responsive reading here: “pain, pain, pain…EXPLANATION HERE…joy!” How else do you explain this sudden shift from one to the other? The bottom line is that commentators don’t have any more clue than we do what happens between 7 and 8.
But let me suggest that maybe the psalmist did it on purpose. Because look where this resolution comes from. It never says that the psalmist is healed. It never says that this malady is taken away. The resolution doesn’t come from the healing, but from the hearing: “the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping…the Lord has heard my supplication.” For the psalmist, the resolution comes from the fact that they realize that they are not alone. They worship a God who hears. In fact, there is no theological shift in the whole Psalm; from beginning to end, there is continuity of trust. The psalmist trusts God in the pain, and in the hearing.
For two weeks now, we have heard from our experts how important it is for those who suffer to be heard. Emily said it loud and clear. Don’t one-up them, don’t offer platitudes. Listen. For when we listen, we demonstrate the holy love of a God who listens. We, too, worship a God who hears. Hears our prayers. Hears our pain. Hears our struggles. That is the good news of the Gospel…like the psalmist, we are not alone.
Horatio Spafford was a lawyer and businessman in Chicago who lost most of his fortune in the Great Fire in Chicago in 1871. As the family began to recover, they planned a vacation to Europe: Spafford with his wife and four daughters. At the last minute, Horatio had to stay in the States and so he sent the family along until he could join them. On the way, the ship that carried them struck another vessel and sank to the bottom of the ocean. All four of his daughters were killed; his wife barely survived.
Heartbroken, he rushed to see her, and when his ship passed by the site where the ship sank, he felt moved to write the words that we have already heard Amelia sing this morning:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Horatio Spafford knew that he worshipped a God who listened. Who heard his pain and suffered alongside of him. Like the psalmist. Like us when we or those we love fill our bed with tears. There is a God who hears us. Who knows our pain. Who reminds us that we are not alone.
Licensing: The following music is used by permission under CCLI streaming license #20126570
“Friend for Sinners”
Music by William Walker and Rowland H. Pritchard, Arr. Molly Ijames
©2015 Lorenz Publishing Company
Fintan O’Carroll/Christopher Walker
©1985, 1996, Fintan O’Carroll and Christopher Walker
Published by OCP Publications
“I Need Thee Every Hour”
Robert Lowry/Arr. Stan Pethel
© 1997, Lorenz Publishing Co.
“It is Well”
Words: Horatio G. Spafford/Music: Philip P. Bliss/Arr. Anna Laura Page (ASCAP)
©MMVI by Alfred Publishing Co, Inc.
“For the Beauty of the Earth”
Music: Conrad Kocher/Arr. Stan Pethel
©1996 Hal Leonard Corporation