Psalm 42: 5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
The Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine published a study called: “The prevalence of failure-based depression among elite athletes.” (Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine: 2013 Jul 23(4):273-7). The study was designed to determine the prevalence of diagnosed “failure-based depression” and self-reported symptoms of depression within a sample of elite swimmers competing for positions on the Canadian Olympic and World Championship teams. The sample consisted of 50 varsity swimmers (28 men and 22 women) who were competing to represent Canada internationally.
Results showed that before competition, 68% of these athletes met the criteria for what would be called a “major depressive episode”. In addition, the prevalence of depression doubled among the elite (top 25%) of athletes assessed. Within this group, performance failure was the biggest reason for this depression.
These results from these Canadian swimmers are likely representative of most competitive athletes. All competitive athletes feel the pressure to perform and lack of success is a major hurdle for any athlete, whether they are young and inexperienced, or older seasoned athletes.
As a Christian athlete, where do you turn when you are feeling depressed? In times of darkness, we need light. Psalm 119: 105 says: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” The Bible really needs to be your light during your dark times. The Bible reveals truths that need to be at the forefront in times where the lies of the enemy come upon us. I enjoy reading the truths that come from the Psalms especially those written by David. While it is not certain, it is likely that David was the author Psalm 42, probably written while he was been persecuted by Saul or his son Absalom. This Psalm paints the picture of a very distraught man, afflicted with great sorrow. “My tears have been my food day and night (v3)…Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? (v5a)”. What is important though is where he continually ends up. “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (5b)…By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. (v8)”
There is a place for medicine, there is a place for professional counselors, but we should always first come to the Lord, the one who knows us more intimately than anyone on earth and the one with the power to transform and heal us. He is also able to give us right thinking. Elite athletes can be swayed by the world and led to believe that sport is the most important part of life (some fans even refer to their sport as a religion). Like the Canadian swimmers in the study, an athlete can become depressed if their performance does not meet up with either their own expectations or, even more stressful, other’s expectations of them. The truth that you, as a Christian athlete, must recognize is that you are loved unconditionally by God, regardless of your performance. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39). In times of darkness, turn to the true source of light – your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.