24 April, 2007

Courage and Depression

The question came up after my post on Rest, what it means to "labor to enter into His rest." I fiddled around with different ways of approaching the subject when depression happened into my mind. It's an easy call for me, for a number of reasons. I have lots of experience with it, and can only think of a few times that I have not fought it daily.

This is not one of those times. ;-)

Depression is an insidious enemy. It's poison is not in that it cannot be fought, but that it lulls every desire to fight it into a passive slumber. There are many worse things than being depressed. Sometimes being depressed even helps me pray. Why not just stay there?

The good-intentioned have lots of answers for the depressed, and all of them are right.
- Count your blessings.
- Praise God.
- Get out with others.
- Do something caring.
- See other people's needs.
- Work in the garden.

Every single one of those things works. The advice is sound, but it addresses the wrong problem. I want to be depressed, and all those things just get in the way of being well and usefully so.

When the "do something" approach fails, round 2 of the good-intentioned is an attempt to address my motivation. In this stage the kind souls remind me that God forbids depression, or at least hanging around there. Again, this is true - true enough to be really depressing. ;-)

God deserves the richest praise, and He has surely blessed me, so dwelling upon the negatives of my condition must be quite unthankful. So there must be a skill to being well and usefully depressed. I must praise whilst weeping. That confuses 'em real good. They don't quite know what to do when I am praising God, but am still every bit as depressed as before they showed up.

Eventually all the helpful people go away. They've caused all the pain they have the patience for, and I have to figure out what to do next. I am finally alone with my pain, and I have to find an appropriate response.

Here is where I must find the intersection of Courage, Rest and Pain.

Psalms 61 Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.
David's first word is, "Lord." It should always be. He expands on this as we go, but for now he is scared of his Lord.

I am a daddy, and it tears my heart how quickly my children believe I am angry with them or that I will be. Neither of them would want to do anything that would really make me angry, and neither of them has. I can be made angry, but not by them - not a chance. We are even more safe with our Daddy, but it doesn't feel that way.

Specifically, David is afraid God will be angry at him or discipline him. I'm afraid of those things, too. I'm afraid because I have done things wrong, and I'm afraid because being depressed is just another thing I'm probably in trouble for - but this trouble includes phrases like, "Depart from Me, I never knew you."

2 Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. 3 My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?
David is fainting. He lacks the strength to fight this fight. He is curled up against a wall, wishing he had the strength to get a kerchief. He begs for healing of his bones. His body cannot even hold itself up. His heart quails from the thought of his own agony. And he asks the Lord the key question, "How long?"

He can muster the strength for one last push, but how many more pushes will it take? Deep down, he knows it's too many, and that he will fail.

But, he keeps calling out to the Lord. It is the Lord Who holds his times and seasons, and the Lord Who holds his healing. It is the Lord Who fills his mind.

4 Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. 5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave?
David quits mincing words.

"Repent, Lord. Deliver me. Save me," he says.

He knows the Lord has not quit loving him, so he implores Him do what He wants to do anyway. He can yet praise God, if barely, but if the Lord keeps him even a little longer in this agony, that last trickle of praise will end. The grave is never far away from the depressed.

David does not want it to end.

6 I am worn out from my groaning. 7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.
Again, a hallmark of depression, fatigue.

It takes a great deal of energy to be well and usefully depressed, but David has done it here. He has spent himself. He has drained the bucket, all the way to the bottom. He is tired of listening to his own weeping, and has cried until he can hardly stand to open his own eyes.

Now, he is naked before His Lord.

Take a two hour break, now, before reading verses 8-10. Spend those two
hours reading verses 1-7 over and over, because connecting verse 7 to verse
8 in the span of a single breath is insane.

It cannot be done.

Something happens between verse 7 and verse 8, something that takes time, maybe hours and maybe months.

David has admitted his Pain. Now, he finds his Courage. He finds the strength to stand up from all his fatigue and ...


When we hear that a person has found Courage, we expect that they defeat their enemies one after another. That's what happens in all the stories, right? But it's not what happens to David.

