Well, if I ever publish DiosPsyTrek II — which I wont — “An Owl Among the Ruins” will be its subtitle. It’s an apt description of how I generally feel of late. Am I a wise old owl, awake when others slumber? Old for sure, wise perhaps. And my life certainly feels a shambles. An owl among the ruins is also part of a verse from Psalm 102.
Psalm 102 is a lament — one of the saddest and most painful in the whole canon. It is a song of abandonment and despair. But as the flow in psalms tends to shift mood, it is followed by a Davidic Psalm of unrestrained praise, Psalm 103.
In early February 1993, I was going thru perhaps the greatest single time of testing in my life. I had a painful. frightening attack of shingles on the upper right quadrant of my face. The long dormant herpes zoster virus had become activated and crept down the trigeminal nerve and turned my face into a fiery battleground. It was covered with oozing sores and ugly scabs. Shingles on one’s face can be dangerous — in rare cases causing blindness or brain damage.
In addition to the shingles, I had a recurring urinary tract infection and the symptoms of either the flu or a bad cold. I also was having a crisis of faith — a growing, gnawing spiritual emptiness that prompted me to considerable prayer and searching of scripture. However, the dryness in my spirit was present well before the onset my physical symptoms.
I stayed home from work for nearly three weeks. I’d never missed anywhere near that much work before or since. I was so hideous looking that I rarely went out of the house. My stepson and my mother both avoided contact with me. Save for my old friends Barbara and John (who brought me chicken & rice and chocolate cake) I felt all alone in my misery.
The blessing in my blues was that I had plenty of time to read scripture. And one day I happened upon Psalm 103 — “Bless the Lord O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all His benefits.”
Something in that Psalm’s effusive praise resonated in my soul at that time. Although I was not at all a mature Christian then, something told me that I needed to praise the Lord — and praise Him extravagantly — and not dwell on the lament of Psalm 102. It was good to acknowledge the despair of 102, but not to dwell on it. It was the anteroom to the blessing in 103, and throughout the following week I read that psalm over and over.
My life gradually returned to normal. During the time of illness I decided to quit smoking. An optomologist that I was forced to consult told me that herpes zoster is a disease of the immune system. That startled me. I ate reasonably well, took vitamins and exercised and I’d always enjoyed excellent health. The only step I could think of to strengthen my immune system was to quit my 20 plus year nicotine habit — and so I did. I was already so physically miserable that the additional pain caused by nicotine withdrawal was minimal.
Another resolution from that time was that I needed to start attending church on a weekly basis. I decided to give one particular church a try that some friends had been urging me to attend: Northland Community Church. My reluctance had been partially due to it being 22-miles from where I lived. The 30-min drive there seemed an unnecessary burden. But I thought I’d give it a grudging four week trial.
The four weeks were unnecessary. The Holy Spirit had been laying the groundwork and that very first Sunday in May, 1993, Pastor Hunter’s sermon was meant especially for me. That’s a common paradigm of how the Holy Spirit works in connecting us with His Source — and in 25-years I’ve hardly missed a attending single weekend when I’ve not been out of town. I also started participating in Bible studies and other ministries. In 1998, I began teaching a class there on coping with depression. Instead of “coping with depression” we eventually renamed it “The Unwelcome Blessing” and that became the title for a book I wrote about what I’d learned about depression in my 35 plus years as a therapist and in teaching the class.
So, the time of testing that I endured in February 1993 bore much good fruit. Hopefully, my “owl amongst the ruins” time will do likewise. In any event I’ve been studying Psalms 100 thru 109 — mostly songs of praise. However, the rapturous Psalm 108 followed by the bitter invective of 109 is sort of David’s bipolar moment. I’ve written about the emotional characteristics of various biblical persons in The Unwelcome Blessing.
What the sum of my experience has taught me about coping:
Praise Him! — that’s the best we can do when we’ve done all that we can do.