Recently I was considering a very familiar psalm, Psalm 23. Like many others, I memorized this psalm as part of my Christian education when I was young. I will admit that I did not understand, or even think about the words in this psalm when I memorized it. Also like many, I came to know it as the psalm which had a sole purpose of being used when someone died. As I grew older and became better educated regarding this psalm, I have found that it serves more of a purpose than being a funeral psalm. I am considering writing a series of posts which explore the words of Psalm 23. However, my recent focus is on this phrase — “the valley of the shadow of death.”
Usually when we hear this phrase as the psalm is read, we associate it with the act of dying. For many of us this means a physical death. I do not disagree with this interpretation. I do think that there is more which can be considered here than solely physical death. One additional interpretation which I have been pondering is applying this phrase to periods of depression. The word which leads me to this interpretation is “shadow.” Depression can impact a person in similar ways to death.
Depression is a very real aspect of life. There is not one individual who has not experienced depression in some form over their lifetime. These experiences usually come and go at various times. From my own experience, I would say that when I have been in a period of depression, I felt as if my very life was being sucked out of me. I have no energy, no joy, no motivation. I felt like I am living in a shadow. I view these time periods as living in a valley, a valley which is dark and gloomy.
I am fortunate that I am able to climb out of the valley, out of the period of depression. This happens due to my having an excellent support system, especially my husband. Unfortunately, many individuals do not have a strong support system. Others have an outstanding support system but out of fear do not reach out and honestly share their depression with members of that group. Sometimes living in the valley of the shadow of death leads them to view physical death as the best way out of the valley. They feel alone and isolated even when they are surrounded by loving and supportive individuals. This is not because they are weak or selfish, in fact, they are usually the opposite of these traits.
One of my truths which has been a comfort and provides assistance during these times of depression is found in the words of the psalm following the above phrase: “I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and staff comfort me.” I am reminded that I am never alone. I am not alone when life is going smoothly, and I am not alone when the shadow overwhelms me in the valley. The strength of the Lord (rod and staff) sustains me when I am feeling weak.
Depression is very real. Depression is not a sign of weakness or inability, it is an emotion in life that accompanies difficult situations as a person perceives them. The psalmist knew and understood this, in fact, probably was experiencing this. My message for anyone experiencing depression is to realize a few truths:
- You are not the only one to experience this.
- You are not the only one who has ever gone through what you are currently going through.
- You are never alone because the Lord is in the valley with you.
- You have people around you who are desiring more than anything to be supportive and present without judgment.
- The valley is not the whole but a part and there will be times that you can stand atop the nearby mountain which has formed part of the valley.
If you think someone might be struggling with depression, the most important thing that you can do is to be present in a nonjudgmental way. Listen without giving advice. Love without expecting anything. Show them how the Lord is with you in whatever you are experiencing.
Maybe you will look at Psalm 23 a little differently today.