Depression is the least active of states in all of life, and yet it is horribly fatiguing. Even while praising in the midst of depression, fatigue weighs its victim down. Ever wondered why anti-depressant drugs lead to suicide? In that first couple weeks after starting the drug, the person gets emotionally stronger without getting happier. During that dangerous window, they find the strength to finish themselves before they find the reasons not to. Depression wears a person down even to the point that they cannot harm themselves.

So, what happened during the space between verse 7 and verse 8?

Maybe David sought out someone to help him find his courage. Maybe he sung some of the good songs. Maybe he just kept weeping a little longer, and remembering his God.
This "something" that he did, for however long he had to do it, is what Hebrews 4:11 calls "laboring to enter into His rest."

David reminds himself why he should resist depression. In life there are countless ways to be depressed, and each one affords itself a different way to resist, to overcome. In the context of this psalm, David reminds himself that his enemies are God's enemies. He reminds himself, too, that his enemies are evil, and must not be allowed to triumph. Lastly, he reminds himself that God will not vanquish his enemies apart from his own participation by faith.

8 Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. 9 The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. 10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish; they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.
David reminds himself of the Lord in a supreme act of love. This is an act of courage, and (oddly) the action is to rest.

David gives up his fetal refuge up against the wall for love's sake, love of those who will be helped when this battle is won. There are those who need David to stand against these enemies, and it's love that strengthens him to rise. It's brotherhood that causes a soldier at war to fire on the enemy, and it's brotherhood that teaches a man to resist every other fear, too.

More, though, it's the childlike love for his God that picks David back up. It is trusting and remembering that the Lord is good and strong and dependable that puts the starch back in his spine. These enemies will win if David does not remember God. David quits fearing God's rebuke, and begins to fear the loss of honor to God's Name. David can choose here to do a thing, to stand up against all the fears in his heart, that will give God a chance to hallow His Name on earth.

Love depends upon God to make a way to offer God a gift. It's remarkably like a mother helping her toddler make a Mother's Day gift. It seems a little silly, but it's one of the most charming expressions of love the world affords.

James Bond would handle these enemies by infiltrating the enemy command post and taking out the bad guy. Braveheart would give a stirring speech and raise the nation against the baddies. Gen. Patton would make the other poor sap give his life for his country. That's how we write our stories of courage.

The history of the kingdom sees human courage differently, badly.

Israel turned back to Egypt when they were being brave. Or they called on strange gods. They drew courage from throwing their children into Molech's fires, and from buying clues about the future from fortune tellers all across God's land.

David decided before he ever penned this poem to pour his heart out to an invisible God. After receiving no answer to his weeping, and after his bones shook within him, he reminded himself of the works of this invisible God and stirred himself to hope. I AM tells no fortunes. I AM made David a promise through Nathan, and then He went silent.

And in that silence David had to decide what to do.

Would he attack his enemies in human boldness? Or buy them off in craven fear? Might he turn to Molech? Or maybe offer sacrifices to the true God out of fear like Saul had, hoping to appease Him Who had been silent so long?

The man after God's own heart had the courage to throw his lot in with the invisible.

It is not recorded what David did to actually address the problem, but David records the important step. He believed. He believed so strongly that his despair annealled into confidence, and into holy boasting.

Israel lacked this boasting when it came time for the people to take the land of Canaan as their own. They needed only to march across the Jordan, and God would have given the land into their hands.

It says,Ex 23:28 And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.
Israel had a chance to obey and to rest and to conquer all in one motion. She could have crossed that river into that land of giants, and lived in peace without the sacrifice of a single life, either from Israel or from Canaan. Instead, she listened to the 10 spies who told her that God could never deliver this land into her hands.

Note, though, that Israel could not conquer the land without courage and motion. They needed to walk into that land of giants to inhabit it. Courage inspires action, not indolence. Rest comes from God, and it comes as we act, not as we sit. Think back on every story of God's deliverance, and you will find an action on the part of the people. God would not allow Gideon to conquer with 30,000 soldiers, because that is not rest, but He also would not allow Gideon to conquer without the motion of 300 men against the enemy.

We have every opportunity to live out courage and rest in the midst of our pain. We have the more sure word than mere prophecy. We have the Life and Resurrection of the Son of God on which to pin our trust.

