Columnists > Soul Food

He stills my soul

When despair comes, God provides old men in Speedos

Issue: "Urban mission fundraising," Sept. 27, 1997

The other day I stood in front of the freezer for five minutes with the door open until billows of fog began rolling out. I had forgotten what I was doing and had to shut the door, go back to the kitchen, and reorient myself. Reminding myself that I needed to thaw something for supper, I went to the basement a second time. On the way I grabbed some dirty laundry to drop off, and depositing that, forgot the freezer altogether. I went upstairs and stood vaguely at the sink thinking-wasn't I going to do something else down there?

Men will do the equivalent. This is why you see them standing in the garage staring at the back wall for hours. They can't remember why they came there. Finally they give up and begin to rearrange the tools left on the floor by the kids.

Forgetting where you are or what you're doing can be a sign of depression. The other day I went to our bedroom and watered the trash basket. The next day, I took a package to UPS, paid for it, and left with it under my arm. The clerk called after me; "Hey, it's okay if you really want to deliver that yourself, but I could probably get it there faster." During times like this deciding what to wear can require as much effort as reading a software manual.

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It is comforting to note that great men have often experienced dark days of depression and despair. Samuel Rutherford, the Puritan preacher, once wrote to a friend: "I am at a low ebb as to any sensible communion with Christ; yea as low as any soul can be, and do scarce know where I am." In 1527 Martin Luther had nearly a year of sickness and intense depression.

During that time he was able to find a measure of comfort in God as he composed the hymn "A Mighty Fortress," of which one beautiful phrase is: "Our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing."

As an antidote to anxiety and to find comfort during suffering, Paul urges us to "Think about these things": Things that are right. Pure. Admirable. Lovely (Phil.4:8). These "things" Paul speaks of are often found all around us-as ordinary and unnoticed as the English sparrow.

Jane Greer, a poet friend, notes that during a time of darkness she could see nothing good about life. In desperation she asked God to show her one thing that could make her want more of life. That noon he gave her a "thing" to think about. As she ran errands, she came upon two guys jogging. They were old paunchy guys with big jelly bellies and little twig arms and legs. They were very tan, so she knew they did this often. And they were wearing nothing but Speedos and shoes. They came to an intersection and did that little dance that runners do so their legs don't lock up on them. And as they stood there in their Speedos and shoes and nothing else, running in place, and jiggling up and down, she suddenly knew that life was worth living.

She adds, "Understand that if I were to jog (which I would never do) nearly naked, these old guys would feel the same about me. God loves them and they were full of joy, as full as the most purely joyous thing I can think of, which is when my dog scratches her own back in her favorite two square feet of sweet clover with her tennis ball in her mouth, grinning."

There was a time when the psalmist wrote: "My heart is not proud, O Lord, I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother ... is my soul within me" (Ps. 131:1-2).

When I am struggling to endure, I find it is the pleasure and hope of small matters that sustain me. The everyday. The ordinary. A purple finch who sings his heart out. A perfect butter-yellow zinnia. Pure white cotton sheets dried in the sun and wind. Somehow these homely, simple things become markers in small unexpected packages which point to a Savior who is "altogether lovely." They remind me that a God who ministers to the tiniest bird can be trusted to care for the matters of my life and heart.


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