Poor mental health can make us a stranger to others. I wonder how often, when we meet people who are expressing deep and lasting despair, whose appearance and behaviour are strange to us, are we able to look beyond and take time to hear the person’s story?
The depth of pain expressed in Psalm 137 is extraordinary. Imagine being taken away from your home, from all that is familiar and sitting as a prisoner regretting every moment of your existence and the past of your people. Psalm 137 is about the lived experience of pain and a reminder that despair can fire hatred.
Despair festers, it poisons every area of life it touches, until it has spread and taken hold, blocking out all memory of God, all knowledge of his wondrous presence. Depression steals you away from the land and community you once knew, without you ever realizing that you had left. You wake one day to find yourself sitting in an unfamiliar land, wondering how you got there and despairing that you may never return home.
The writer of Psalm 137 asks, ‘How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?’ I believe the answer is ‘Because we must not forget.’ In the despair of depression, we forget the place from where we have travelled. That there was once a time of laughter, love, enjoyment and happiness becomes a memory that is difficult and painful to grasp. The need is for companions who will bear our pain and sing songs of remembrance, songs of hope and songs that remind us of the people we are.
Recovering the power of lament is an urgent task for communities of faith. It takes great patience to sit, in love, alongside someone who is unable to love themselves. It requires a continual commitment in prayer and reliance upon the Spirit, seeking to look beyond the immediate and see the journey travelled and the road ahead. It also requires those of you who are companions to people living in despair to look after yourself. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ Jesus said. Self-care isn’t self-indulgence. Self-care is knowing that in order to love those who cannot love themselves, you need to be continuously restored through the love of Christ, knowing rest and peace where the demand of the despair of others isn’t present.