A Pattern for Mental Endurance

I had the privilege of speaking on Easter Sabbath about the connection between the crucifixion and Psalm 22, which begins, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus may have even recited Psalm 22 to himself as he hung on the cross, and as I study it in that context, I see a pattern for mental endurance.

 

  1. Don't ignore the problem (verses 1-8). Even if you don't believe God would ever forsake you, you can still feel forsaken. Jesus did. It can help to put words to the feeling, because without recognizing the problem, you can't fix it.
  2. Don't rewrite the past (verses 9-11). In agony it's tempting to remember the past through the lens of the current moment, but in these verses the psalmist recognizes that even though God seems to have forsaken him in the present, God did take care of him in the past.
  3. Focus on the present moment (verses 12-18). The Chinese philosopher Laozi said, "If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present."
  4. Make an explicit request (verses 19-21). Thinking of a desired outcome can help us realize that the situation can change. It's not fixed. When we feel that our relationship with God has been broken, praying for rescue is the first step in restoring the relationship.
  5. Playact a hopeful future (verses 22-25). If the immediate future is too painful to think about, skip past it to a future that's more hopeful, in particular to a moment when you can celebrate God's blessings. Don't just start to repair the relationship, anticipate a day when the wounds will be healed.
  6. Shift the focus from yourself to God (verses 26-28). These verses seem to be a short hymn of praise injected into this psalm of pain. Having some words of encouragement that you know by heart is not only uplifting, but can help shift our focus off ourselves and our distress.
  7. Make the best of the worst (verses 29-31). A bit of gallows humor can help. With the right attitude, even the worst situations can be given an upside.
  8. Understand that it will end (verse 31). We say all good things must come to an end, but it's more true that all bad things must come to an end. The pain seems permanent, but remember that it's finite.