My Tape pt. 2

Depression  is always a daily battle. Depressed folk have been described as “master thespians” who know how to put on masks for their friends and family. It’s certainly true for me, not to say I’m always fake or putting on an act but on a bad day I can normally still act like nothing is wrong or bothering me. It’s when I can’t put on the mask, when my friends or family can tell that I’m having a bad day – that’s when I’m losing the battle.

I hate burdening people with my problems, making them have to think about what I’m going through or experiencing. And yet it sometimes is the best way to process my thoughts and realize that I do matter to people. Then I walk away feeling terrible for sharing.

I want to help others through their struggles and weaknesses whether it’s a mental, physical, or spiritual health problem. I can’t stand the thought of someone else suffering silently, of not feeling loved or not feeling that they matter. Yet it’s so hard to accept the same. I don’t feel worthy of compassion or love or kindness. So hard to be on the flip side of this exchange, it takes an incredible amount of courage for  a depressed person to come out and say they feel dead inside or hate themselves. And no wonder, what a shot to our pride to do such a thing! To help someone in need can make me feel good and useful, but to admit to someone else – it’s like I think if I don’t let other’s know then it might not be how I truly feel.

Psalm 38:1-11 (Esv)

 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
    nor discipline me in your wrath!
For your arrows have sunk into me,
    and your hand has come down on me.

There is no soundness in my flesh
    because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
    because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
    like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

My wounds stink and fester
    because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
    all the day I go about mourning.
For my sides are filled with burning,
    and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and crushed;
    I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

O Lord, all my longing is before you;
    my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
    and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
    and my nearest kin stand far off.

 

 

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My Tape pt. 1

There’s a tape that plays in my head, as is common for people who suffer from depression. I’ve learned that a key to beating depression is teaching myself to minimize this tape. Some days I’ve been successful and some days I haven’t. Thankfully I’ve had more success as of late, but the last week has been bad.

When I mess up the tape that plays in my mind tells me, “Of course you messed up, you’re an idiot. You retard what did you expect!”

When I talk to my friends about my struggles the tape tells me that they don’t want to hear about my problems. That I’m being unfair and dumping my problems onto them. That I don’t deserve to have friends and that everyone would be better off without me in their lives. That those who are my friends actually aren’t, they just can’t get rid of you. When a friend or a loved one dies my tape tells me that that should be me, and deep in my heart I want it to be me. I feel awful for it. I know it’s wrong and I have so much to live for, yet it’s there. I’m being selfish in those moments while at the same time trying to comfort my friend or loved ones.i

On a successful day I can fight against these tapes. I can cling to the positive and up building comments that my friends give me. Even criticism can be looked at with a positive spin – as a way to move forward and as the help that it was intended to be. I can cling to the hope and promises of God. I can realize that just because something went wrong at work or elsewhere in my life doesn’t mean it’s all my fault and doesn’t make me a failure. Part or most of the blame may fall on me but there are almost always a number of factors that played into whatever happened.

On a bad day the tape is crushing. This past week has been a battle to get out of bed. It has been a battle to fall asleep as the tape loops over, and over, and over… My mind races with thoughts. Worry and anxiety boil up and I can’t calm myself or ignore my thoughts. The nightly tape goes like this: Have I chased away my friends? Have I ruined another relationship? Will they ever speak to me again? When they talk to me are they merely putting up with me? Do they love me as much as I love them? They must all be faking it, who could ever be this broken wretches friend? Who could ever love a failure like me? This tape plays over and over again. It’s by far the worst part, I can live with being a failure but not the thought of being alone. The paranoia and insecurity can be overwhelming. I know those thoughts are irrational and yet they feel so true. I can’t gently push them aside or follow the mindfulness techniques I’ve learned. It can loop over and over for hours on end. It’s tiring, no it’s exhausting. Yet there’s no sleep or rest.

So I confess with Paul in 2 Corinthians 5, “[W]hile we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

I still have hope, my confidence is in my Saviour and I know that this wave too shall pass. I think on the positive things my friends have told me, the times they reminded me that we are true friends and not counterfeit. I recall the answered prayers of the past and cling to them as I go on into the future. And with thoughts like this, even though I can’t shut off the tape at least I have something to play over top of it.

 

All Thy Waves and Thy Billows

Deep to deep incessant calling,
Tossed by furious tempests’ roll,
Endless waves and billows falling,
Overwhelm my fainting soul.
Yet I see a power presiding
Mid the tumult of the storm,
Ever ruling, ever guiding,
Love’s intentions to perform.
Yes, mid sorrows most distressing,
Faith contemplates thy design
Humbly bowing, and confessing
All the waves and billows Thine.

