There is one hymn that moves me like no other, one that speaks deeply to me whether I am well or ill, and which provides great comfort to me. That hymn is “Abide With Me” by H F Lyte (1793 – 1847). I love both the words and the music, and I hope you will read these words with me:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide:
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide:
when other helpers fail and comforts flee,
help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see:
O thou who changest not, abide with me.
I need thy presence every passing hour;
what by thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies:
heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
I think it is a great pity that we only seem to sing this one at funerals – though of course I recognise its great application there. To me this hymn speaks so much to those of us who have nothing, who rely on the grace of God to live each day – which is all of us, whether we recognise it or not. To live with mental illness is to be aware of our own vulnerabilities – to realise, at least in my case, that I need God with me, I need him to abide with me or all else is lost.
Depression in me makes me feel like I am on the edge of death, as though I might die at any moment, whether through the pain itself or through my own hand, being unable to bear it any longer. That is why Psalm 23, with its mention of being in the valley of death has a great meaning for me. So it is with “Abide with me”, I too need God in life and in death, I too need him every passing hour, I feel the weight of sin and death pressing in in a way I cannot experience so well when ill, nor knew so much about before becoming mentally ill. At least one thing about mental ill-health is that we rely on God – not that I think God allows it for that reason, but it is one of the (few) benefits of suffering, that we lean upon the great Helper, our Guide.
Perhaps I am of a melancholic disposition but I have always been a bit morbid in my thinking, often thought of death and delighted in the sort of dark stuff the Victorians were into. I would probably have liked to have been a goth, but I was far too shy! This poem speaks to that for me, to my awareness of the darker side of life, which was only confirmed when I developed bipolar disorder.
Sometimes all we can say is “abide with me” – when we have passed the “why?” and the anger stage, when struggling is futile and we are simply tired, then my prayer is only “stay with me”, “be here”, and though it may seem cold comfort I do believe the Lord answered me, and although the poem “Footprints” is cliched now, it does have relevance – God is with us when we suffer, and while that may not seem much to someone now, down in the depths, it matters.