How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.
I find the Psalms express what I feel when ill very well. The Psalms express a range of human emotion from joy to anger, from battle-hymns to pleas of despair. Certainly there are times in depression that it seems the Lord has forgotten us, that he has turned his face from us for reasons we cannot divine, and left us to sorrow, and our own destructive thoughts. I think that David suffered from his share of depression, as many of the Psalms attest, and here he does what a lot of us do not do in our prayers – he expresses everything in his heart to God, not just the sanitised bits.
I don’t know whether other people do this but I find myself censoring my prayers. Thinking, ‘I can’t say to God that I am angry, or that I am suicidal, or that I want to hurt myself’. Because these are not very Christian, not the “proper” sort of prayer. I have a niggle in my head that tries to tell me that God doesn’t want to hear, shouldn’t hear things that are not all pure and lovely. That I shouldn’t express the truly ugly things in my life. So I think to myself, I cannot say “Lord, I want to die” or “Lord, I am really angry because I feel so awful and you haven’t helped me”. And yet this is just what David does in the Psalms.
I think we forget that, like Jacob in Genesis 32:24-32 wrestling with God does not always give a negative outcome. Jacob continued that match to get his blessing, though it was with God himself that he wrestled. He was very persistent with God – and we also can wrestle, can express our doubts and our fears and our anger to God without his turning upon us. I think in the end God would rather we talk to him in anger than not talk to him at all.
Adrian Plass, in one of his books, talks about a little child who is angry with his father, and who shouts and screams and bangs his fists against dad’s chest until, exhausted, he is able to relax in his father’s embrace. I think that God is like that – we need to vent, sometimes, and his chest is broad enough to take our poundings! For after all, if we scream at God – we still believe in him, still trust him enough to charge him with failing us. We are still faithful, even in our anger.
I am a strong believer in letting things out. Part of the problem that I have is that I do not express my emotions properly. I do not get angry in an external way, and, as I said above, I try to present a “good” face to the world, and even to God. It is something I need to work on. Perhaps I need to get to the point David has here, where I can say, “How long will you hide from me, answer me! why do I feel this sorrow?” and get to the point that David does, where he can say, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
It seems hard to say, after admitting that you feel dreadful, that God has been good to us. We can imagine saying “I may be angry with you, but I still have faith in you, I still trust and love you” to God, but to say, in the depths, that God has been good to us is another challenge.
I suppose we can do it by rote, like I sometimes find myself doing at the end of the day. “Let’s see, today X happened so I I’ll pray about that, and then Y happened so…” Reasons to be thankful! And perhaps that is the route, when we are depressed. I know that when I am depressed I don’t really see anything as being particularly good, and am not inclined to thank God for things which I do not want, for a life I want taken away. But I can force myself to, try – if only for a moment – to make my mind act as though it were not disordered. I read once that positive thinking can improve your mental state. I don’t know how far that is true, and I certainly don’t think saying “if you think in the right way you won’t be ill” is very helpful for anyone. I do think it can perhaps give a temporary respite, a sort of practise at being well again, which at least can give us the appearance of doing something to help ourselves besides take the drugs we are given/counselling we are offered.
At the end of all this, I would say, there is nothing wrong with being angry with God. Nothing wrong with asking him why we are feeling bad, why we are suicidal, why our minds have conspired against us in this way. I am not saying God will shout down to us exactly why, nor that he will heal us of our problems – in the end we cannot demand miraculous healing, and Jesus never healed every person in the world. But we can shout out our anger and frustration at God, can release toxic emotions in his presence, and know that he still loves us, he still accepts us, and he is still our Father, and we can praise him for that, even in the midst of our depression.