Can I Be Rescued from the Quicksand of Anxiety? Psalm 40:11-17

Quicksand appeared in more than one television show when I was a child in the 60s and 70s. It served as a frequent plot twist. Many a heroic figure found him or herself sinking deeper and deeper. Or sometimes, the hero would discover someone else descending into danger. Whichever scenario unfolded, there were often guidelines given.  

  • Do not struggle. Less you will sink further down and perish.  
  • Save your energy.  
  • Just relax. 

An entire generation of my peers trained in thinking through a plan of action to handle quicksand. However, decades later, when I fall into the quicksand of anxiety, all those plans go awry.  

Anxiety lays in wait 

Anxiety is stealthy and sneaky. I am moseying down the path of life when suddenly, a trigger opens up a pit of quicksand. I HAVE FALLEN before I know it, and I can’t get out. Time slows and speeds up in cycles as I try to escape. The “miry bog” (Psalm 40:2 ESV) encloses me, and I am overwhelmed.  

A well-meaning friend or family member stands on the firm ground calling out helpful tips and questions.

  • “Keep your head up, now. It’s not that bad.” 
  • “Don’t struggle. You will only make it worse.”  
  • “Why did you go this way? Why weren’t you looking out for the pit?” 
  • “Your life is so awesome. How could you struggle?”  

Anxiety puts the nervous system into fight or flight mode. As the heart rate increases, the mind becomes scrambled and unfocused. Panic descends. The next step beyond this point might be a place of becoming despondent and losing all hope – a pit perspective.  

Psalm 40  

In the second half of Psalm 40, the psalmist seems to cycle back into a desperate need for God’s mercy in the bottom of a pit. (See this link for the first half of Psalm 40 post.

11 As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!  
Psalm 40:11 ESV

The psalmist speaks truth over his dire situation. He loudly declares the truth about God’s mercy, steadfast love, and faithfulness. Speaking truth over my times in the pit of anxiety can help me regain a healthier perspective. However, sometimes the cycle is tough to break.  

12 For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see;  
they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.  
Psalm 40:12 ESV

Like me, no sooner did the psalmist get a foothold than he falls back down into the despair of feeling surrounded by external evil and his failings. He says, and I have often felt, “I cannot see…” But unfortunately, the view from the bottom of the pit of anxiety is minimal. The quicksand has sucked me down, and there appears to be no way out.  

A “try harder response,” something I relied on for years, fails amid the quicksand of anxiety. But struggling against it does suck me down further and further.  

13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!  
Psalm 40:13 ESV

Like the psalmist, I cry out to God at my lowest points. I beg for deliverance and demand it be on my timeline. Panic drives desperation to the point of frenzy. The idea of telling the Lord of the universe to rescue me and be quick about it seems absurd in the cold light of day. But in the pit of anxiety, I can’t see any way I can survive even a few more minutes. Desperation washes over me in a cold sweat.  

14 Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who delight in my hurt!  

15 Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, "Aha, Aha!"  

Just when it cannot seem to get any worse, it might. The well-meaning passerby suggests I need to try some essential oils or a great new supplement. While, unlike the psalmist, I may not be looking for revenge, I do wish those helpful suggester types would be willing to sit with suffering sometimes. Could you just take a beat oh helpful one?  

Here’s the awkward truth. How often have I been the one standing on the firm ground calling out to a quicksand victim? “Have you tried focusing on the positive? How about a little song?”  

How does God call me to sit with suffering when my loved ones strugggle?

Perhaps, I should be quicker to pray and slower to offer advice? Perhaps be willing to practice being fully present and allowing someone in her time of crisis to feel seen and heard?  

16 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, "Great is the Lord!"   
Psalm 40:16 ESV

Rejoicing while visiting the pit is not my usual reaction. I prefer a lament. I believe there is time for that too. (Follow this link to learn more about the spiritual discipline of lament.

The psalmist suggests an offering of rejoicing. Somehow this rejoicing could be even more potent if done corporately. Sometimes I need someone else to begin the chorus of rejoicing before I can.  

Rejoice in God’s Greatness  

Who can rejoice? Those who have all the answers? Those who feel like it? Those who aren’t caught up in the quicksand of anxiety? The psalmist in verse 16 reminds me how those who seek God rejoice and be glad. Not because of where they are you are or what they have, but because of who we belong to. Because of the salvation the Lord has provided, I can rejoice. He is excellent, even when I fail, even when I fall, even when I can’t see it.  

17 As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!  (Psalm 40:17 ESV)

Finally, Verse 17 reminds me that while I am poor and needy, I am also thought of by God. The God of the entire universe thinks of me. He also thinks of you. He is even willing to help and deliver us. Like the psalmist, I love asking the Lord to hurry up and not delay. Waiting does not come naturally to me. People, we have a schedule to maintain.  

God’s Rescue  

However, God’s timing is perfect. His rescue will be right on time. Perhaps He never intended for me to pull myself out of the pit? While our culture calls us to consider such techniques, departing from the pit cannot be done alone. If only I could wait for the Lord to place my feet on the rock. He will make my steps so much more secure than I could with all of my efforts (Psalm 40:2 &3). His loving-kindness and mercy will indeed cause me to sing a new song.  


Dear Lord, 

When I am in the pit of anxiety let me cry out to you. You are never bothered by me, but You delight in hearing from your daughter. Thank you for thinking of me and rescuing me in your perfect timing. While I wait, I will trust Your timing. I will give thanks in advance for the future solid rock location I will occupy soon. I will choose to rejoice. I will deeply breathe in the truth I find in your word. I will exhale the doubts and the frustrations. In Jesus’ name. Amen