Do you ever wish you had more power for living?
I’m nearly finished reading Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk. Now 150 years since Lincoln’s passing, my suspicion is that most people view him in a mythic sense. But take a look at this photo of Lincoln inspecting a battlefield in 1862. Though grainy, it is very telling.
Granted, in 1862 things were generally not going to so well for the Union armies, and thus for Lincoln. But in our day, even when things are going poorly, we expect a Commander-in-Chief to also be the Morale-Booster-In-Chief, to put on a big smile at all times and rally the troops. Look at Lincoln’s face. Pretty drab, I would say. This might seem shocking to those of us who think of his amazing speeches, such as the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, or to those of us who credit him with leading a divided nation during Civil War back to unity and inspiring the end of slavery, or to those of us who visit his massive statue at the Lincoln Memorial or see his face on pennies and $5 bills. Lincoln has become legendary, to many the best president ever.
There is another side to Lincoln’s story.
Shenk tells us in his book that depression, commonly called melancholy in those days, was a very visible part of Lincoln’s life, including during his years in public service. Lincoln struggled with severe depression nearly all throughout his life, and even on certain occasions nearly committed suicide. So it is perhaps equally shocking to hear Shenk say that depression fueled Lincoln’s greatness. How do you feel, what do you think, when you hear that?
Those struggling with depression have shared how debilitating it can be. No doubt, it was so for Lincoln too. But somehow he plodded on, especially during his tenure as our president, which is amazing because under his watch about 620,000 Americans died in the war. That number is staggering. Consider what it would feel like for 9/11 to happen every day for nearly 7 straight months. Also during this time, imagine the stress of the very real possibility that the nation seemed about to split apart permanently. How did this melancholic president stay the course? How did the depression not overwhelm him? And to the contrary, how did depression inspire him, even fueling his greatness?
We’ll discuss this further tomorrow when we continue our series studying the 1st letter Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Corinth. In the middle of an extended discussion on unity, we have arrived at chapter 2, and Paul has some things to say about what fuels greatness in God’s eyes. What is true power for living?