As the pandemic continues to drag on, many of us are having a difficult time feeling positive or excited about life, as well as feeling unmotivated and/or stuck. If you’ve felt like this, you’re not alone. I’ve felt it myself– It’s usually accompanied by a sense of numbness, apathy, or despondence.
Mental health professionals use the word languishing to describe this type of mental state. It sits “between depression and flourishing– the absence of well-being.” Languishing is different than depression; those experiencing this mental state do not have depression as a clinical diagnosis, but also aren’t thriving.
Languishing in the Bible
Languishing is not a new experience. We see many instances of mental languishing in the Bible; here are just two examples:
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethesda, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.John 5:2-9 (NRSV)
This man has been both physically and mentally languishing for 38 years. Without someone to help him, he has lost the motivation to go into the pool and pursue well-being. When Jesus heals him of his physical health issues, he is immediately motivated to walk– showing that his mental languishing is also being healed.
Deliver me, O God,Psalm 69:1-3 (NET)
for the water has reached my neck.
I sink into the deep mire
where there is no solid ground;
I am in deep water,
and the current overpowers me.
I am exhausted from shouting for help.
My throat is sore;
my eyes grow tired from looking for my God.
The Psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 69 poetically describes mental languishing. There is a sense of being stuck, weary, and unmotivated, with no end in sight. This prayer may resonate deeply with many of us during this global pandemic.
God Helps Us in Our Languishing
God does not leave us to fend for ourselves while we are languishing. As we saw in the story of the man at the Pool of Bethesda, Jesus came to help him. God is here with us, helping us, even in the midst of our weariness and despondence.
I will fully satisfy the needs of those who are wearyJeremiah 31:25 (NET)
and fully refresh the souls of those who are faint.
Through the Prophet Jeremiah, God tells those who have been exiled that they will find an end to their mental languishing. This message is not just for those exiled in Jeremiah’s time– this message is for us, today.
God is able to refresh us. God is able to break that languishing loop when we cannot.
Here are some ways we can be open to God’s renewing presence while we are languishing:
- Spend some time in prayer every day, even if you don’t feel like it. It can be for a very brief time (five minutes or less)– the time amount is less important, what’s most important is intentionally making yourself available to God.
- Pray for others. This can help take the focus off of our current mental state for a short while as we focus on and pray for other people.
- Do things that spark your God-given passion, using your spiritual gifts. This could be volunteering at a local non-profit, tapping into creative outlets (writing, drawing, etc.), serving a ministry in your congregation, or anything else that helps bring excitement and passion for God back into your life.
- Discern with God what small, short-range goals you can make in simplifying your life. Making progress in small things can help motivate you to tackle bigger projects.
- Be gentle with yourself. While we are languishing, it’s easy to beat ourselves up over not being as productive. Consumer culture has convinced us that our only value is in what we produce or consume. God loves you unconditionally, even if you aren’t as productive as you usually are.
- Remember that God is with you, no matter what. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
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