5 Beautiful Psalms that Comfort Me When I’m Depressed
From a Progressive Christian Who’s Here to Encourage You, Not Evangelize You
Look, the Bible might be a contentious topic to write about. I get that.
This is not a story about why you should read the Bible. It’s a story about why I read the Bible when I’m in need of comfort and encouragement.
I have a seminary degree. But I’m not a minister. I’m what the church calls a “layperson” (to use gender-inclusive language). I’m one of the laity; I’m not ordained into the priesthood.
And sometimes, because of my mental illnesses (Bipolar Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder), I feel really down. That’s an understatement.
Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have the energy or ability to get through the day. I don’t mean that I struggle with suicidal ideation. (Thankfully, I don’t.) I mean that I literally don’t have the physical or mental energy to do things like wash my hair or even get out of bed.
On “depression days”, I often sleep in. Or, if I do get up early, I take a long nap in the afternoons. It’s not that I want to sleep so much. It’s that I feel physically incapable of doing anything else. Even simple things like washing a load of laundry or making a phone call can be crushingly overwhelming when I’m depressed.
Thanks to years of therapy, I have many healthy coping skills for “depression days.” And one of those is reading. Sometimes, I read fiction or self-help books to distract myself from uncomfortable feelings like anxiety or hopelessness.
Sometimes, I read the Bible. Honestly, there’s good stuff in there, even if you’re not religious.
What follows are verses from five Psalms that comfort me when I’m depressed. May they encourage you, if you want to read them. (All verses are from the NRSV/New Revised Standard Version translation.)
“They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” (v. 3)
What stands out to me in this verse is that the trees “yield their fruit in its season.”
This suggests that we’re not meant to blossom all the time. Some seasons are for planting, others for growing, and some for harvesting. And some seasons are for letting the land lie dormant.
That’s how I think of depression sometimes — as a “dormant” period. Last week, I took some time off from writing and slept a lot. Was I depressed or did I just need to rest? I’m not sure there’s a difference, necessarily.
Psalm 1:3 reminds me that even if I’m not bearing fruit right now (because I’m sleeping a lot), I can still prosper later. I’m not destroying my chance at happiness and success just because I take some time to honor how I feel.
“You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (v. 11)
“Fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” — who doesn’t want that?!
I think there’s plenty of room for interpretation here. The verse says these benefits (joy and pleasures) can be found “in your presence.” In my opinion, you don’t have to be in the presence of a particularly Christian or Jewish deity to experience these blessings.
Maybe “presence” is enough on its own.
When I’m feeling depressed or anxious, I often try to avoid my feelings because they’re so uncomfortable. That’s one reason why I sleep so much when I’m feeling lousy.
This verse calls me to be present in the moment; to be present to what’s here. “The path of life” is one of presence.
This verse reminds me that if I continue to live my life with care and attention, I will once again enjoy my life. Maybe not immediately. But life is pleasurable, at least some of the time. And that’s something to look forward to when I’m feeling down.
“In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” (v. 6)
Psalm 18:6 comforts me because it reminds me that I’m not alone. A Higher Power is available to me if I’m willing to call upon it.
When I’m depressed, I tend to feel and act isolated. I withdraw from others because I feel depressed, then my isolation serves to prolong my depression. It becomes a vicious cycle.
When I read this verse, I remember that even when I’m alone, I can “call upon the LORD” and God will hear me. My cries of distress and calls for help will not be in vain.
It’s a mystery to me how this works. Who is God and what does it mean that She can hear me when I cry out (even silently) in distress?
I don’t have all the answers. But I think this verse implies that Life itself supports us in our time of need.
As Alanis Morissette says, “Life has a funny way of helping you out.”
“Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.” (v. 6)
What does it mean to be “faithful”, according to Psalm 32? I think verse six answers this question: a faithful person offers prayer to God.
So, what does it mean to pray?
In my experience, prayer doesn’t need to be complicated. Jesus offered what became known as The Lord’s Prayer as a formula for how to pray, but I don’t think we have to pray that way to be heard by the Universal Presence of Love (one of my names for God).
To pray is simply to communicate with the Divine. We can pray aloud, silently, in writing, or in song. We can pray alone or together.
However we pray, Psalm 32:6 says that when we pray “at a time of distress, the mighty waters shall not reach [us].” While we may feel distressed, the Bible says that we won’t drown in it.
For me, this assertion reinforces something I’ve learned from therapy: while I may experience uncomfortable emotions, my feelings won’t harm me. And, no feeling lasts forever. Feelings change; that’s the nature of emotions.
And that’s good news when I’m feeling depressed.
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” (v. 18)
This verse is well known and often quoted, and it’s easy to see why.
God, or as I see Her, Life itself, is not neutral in this Psalm (or anywhere in the Bible). Life is not merely a casual or even “lifeless” reality.
Life itself desires our wellness and wholeness.
I believe this verse confirms that when I am brokenhearted and “crushed in spirit” (so eloquent and accurate!), the Divine reality of life is close to me. God literally knows when I’m feeling bad and directs Her divine attention to me in troubled times.
I believe that when I’m feeling depressed, God has not forgotten me.
My depression and anxiety are caused by mental illness, but that doesn’t make me cursed.
We could ask, “Why does God allow mental illness to exist?”
I’m not here to answer that question (if it can be answered at all).
I’m just here to share a practice that helps me when I’m feeling terrible in the hopes that this story might help one person. And if it does, I’ll be celebrating with you.