Bringing a daughter back from the brink with poems

A beautiful article about how a Mom put poems in her daughter’s shoes when she was going through a period of despair:

Before she went to school in the morning, I wanted her to read the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver that talks about not having to be good and not having to walk on your knees for miles, repenting. As Ms. Oliver writes, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Practical biblical advice for despair

When we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired or any combination of the four, our actions, reactions, and choices can be coloured by how we are feeling.

Elijah is one of the outstanding characters of the Old Testament. His epic contest with the false prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel is the high point of his career (see 1 Kings chapter 18). But Jezebel cuts short any celebration of victory, threatening Elijah with death when she catches him. So he runs for his life. I can understand that, I’d skip the country too.

He also becomes quite bummed out by the whole situation, seeing no hope for himself or the nation.

There is plenty of speculation that Elijah was depressed at this time. I’m wary of projecting 21st century psychological ideas onto a person who lived 2,800 years ago. We only have an outline of the highlights of Elijah’s life and that’s not enough information to base a diagnosis on.

Elijah goes from outstanding courage in chapter 18 to despair in chapter 19. Despair is a bad headspace to be in and one current tool used in combating it is summed up with the acronym HALT. This stands for:

  • Hungry
  • Angry (or afraid)
  • Lonely
  • Tired

I can see all of these in Elijah.

He was hungry, so an angel provided food for him. He was afraid to he ran 200km (120 miles) to get away from Jezebel (he was probably also angry at her). He was lonely, telling God he was the only prophet left. And he was tired, sleeping under a broom tree in the desert. He was so fed up that he asked God to take his life.

The idea behind this acronym is that when we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired or any combination of the four, our actions, reactions, and choices can be coloured by how we are feeling. If I am feeling tired, angry or hungry, I am more likely to over react to irritations and inconveniences. By being aware of this I can try to address these things, making it easier to constructively cope with things I don’t have control over.

It seems that God did this for Elijah – he slept, then an angel woke him to eat some food, let him sleep some more and provided more food (1 Kings 19:5-7). Then Elijah took a long walk and was reassured that he was safe and would be given someone to take over the burden of being a prophet from him (1 Kings 19:15-17). God showed him that spectacular signs were not what he needed (1 Kings 19:12). The outworking of seemingly ordinary events under God’s control would fulfill God’s plans.

This is a good reminder to me when I am feeling down and just want a way out. The way out of my current situation is by living through it and God will answer my prayers within the bounds of the ‘ordinary’.

Sometimes when life sucks I just need to have some dinner and get an early night. Once I am fed, rested, and have connected with those I love, I’m better able to seek God.


Image: The Prophet Elijah by Daniele da Volterra, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Scripture references:

Ref 1 Kings 19:1-14 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how qhe had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to sBeersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. tAnd he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food uforty days and forty nights to vHoreb, the mount of God. The Lord Speaks to Elijah There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, wthe word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very xjealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, ythrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, aand I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and ca great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind dan earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, ehe wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, fthere came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, ythrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (ESV)

Do not be afraid

I can worship God, pray to Him, cry out to Him and be heard and helped by Him no matter what my physical, mental or emotional state.


2014 was a dark year for me, by God’s grace and with a lot of support from my wife and kids I lived through an awful valley of depression. Thankfully, I am now doing OK, but the experience has caused me to reconsider some of what I read in the Bible in a new light. One such thing is the exhortation to not fear:

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV)

Do not fear or be in dread, the Lord your God goes with you. He will not leave or forsake you. For those of us who live in the ambiguity of faith and depression these are astonishing words.

An impossible command

Firstly, to be depressed and told not to fear or dread is an impossible thing. Fear, dread, anxiety are hallmark traits of this mental illness and those who are unwell cannot prevent these emotions and associated thoughts from occurring. Yet the Bible consistently commands us to do the impossible, for example:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, (James 1:2 ESV)

Normal people do not consider it joy when things are going badly, they get upset, annoyed, grumpy and sad. Joy in such situations springs either from some sort of delusion or from a hope or goal that is unaffected by the current circumstances. The command to have joy or to rejoice is rife in the New Testament (e.g., Matthew 5:12, Romans 5:3, Philippians 4:4).

What is the point in commanding something that is humanly impossible to fulfill?

Moses, the prophets, the apostles and God Himself are well aware of our weaknesses and that while we might be willing in spirit to live a life of purity, holiness and discipleship, in the messiness of real life it is usually only a short time before we stumble and fail to live up to our high aspirations (see Mark 14:38). This is true for each of us as individuals and even on a national scale for historical Israel.

Failure in obedience to God is inevitable. But sometimes we are like Peter and cannot be told, so have to experience failure first hand. Then once we are faced with the shattering truth of our failure, inability and sin, we say to God, “don’t come near me, I am too sinful” (see Luke 5:8). At this point we are given the promise of God’s presence:

The LORD your God who goes with you.

The unshakeable promise

Like the kid facing a bully whose Dad says, “Don’t worry, I will come with you”, God promises to cross over the Jordan river with the Israelites to face their enemies in the land of Canaan.

This is the God who parted the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army, who opened the earth to swallow those who challenged His authorised spokesman, and provided food for the horde of Israelites in a desert for 40 years. God is powerful, well worth having beside you in a fight.

How about when the ‘enemy’ is from within? When my fear is fueled by my own heart and mind? God’s power and strength are great, but I am anxious that such strength could crush me.

In Jesus we see more of God than power alone, He is also gentle and carries us in our despair:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;

(Isaiah 53:4)

Jesus also promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Even in the depths of despair when it feels as if God has deserted me, I can trust that He determined long ago not to do so.

