Recently, a new scripture has taken on a whole different meaning for me. Psalms 23, the oh so famously memorized set of scripture you see people quoting in fearful situations or at the dinner table. What I love so much about this verse is how much strength I feel, and how I feel like my anxiety and depression in the past has been accounted for.
Seasonal depression has plagued me every year since the end of middle school. Of course I didn’t know what it was back in the day, but I started noticing a pattern towards the end of High School and finally made the conclusion my freshman year of college. Sometimes only lasting a few weeks, and sometimes lasting a quarter of a year. Each time, wanting an immediate escape. Each time, wanting immediate answers. Each time, not knowing how it started, and why I felt utterly alone amidst the presence of very strong friendships and being a believer.
It was my sophomore year that I asked my mentor her view on it, and I remember her saying, “sometimes God lets these things happen. We don’t know why, and it doesn’t feel like there’s a point. But it creates an overwhelming need for Him, which draws you either closer to Him or further away. But God is still there, and He wants you near Him”.
I wish I could say that that advice was all comforting, but only slightly haha. She was right, but it probably wasn’t what I was going for.
I remember my seasonal depression taking a sudden turn as well, switching from the season I was used to preparing myself for to my favorite season: summer. And it was truly an odd twist, because I was surrounded by Jesus as a ministry leader all summer. Where God’s presence should have comforted my lonely heart, where some of my best friends were too-that I could lean on… yet still feeling alone and further from God.
I was spending time with God daily and still felt far away from Him. Helpless, lonely, and angry. I didn’t understand (and still don’t sometimes) why I had to go through it. Especially during a time where memories were flooding my mind of past abuse.
As someone who felt hopeless, alone, and anxious before giving their life to Christ, feeling these feelings were all too scary and real. I gave my life to Christ so I wouldn’t feel that way.
The first part of Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (ESV version)
I looked into this verse and read a commentary that separated the words to give them more meaning. And while the words through, valley, and death interested me, the word that captivated me the most was the usage of shadow in this verse. (These descriptions are a mixture of mine, the dictionary, and blueletterbible.com commentary via David Guzik).
- Walk: moving at a fairly slow and regular pace
- Through: moving from one side to another
- Valley: a pit, a surrounding low area of land,
- Shadow: partial or complete darkness
- Death: we all know what this means.
- So, if we were to put these descriptions back into the verse for a fuller meaning, this is what we would have:
Even though I move at a fairly slow and regular pace, moving from one side to the other, in this surrounding pit of complete darkness of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
(also, notice how David is saying that God is with Him. Not waiting for Him on the other side. Not rooting in the distance for David to make it out, but He’s with Him. Every. step. of. the. way.) The fact that hard seasons, dark seasons, lonely seasons plague us isn’t some new thing. And this visual David has given us has meant so much to me, becuase even if it isn’t fun, it comforts me knowing that I can still find comfort in trusting God and patiently endure something that is really only a shadow of something that I never have to endure.
Things I’ve taken from this verse and from my own experiences:
- When God takes you through hard seasons, you usually walk through through them. You don’t sprint, run, or jog. They usually feel slow and painful.
- A valley is an accurate description of a hard season. You usually feel surrounded, hopeless, and the only way to get out when you reach the other side, is to climb.
- Like in the verse, David faced the shadow of death. It wasn’t truly death itself, because Jesus has conquered the ultimate death. And if you’ve given your life to Christ and have a new life in Him, you will never experience ultimate death. But David was surrounded by the shadow of that dark, leering death. But for David (and for other believers) it’s just a shadow of death. The shadow of death can’t hurt us; it can’t take away our salvation.
“Death in its substance has been removed, and only the shadow of it remains. Some one has said that when there is a shadow there must be light somewhere, and so there is. Death stands by the side of the highway in which we have to travel, and the light of heaven shining upon him throws a shadow across our path; let us then rejoice that there is a light beyond. Nobody is afraid of a shadow, for a shadow cannot stop a man’s pathway even for a moment. The shadow of a dog cannot bite; the shadow of a sword cannot kill; the shadow of death cannot destroy us.” (Spurgeon, blueletterbible.com)
And that, is powerful.