God of my life, vouchsafe thy gracious presence, command thy loving kindness that so neither the world, the flesh, nor Satan may prevent my enjoyment of it. Fill my heart with gratitude, my lips with praise. Pour upon me the Spirit of grace and of supplication that I may draw near to thee in humble, fervent, and effectual prayer… [P]reparing me again to worship thee with thy people on earth or with thy saints in glory everlasting. These blessings I would earnestly beg in the name of thy dear Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.

Henry March, 1824

Precious in the sight of the Lord…

Psalm 116 is a beautiful song and one of my favourites. It describes God’s loving care for his children and how we should respond to the mercy he has shown us. The promises and confessions in this psalm are a great comfort after the death of a loved one, or when we feel that God is distant from us. Here are two great commentaries on this Psalm and one short prayer.

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful servants.
16 Truly I am your servant, Lord;
    I serve you just as my mother did;
    you have freed me from my chains. (Psalm 116, NIV)

 

At birth, Lord, I was born in thy house; I am the son of thine handmaid, and therefore thine. It is a great mercy to be children of godly parents. By redemption, Lord, thou hast loosed my bonds, thou hast discharged me from them, therefore I am thy servant. The bonds thou hast loosed shall tie me faster unto thee.  – MHCC

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
116:10-19 When troubled, we do best to hold our peace, for we are apt to speak unadvisedly. Yet there may be true faith where there are workings of unbelief; but then faith will prevail; and being humbled for our distrust of God’s word, we shall experience his faithfulness to it. What can the pardoned sinner, or what can those who have been delivered from trouble or distress, render to the Lord for his benefits? We cannot in any way profit him. Our best is unworthy of his acceptance; yet we ought to devote ourselves and all we have to his service. I will take the cup of salvation; I will offer the drink-offerings appointed by the law, in token of thankfulness to God, and rejoice in God’s goodness to me. I will receive the cup of affliction; that cup, that bitter cup, which is sanctified to the saints, so that to them it is a cup of salvation; it is a means of spiritual health. The cup of consolation; I will receive the benefits God bestows upon me, as from his hand, and taste his love in them, as the portion not only of mine inheritance in the other world, but of my cup in this. Let others serve what masters they will, truly I am thy servant. Two ways men came to be servants…

Doing good is sacrifice, with which God is well pleased; and this must accompany giving thanks to his name. Why should we offer that to the Lord which cost us nothing? The psalmist will pay his vows now; he will not delay the payment: publicly, not to make a boast, but to show he is not ashamed of God’s service, and to invite others to join him. Such are true saints of God, in whose lives and deaths he will be glorified.

John Calvin’s Commentary on Ps 116:15:

15. Precious in the eyes of Jehovah is the death of his meek ones. He goes on now to the general doctrine of God’s providential care for the godly, in that he renders them assistance in time of need; their lives being precious in his sight. With this shield he desires to defend himself from the terrors of death, which often pressed upon him, by which he imagined he would instantly be swallowed up. When we are in danger and God apparently overlooks us, we then consider ourselves to be contemned as poor slaves, and that our life is regarded as a thing of nought. And we are aware that when the wicked perceive that we have no protection, they wax the more bold against us, as if God took no notice either of our life or death. In opposition to their erroneous doctrine, David introduces this sentiment, that God does not hold his servants in so little estimation as to expose them to death casually. [384] We may indeed for a time be subjected to all the vicissitudes of fortune and of the world; we will nevertheless always have this consolation, that God will, eventually, openly manifest how dear our souls are to him. In these times, when innocent blood is shed, and the wicked contemners of God furiously exalt themselves, as if exulting over a vanquished God, let us hold fast by this doctrine, that the death of the faithful, which is so worthless, nay, even ignominious in the sight of men, is so valuable in God’s sight, that, even after their death, he stretches out his hand towards them, and by dreadful examples demonstrates how he holds in abhorrence the cruelty of those who unjustly persecute the good and simple. If he put their tears in a bottle, how will he permit their blood to perish? Psalm 56:8 At his own time he will accomplish the prediction of Isaiah, “that the earth shall disclose her blood,” Isaiah 26:21. To leave room for the grace of God, let us put on the spirit of meekness, even as the prophet, in designating the faithful meek ones, calls upon them to submit their necks quietly to bear the burden of the cross, that in their patience they may possess their souls, Luke 21:19.

