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Music and Depression: A Look at King Saul

I find it funny how music can affect my mood. Sometimes when I tense up with anxiety, I hear “Sunshine on my Shoulders” by John Denver and instantly calm to memories of my mother singing. Then there are times when the flowy worship of “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman makes me feel absolutely claustrophobic. It changes from day to day. When I think of music and depression in the Bible, King Saul of Israel best exemplifies the power music can have on mood.

The Passage

Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.

Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”

So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”

One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.”

Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.

David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”

Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

1 Samuel 16:14-23 NIV

While this passage speaks of Saul’s mental distress as an evil spirit, Saul exhibits many of the symptoms of a depressed and anxious person. His mood swings without warning. Later in 1 Samuel, Saul responds to irritations by throwing spears at the people in the room with him. He lives in constant fear of losing his identity as King of Israel. The only source of relief he knows comes from a young shepherd who knows how to play the lyre.

Music and Depression in Therapy

Many studies have been done on the links between mood and music. In this academic article, Lucille Magill Bailey, D.A., discusses the effect music had on families dealing with cancer. She found that music eased their anxiety, facilitated communication and confidence, and allowed families to feel peace when their loved one passed on. She noted that songs from all genres of music could ease the family’s depression and anxiety. Patients and families needed the links to memories and feelings more than they needed a specific key or instrument played.

2 Tips on Music and Depression or Anxiety

  1. Listen to what you need now. The song that calms you the most on Monday may drive you up the wall on Thursday. Honor your body’s changing needs and listen to the songs that best speak to you in that particular situation.
  2. Remember to breathe. Deep breathing regulates mood and tension quicker than any other trick out there. (In fact, most tips I know of for anxiety and depression involve reminding yourself to breathe.) Try adjusting your deep breathing to match the flow of the song. Singing also requires controlled breathing, so sing out if that helps you.

How does music affect your mood? Let me know in the comments! And as always, seek a professional counselor for advice on your particular situation. (Mental health is not one-size-fits-all!)

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"Meaningless": Solomon's Mental Struggle

History knows King Solomon as the wisest king of Israel. He wrote Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, all of which are jammed packed with pithy guidance for living a fruitful and content life. So why does Solomon repeat “everything is meaningless” in Ecclesiastes?

The Passage

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 1:1 NIV

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-14 NIV

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV

If King Solomon, the wisest man probably of anyone except Jesus Himself, struggles with despair and finding everything “meaningless,” I think it is fair to say that many of us will, too. And I don’t think we failed if we do. Solomon found that our world is broken. That truth wedged its way into our world back in Genesis 3, and Solomon noted its effects on every aspect of life. He found that it did not matter whether you were wise or foolish, rich or poor.

Solomon saw the big picture of the world, and it overwhelmed him. The brokenness of the world can overwhelm us, too. What are some ways we can cope?

3 Ways to Overcome the “Meaningless”

  1. Focus on the basics. Often called creating boundaries, I have to remind myself that I cannot control anything other than my own actions. When I focus exclusively on acting in a way that pleases God, I am empowered to help others without worrying about things outside of my control. I am in no way good at this. Therefore, I employ all sorts of tricks like deep breathing and exercise to occupy my mind and overcome my tendency to people-please. This book is an excellent resource if you struggle with boundaries.
  2. Act according to your beliefs. I learned the hard way that living in a situation that goes against your beliefs takes you to a very dark place. “Meaningless” only begins to describe it. However, I want you to remember that there is always another option. You may feel stuck with no hope of escape; I certainly did. It took family, friends, and my therapist to help me see a way out of the job situation that caused me intense internal conflict. Once I left, I flooded with relief knowing that I was following a path that upheld my beliefs.
  3. Evaluate your beliefs. Through the process of leaving my job and fighting depression, I learned that we often hold beliefs that hurt us. I tell myself what I “should” or “need” to be doing every other sentence in my head. Sometimes, it’s just simply not true. I create the impossible standards that depress me when I cannot live up to them. Therefore, I try to habitually evaluate my beliefs to determine if they are true and helpful or if they are misconstrued and harmful. Talking with a professional counselor can be very helpful in working through your beliefs.

What are ways that you combat depression and feeling that “everything is meaningless”?

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Job Suffered: Coping with Anxiety and the Unexpected

When I think of how Job suffered, I usually think of depression. I think of losing everything – family, friends, possessions, and health. Job tried to maintain faith when everyone around him told him to give up. He could not see a way out from his current situation. Uncertainty, discomfort, and pain surrounded his head like smog.

My biggest takeaway from Job was that his friends were most helpful when they sat with him in silence. After that, their conversation consistently discouraged Job. In fact, God calls them out on their pious “you weren’t religious enough” talk at the end. This passage makes it pretty clear to me what works and what doesn’t work to help friends enduring suffering.

However, the stress of unexpected events and future uncertainty can appear in more forms than just depression. For many, stress reveals itself in blatantly physical issues like upset stomachs and a string of infections. For others, the physical response is less obvious and appears as anxiety due to overactive “fight or flight” hormones.

Job suffered and definitely endured stress in his time of trial. Can Job teach us anything about coping with anxiety in spite of the unexpected? Let’s dig in!

The Passage

“If I have concealed my sin as people do, by hiding my guilt in my heart because I so feared the contempt of the clans that I kept silent and would not go outside – (Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense – let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, and I would put it on like a crown. I would give him an account of my every step; I would present it to him as to a ruler.) – if my land cries out against me and all its furrows are wet with tears, if I have devoured its yield without payment or broken the spirit of its tenants, then let briers come up instead of wheat and stinkweed instead of barley.”

The words of Job are ended.

Job 31:33-40 NIV

Two Tips for Coping with Anxiety like Job

  1. 10 Minutes of Meditation: Not to be confused with “prayer makes your anxiety go away,” prayer as a form of meditation reduces levels of stress in the body. Job spends numerous chapters of the book praying to God, which could help his body cope with the physical aspects he endured. In fact, Job speaks in 10 separate monologues before God responds in the storm. Job suffered, and his prayers allowed his emotional and mental response to ebb and flow. He does not reject any emotion but allows himself to feel it and move on. He does not cling to thoughts but practices release. We, too, can practice prayerful meditation to cope with stress hormones and anxiety.
  2. Focus on Logic: Job uses logic in the face of his friends’ accusations. He knows that he has not sinned. The monologue in Job 31 shows him proving to himself that he did not sin and cause his suffering. Even after God tests Job in chapters 38-41, He acknowledges that Job did not sin against Him but instead maintained a true view of God. In Job 42:7, God proves this: “After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.'” Like Job, we can use logic to keep negative thoughts at bay.

For More Information…

First, this article provides a good explanation of the similarities and differences between meditation and prayer. It clarified some of the traditions and history we aren’t necessarily taught in Evangelical churches. Second, I was first introduced to the idea of centering prayer in Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I highly recommend reading her book for an authentic, humorous attempt of focused prayer.