The Christmas and New Year holidays sometimes evoke a sense of melancholy, a deep, pensive, seemingly long-lasting sadness and depression. We may romanticize the past and long to be there. We may be separated from family and friends. We may have lost a child or a spouse. The Mayo Clinic website gives ten tips to prevent holiday stress and depression: acknowledge your feelings, reach out to others, be realistic, set aside differences and accept family members, stick to a budget, plan ahead regarding gifts and menus, learn to say no, don’t abandon healthy habits, take breather [fifteen minutes alone if necessary], and seek professional help if needed. Hmmm….
OK, there is some practical advice here we can follow. What’s missing? No, who is missing? God is missing. Jesus Christ is missing. Listen to Psalm 42:11, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”
The psalmist looks within. With a cry, he asks himself a simple question. “Soul, why are you so depressed?” It’s no idle question. He therefore asks a second question of himself. “Soul, why are you so unsteady and restless so that you howl like a wounded dog or moan like a lonesome dove?” The beauty of the Psalms is that they are down to earth, realistic, and meet us where we live. They don’t give us pie in the sky by and by.
Rather, the Psalms give us opportunity to vent, to express our inner most doubts and fears. For example, the Psalms repeat the plaintive mournful cry, “How long?” “Lord, how long will You look on?” (Psalm 35:17). “How long, O LORD? Will You be angry forever?” (Psalm 79:5). “How long, O LORD? Will You hide Yourself forever?” (Psalm 89:46). “Do return, O LORD; how long will it be?” (Psalm 90:13). “How long shall the wicked, O LORD, How long shall the wicked exult?” (Psalm 94:3). Yes, “How long?” “Until when?” Real life is not like ‘Reality TV.’ We cannot hope the producer will shout ‘cut’ so we can rerun the scene. Life plays out. We must face the dilemmas and the despair.
Here again, we find the beauty of the Psalms. The Psalms carry us from doubt and despair to joy and praise. To whom does the psalmist address his cry, “How long?” He addresses his God. What is the answer to the question, “Why are you in despair, O my soul?” I don’t mean the clinical answer. The solution does not come from further introspection. Look outside yourself! Look up to God! “Hope in God.” The psalmist says to his soul, “Wait for God,” or “Wait upon God.” Look expectantly to Him. Why? “He is my help.” More specifically, “He is my salvation.”
The psalmist looks in the mirror and sees his fallen countenance. Why? His soul is in deep distress. Again, who is the answer? Jesus Christ. Wait upon Him! Look to Him! Remember, part of what He comes to do is “to bind up the brokenhearted” (Isa 61:1). The psalmist therefore confesses, “He is the help of my countenance and my God.”
Finally, the psalmist declares, “I shall yet praise Him.” This praise is not sloppy sentimentalism. This praise involves actual soul-movement from despair to hope by connecting with Christ through faith. God designed the Psalms for this very purpose, to meet us where we are and to lead us back to Him. This is their beauty and power.