The Prayer of the Distressed and Depressed

Psalm 88 is up in my morning prayer cycle. If you’re not familiar with it (not surprising as it’s seldom read in church) have a look and understand that God himself breathed a prayer for those in the darkest, foulest moods. It is a prayer of depression, of sensing the world as dark and hopeless.

Yes, it is in a minority of the prayers offered in Scripture. Rightly so. Jesus Christ is Good News. Faith, hope and love are guiding virtues.

But as one of my church’s Bible study groups read yesterday, Jesus points to himself in the Psalms. Psalm 88 reminds us of his abandonment on the cross, his staring into the absolute darkness and terror of divine wrath, and likewise assures us that the hopelessness of the Psalm is also a space where “he may dwell in us, and we in him.”

Sometimes despair means we’ve misread things, and he will guide us from fear to faith. Other times our hearts are broken as we mourn real tragedy or evil, and he blesses us for sharing his heart. And we know that in some cases what Psalm 88 reflects is organic – a besetting and crippling injury – and he is with as as the miracle of grace, not judging how well we “deal with it” but making us right with God whether or not we can.

Psalm 88 (Book of Common Prayer, 1979)

1 O Lord, my God, my Savior, *
by day and night I cry to you.

2 Let my prayer enter into your presence; *
incline your ear to my lamentation.

3 For I am full of trouble; *
my life is at the brink of the grave.

4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; *
I have become like one who has no strength;

5 Lost among the dead, *
like the slain who lie in the grave,

6 Whom you remember no more, *
for they are cut off from your hand.

7 You have laid me in the depths of the Pit, *
in dark places, and in the abyss.

8 Your anger weighs upon me heavily, *
and all your great waves overwhelm me.

9 You have put my friends far from me;
you have made me to be abhorred by them; *
I am in prison and cannot get free.

10 My sight has failed me because of trouble; *
Lord, I have called upon you daily;
I have stretched out my hands to you.

11 Do you work wonders for the dead? *
will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?

12 Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave? *
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?

13 Will your wonders be known in the dark? *
or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?

14 But as for me, O Lord, I cry to you for help; *
in the morning my prayer comes before you.

15 Lord, why have you rejected me? *
why have you hidden your face from me?

16 Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the point of death; *
I have borne your terrors with a troubled mind.

17 Your blazing anger has swept over me; *
your terrors have destroyed me;

18 They surround me all day long like a flood; *
they encompass me on every side.

19 My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me, *
and darkness is my only companion.

1 thought on “The Prayer of the Distressed and Depressed

  1. Pingback: Thoughts on Psalm 88

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