Did you know there is a difference between empathy and sympathy? Yeah, I didn’t either (nor had I really thought about it) until a couple years ago. It was around that time that my best friend (Natalie) found this video which, you really should watch:
I’m going to let you in on a personal secret. Whenever Natalie or I are having a particularly bad day, we will usually whisper to the other person, “It’s dark down here.” We both know the reference and know what the other person needs.
It’s been pretty dark lately. There hasn’t been any big, terrible event. I’m just flat-out depressed. I feel numb, emotionless, and worn. When other people say they are running on Jesus and Coffee they usually laugh, but for me, that is dead reality. No joking.
Psalm 88 is one of the unusual and rarely read Psalms. It’s not like the others. It doesn’t start out with the author in pain, despair, or depression and end with him full of hope. It actually starts and ends pretty much the same. I would really encourage you to read the whole thing but here are some snippets of it:
“I cry out day and night before you”
“For my soul is full of troubles and my life draws near to Sheol”
“I am a man who has no strength”
“You have put me in the depths of the pit”
“I am shut in so that I cannot escape”
“O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?”
“I suffer your terrors; I am helpless”
And on it goes. You read that and tell me that the author didn’t struggle with depression. You read most of the Psalms and tell me that. It’s pretty low.
But when I read these words, I feel empathy from men that lived thousands of years before me. Men who firmly believed in God’s perfect will but struggled with their hearts and minds. The author even admitted (I love this) that God was loving, faithful, wonderful, and righteous in verses 11-12 of this Psalm but only to say that he wouldn’t be able to tell of these things if he died.
It’s even encouraging to me that this Psalm doesn’t end the way all the others do. We don’t like to sit in darkness and depression and we DEFINITELY don’t like to sit with others during those times. But sometimes that’s where God has placed us or those around us.
Sometimes empathy is asked, not sympathy. Sometimes life is more like Psalm 88 than Psalm 89.