An unseeable promise

But I still do not see or sense God near me. This is not surprising when God is described in the Bible as “the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and “eternal, immortal, invisible” (1 Timothy 1:17) with Jesus telling us that, “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18).

What did Jesus mean when He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” then about a month later ascended into heaven?

God is spirit, and Jesus had previously told His disciples, Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you. (John 16:7 ASV). The Comforter, (also translated as ‘Helper’, ‘Counselor’, ‘Advocate’) is the Holy Spirit and this is the One who is promised to never leave us or forsake us.

As Spirit we cannot interact or sense God through our physical senses. However, we are not only physical beings, we have a spirit too and God gives life to our spirit through rebirth by faith in Jesus as the Son of God. This means that my spirit can commune with the Holy Spirit who is always present.

I may not be able to feel it through my senses, but I can worship God, pray to Him, cry out to Him and be heard and helped by Him all in the realm of the spiritual no matter what my physical, mental or emotional state. He will not leave, He will not abandon me, and He can strengthen me by His Spirit. Fear and despair may come, but in my despair God’s power is undiminished and His resolve to be with me and strengthen me step by step, breath by breath through the darkness is backed by repeated promises through the Bible.


Image: iStock

Pain isn’t meaningless

portrait of crying dirty girl holding rose

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. (Psalm 147:3-4 ESV)

There is One who tenderly heals those who are suffering in the most hidden of places. When pain tears you apart within yet there is nothing external for anyone to see, nobody understands your despair, but God knows.

He knows and He heals. Jesus will bandage the wounds that are hurting now, He has no intention of letting you haemorrhage where you stand. From there God will follow through with healing – not just first-aid, full healing.

What I’ve just written could be passed off as the shallow words of a prosperity preacher – I’m not claiming God will make our lives pain free.

What Psalm 147 tells us is that God’s will is to heal the broken hearted, and He has the power and authority to do so. God placed every star in the universe (and stars are rather big!), they exist because God wills them to exist. So we can be assured of ultimately being healed – Jesus said himself this is why he came (Luke 4:18-19).

Knowing that God both desires our healing and is able to make it happen means the pain we currently experience cannot be meaningless. God knows about it, and has for some reason chosen not to fix it right now. We cannot know God’s reasons, but we can know that there is a reason. Small comfort when you are in pain, yet a lot better than meaninglessness.

Voice your complaint – God can handle it

caucasian man praying with hands over his face

How do you thank God when life sucks? We are commanded to give thanks, always and for everything (Ephesians 5:20) – how is this possible if your lot in life is lousy?

I know enough people who are having a real tough time in life to be under no illusions that being a Christian exempts anyone from enduring hard times. The situations these people are experiencing are not their own fault or due to a lack of faith. Frankly it looks very much as though God has given some folks a real bum deal.

That seems to be how Job felt too – he believed God is good, he firmly held that it is much better to be righteous than wicked, yet there was no denying his suffering. Job was more honest than his friends, he didn’t try to protect God from the truth – really bad things do happen to good people and there is no logic to it.

I loathe my life;
I will give free utterance to my complaint;
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.
(Job 10:1 ESV)

Job knew something wasn’t right and he grew weary of holding it in, he vented, he shocked his friends. His friends snapped back with accusations, defending their doctrine, standing up for God.

Yet someone was listening to all this. Have you ever considered that someone was listening to these conversations and faithfully reported or wrote what was said? This is what I can do for my friends also, listen and take their complaints to God.


Gifts I am noticing:

341) Honest words telling of a spouse who disdains your worship. I cannot change your situation, but I am praying for you.
342) Your endless sleep deprivation. I am praying and trying to help where I can.
343) Your heartbreak and fears for the future in the disarray caused by an unfaithful husband. I am angry too, I don’t know what to pray even, but keep asking God to comfort you.
344) Shortened work hours, rising living costs and healthcare bills causing anxiety. Praying for you both.
345) Unending headaches and stress. I cannot see why you must endure this but Jesus is walking with you and I’m asking Him to give you comfort in your endurance.
346) Depression casting shadows across your soul. Asking our Father to be your light, comfort and hope.
347) Past abuse that has generated hardships beyond my knowing. I see you as you are today and there is grace at work. Praying for continuing grace, comfort and peace.

Useful reading (some of what I read in thinking about how to write this post):

Image of man praying: iStockphoto

The logic of a downcast soul

the-logic-of-a-downcast-soul

My soul is downcast within me,
therefore I will remember You

(Psalm 42:5 ESV)

It is common to think of emotions and logic as being somewhat opposed – there are logical types of people and feeling types. Mathematics is logical, emotion does not affect the outcome of an equation. Happiness is an emotion, logical analysis tends to ruin it. But this psalmist sees no such dichotomy, he uses logic to help his own emotional response.

The emotion

My soul is downcast within me,

Downcast is another way of saying despondent, despairing, disheartened, depressed. In other words, I feel like crap inside, I am broken, abandoned. I’m impressed by how the psalmist reacts to his internal state of being downcast – he makes a rational, logical decision to do something quite different to what comes most naturally. I’ve seen my own reactions to being downcast often enough to know that remembering God is not a natural instinct. My default behaviour is to become selfish, sulky and sinful. I try to make myself feel better. This psalmist seeks God. I react more like the writer of Psalm 73:2-5 &  Psalm 73:21-22.

The logic

therefore I remember You.

When I cannot control my soul, when it is downcast and I cannot do anything about it, this is when I most need to remember God. In remembering God I need to exert some stubborn trust, to hope in God, for I will again praise Him (Psalm 42:11). It is the realization that I have no hope of true satisfaction, joy or comfort on earth or in heaven apart from God, which drives me to resolve to remember God when feeling downcast.

My soul is downcast within me,
therefore I will remember You.
(Psalm 42:5 ESV)