Let's say a hangnail has me down right now. I need to spend a while decrying the pain of that hangnail to God. Then I need to spend a while earnestly seeking Truth to inspire courage in my heart. And finally, having found courage and rest in God, I need to trust that the Lord cares about my hangnail and go to the doctor to have it fixed.

I hope to continue this subject, looking at courage in our personal lives and in the life of the church.


codepoke said...

[There has been some discussion of raw versus edited Codepoke. For amusement's sake, I kept the first draft of this post if anyone is silly enough to be interested.]

Milly said...

Send it to me.

Milly said...

So much in this post and in a Milly moment I wanted to send a bit of fairy dust to you with a whisper “Now it’s all better” That’s not what friends do so I won’t. No matter what you say to me I will still lock my car doors check them before I walk away push the little button then look to see if I’ve pushed the correct button push the button again then I will get all the way to the door of what ever place I’m trying to get to turn and walk back to my car to be sure that I locked the doors. If I place the dohicky lock thingy in my purse or pocket I’m sure that I have now some how tripped the lock and unlocked it. You could tell me to tell myself three time that the garage door is down and that will work until I forget to do that then I will still panic as I drive away, sometimes turning my car around to check. As a friend you understand that it’s who I am. So as a friend good luck running me off. ;-}

I do think that God sends us people. . . .moments. . . in our lives that well for a lack of better imagery jump on the grenade for us. They don’t always know that they have and we don’t always know them but they are answers to our cries for God.

We find a huge amount of strength from loss. I saw it in my brother and sister when mom died. My dad needed it from us and God provided it.

I don’t think that I will ever understand most of God’s ways in dealing with us humans but I do have faith in our Lord.

(Now who needs to edit?)

rick said...

Well, hell, it's pretty good theology, anyway.

Lynne said...

For me, in certain personal situations, the greatest courage has been required to NOT take things into my own hands (which would be self-protective, but less than godly, less than loving)the courage to do nothing but trust in God to come through for me, to wait for Him to provide for me in His perfect way and enduring in trust until He does. I still find that incredibly hard which probably says a lot about the state of my faith :(

codepoke said...


I appreciate your comments about your struggles with OCD. I get that about you sometimes, but it helps me to understand.

codepoke said...


I'm not sure whether I know you, so, Welcome. I'm not sure I understand your comment, but anyone who likes my theology is welcome (and obviously disturbed.)

codepoke said...


If I understand your comment, you just summarized David's condition - so the state of your faith seems to be about the same as David's.

Things could be worse. :-)

Lynne said...

you're generous. But I must say I look to David as an example of waiting on God to be my deliverer and vindicator -- but in practice of course, it's more often aspiration than achievement ..

BTW, if liking your theology = being disturbed, when is group therapy scheduled?

karen said...

this spoke to me today. thanks. I've slipped on that slope lately....workin' on it.

codepoke said...

Thanks for the vote, Lynne. It means a lot.

codepoke said...

Praise the Lord, Karen, if this provides some comfort. It did for me at the bottom of my hill. :-)

Missy said...

This really spoke to me. I often find the advice I follow to help get me out of depression simply stalls it - eventually I too, find that it's just God and me in the end. Something just clicked for me here, and I will be approaching David's story from another angle.

Oh, and if you're not just poking fun at me, I would love to read the "uncut" version, hehe! missy_vinson at yahoo dot com.

codepoke said...

Poking fun!? Never. Consider it sent.

May the Lord bless you in your moments of need.

eclexia said...

Good post. I found this after linking to your website from Lingamish's post on humor. I'm grateful for people like Lingamish who can make me smile on my worst days. But also have found peace in being a person who feels sadness deeply and frequently. That is the context where God meets me. I don't need to be like fun/funny people for God to meet me OR for me to truly be thankful and rejoicing in my heart. Nor do they need to be like me. In different ways, different sides of the coin, in our exuberant cheerfulness or heavy hearts, we demonstrate not only the many shapes that trusting God takes, but also, in diverse ways, we reflect the faithfulness of God, regardless of our circumstances or our perspectives.

codepoke said...

Thanks and nice to meet you, Eclexia. And I agree about Lingamish and about your thoughts on humanity. Well said.