Psalm 6

How do we deal with mental and physical suffering, pain, illness, and death? In his commentary on Psalm 6, Gerard Wilson gives some very practical and insightful advice. He writes specifically about physical suffering but there’s no reason what he says can’t be applied to mental ailments too.

“Often we try to interpret away the troublesome evidence of a world run amok by giving pain and suffering new and more palatable names, such as “divine discipline” or “test of faith” or “opportunity for growth.” This they can be and certainly have been for many generations of the faithful. But the danger of such an approach is that it can dull our awareness of the “wrongness” of pain, suffering, and oppression. When they become just one more means God uses to accomplish his purposes, we fail to realize just how contrary to God’s will and intention for his world and his people these evidences of evil really are.

Like the psalmist, let us mourn suffering, pain, oppression, and evil in all their forms rather than rejoice in them as divine punishment when they fall on one we think deserves it. Nor should we seek to explain such things away as discipline and guidance when we experience them ourselves. We can and should allow distress and oppression to provide opportunities to shape our dependence on God to create a fierce loyalty to him, but they remain evil just the same and do not become good by the fact that God can turn them to our good.

If, as the psalmist suggests, the chief role of humans is to remember and praise God, how is it possible to do that in the midst of personal pain and suffering? It is especially difficult when all the voices around us undermine our confidence—either with words that are too negative or with those that are too positive.

On the one hand, I am injured almost beyond repair by those who claim, “There is no way out. This pain is deserved. God does not care. God does not exist!” I have to admit that I have been too long ingrained in the faith from earliest childhood to be shaken, even in times of great trouble, by those who question whether God exists. God has existed for me from earliest memory. But I can, like so many in my culture, believe that God could not possibly care for one like me, and this fear can lead quickly to despair of any deliverance.

On the other hand, my confidence in God can be shaken by those who too easily seek to put some positive cast on my experience of pain. “God is in control. God is using these circumstances to punish or discipline you. Praise God for what is happening, for you will understand the purpose for it later.” Far from helping me, such responses, while often well intended, can leave me with a sense of isolation. I am left with a feeling that my pain is not understood and is belittled. I cannot escape the gnawing feeling that this suffering, no matter how deserved, is nevertheless evil and ought not to be.

I meet regularly with a group of men who have experienced significant pain and trouble in their lives. The best solace we offer to one another is not to explain away the pain but to acknowledge its reality. We can hold up to one another our own experiences of divine grace within the continuing reality of suffering that marks our daily lives. The pain has not gone away, but God and his grace have become even more real to each of us as we acknowledge that God’s will for us is not suffering and death but abundant life, lived in the light shining out of the darkness.
Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms, vol. 1, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 186.

 

Psalm 6 (NIV)

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. According to sheminith.[b] A psalm of David.

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
    heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
    How long, Lord, how long?

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

I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping
    and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
    they fail because of all my foes.

Away from me, all you who do evil,
    for the Lord has heard my weeping.
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.

Heart-work is hard work indeed

“Heart-work is hard work indeed. To shuffle over religious duties with a loose and careless spirit, will cost no great difficulties; but to set yourself before the Lord, and to tie up your loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon him: this will cost you something.

repentance-before-god

To attain ease and dexterity of language in prayer and to be able to put your meaning into appropriate and fitting expressions is easy; but to get your heart broken for sin while you are actually confessing it; melted with free grace even while you are blessing God for it; to be really ashamed and humbled through the awareness of God’s infinite holiness, and to keep your heart in this state not only in, but after these duties, will surely cost you some groans and travailing pain of soul.”– JOHN FLAVEL

 

This is something I certainly struggle with. Yes I can confess my sins, but do I really give thought to what I have done? I’ve sinned against an infinitely holy God. More than that I’ve dishonoured the one who died for me, who loved me before I even knew his name, who made a covenant with me and promised me eternal life. Yet the words all too often ring hollow on my lips, “forgive us our debts.” My debt is infinite and yet it seems I can’t even utter a heartfelt prayer. Surely this is what John Donne meant when he wrote ‘My heart was broken to think it would not break.’

How humbling it is to realize that my prayers do not merit me anything in God’s sight. That God hears my prayers is yet another gift of grace.

Thanks be to God that he has given us an intercessor, that the Spirit would perfect our prayers!

 

My faith doth lay its hand

On that dear head of thine,

While, like a penitent, I stand

And there confess my sin.