We love to feel happy. Our culture prizes happiness and tells us that this is our right. But the human experience is marred and littered with sorrow. Too often, Christians can sound like people who want to just get past the sadness and move into the happiness of life.

Jesus, however, was a man of sorrows and was acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). If that was Jesus’ experience, why would expect that ours would be different in this broken, fallen world? We long for joy, but as C.S. Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” [1]

Longing for that other world requires us to learn to face our sorrows in this life with biblical realism. Here are some ‘friends’ that have helped me along the way.

First, there are three books that have been my constant companions. Mark Meynell has written a powerful book called “When Darkness Seems my Closest Friend.” Mark describes his own journey with depression, how he has found support from friends, Scripture, music, and literature to encourage him. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great London pastor, wrote a book called “Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure.” Lloyd-Jones, trained as a medical doctor, saw that medical assistance was one piece to help people’s woes. He also saw that another vital component was helping people’s spiritual depression, and this volume was his attempt to fill a big void that he saw in Christian circles. Finally, Zack Eswine has written a short but poignant volume called “Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression.” Looking at the famed British pastor who ministered through seasons of darkness and despair, Eswine’s little book has been a source of realism and hope.

Second, there are Psalms that I regularly turn to and find great comfort. Psalms 42-43 are companion psalms that remind me to talk to myself and not merely listen to myself. Psalms 63 and 84 were two that Keith Price, a disciple of A.W. Tozer, would go to over and over. Luther loved Psalm 130 and wrote a hymn reflecting on the movement from despair to hope. Psalm 89, however, is full of despair, wondering if God has forgotten his promises to David. In its despair, it reminds me that I can be full of sorrow when life doesn’t make sense and that I can cry out to God in lament as an expression of faith. As the French Reformer John Calvin would say about the Psalms, they are “an anatomy of the soul, for there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.” [2]

Third, I have looked to historical figures who have gone before me and suffered through the darkness. For spiritual guidance, I have looked at Luther. His battle with depression, despair, and hopelessness remind me to look not to the anfechtung of the soul but to the Word of promise in the gospel of grace. Of all church figures, Luther has become a constant companion who reminds me that God’s power is displayed through human weakness. For courage, Winston Churchill has taught me to press on in the face of angst. When I look at those who have gone before me and battled through the darkness, I am reminded that my experiences feel unique to me and tempt me to feel alienated and alone, but that darkness in the soul is not an uncommon experience. There are fellow pilgrims who have gone before me.

Fourth, there are musicians and songs that I enjoy listening to. The Irish band U2 has several songs that have a realism that are put in poetic form that can cause the soul to feel the freedom to ask the hard questions of life while grasping for God. Songs like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (from Joshua Tree), “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” (from Achtung Baby), “Beautiful Day” and “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out of” (from All that You Can’t Leave Behind), “Yahweh” and “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” (from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb) or “Every Breaking Wave” (from Songs of Innocence). Steven Curtis Chapman has written some powerful words after the tragic death of one of his children, and the two albums “Glorious Unfolding” and “Beauty Will Rise” have lyrics that are raw and hope-giving. Finally, Andrew Peterson has written some incredible music and his album, “The Burning Edge of Dawn” is worth contemplating.

Finally, there are poems that simply capture the imagination and human experience that put to words what the soul cannot when life is hard. I have a companion volume of poems by Wordsworth that sits beside my bed. The prayers of the book “Every Moment Holy” are precious to me. Willliam Cowper’s hymns are beautiful descriptions of hope in God from a man who battled suicidal thoughts most of his adult life. And there are many others I could name.

There isn’t one cure to the dark night of the soul. You may require medication. You will need friends who can sit with you in your ash-heap (like Job’s friends did for a week). You may need other supports around you. But when we see that our human experience feels very alone yet is not completely unique, we can press forward in hope that the Lord gives more grace when the burdens grow greater.

So press on, dear saint! As William Cowper would say, “The clouds that you now dread are filled with mercy and will break with blessings on your head!”

~Pastor Andrew

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Glasgow: Collins, 1978; p. 118.

[2] John Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms, Volume First, trans. James Anderson, vol. 4 of Calvin’s Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), xxxvii.

Prepare your heart for Sunday by reading the passage and listening to the songs we’ll sing.