Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


On President’s Day: How Lincoln Used Faith to Overcome Depression

posted by Beyond Blue

Abraham_Lincoln 2.jpgAbraham Lincoln is a powerful mental health hero for me. Whenever I doubt that I can do anything meaningful in this life with a defective brain (and entire nervous system, actually, as well as the hormonal one), I simply pull out Joshua Wolf Shenk’s classic, “Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.” Or I read the CliffsNotes version: the poignant essay, “Lincoln’s Great Depression” that appeared in “The Atlantic” in October of 2005.

 

Every time I pick up pages from either the article or the book, I come away with new insights. This time I was intrigued by Lincoln’s faith–and how he read the Book of Job when he needed redirection.

Following I have excerpted the paragraphs from The Atlantic article on Lincoln’s faith, and how he used it to manage his melancholy:

Throughout his life Lincoln’s response to suffering–for all the success it brought him–led to greater suffering still. When as a young man he stepped back from the brink of suicide, deciding that he must live to do some meaningful work, this sense of purpose sustained him; but it also led him into a wilderness of doubt and dismay, as he asked, with vexation, what work he would do and how he would do it. This pattern was repeated in the 1850s, when his work against the extension of slavery gave him a sense of purpose but also fueled a nagging sense of failure. Then, finally, political success led him to the White House, where he was tested as few had been before.

Lincoln responded with both humility and determination. The humility came from a sense that whatever ship carried him on life’s rough waters, he was not the captain but merely a subject of the divine force–call it fate or God or the “Almighty Architect” of existence. The determination came from a sense that however humble his station, Lincoln was no idle passenger but a sailor on deck with a job to do. In his strange combination of profound deference to divine authority and a willful exercise of his own meager power, Lincoln achieved transcendent wisdom.

Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Lincoln’s dressmaker, once told of watching the president drag himself into the room where she was fitting the First Lady. “His step was slow and heavy, and his face sad,” Keckley recalled. “Like a tired child he threw himself upon a sofa, and shaded his eyes with his hands. He was a complete picture of dejection.” He had just returned from the War Department, he said, where the news was “dark, dark everywhere.” Lincoln then took a small Bible from a stand near the sofa and began to read. “A quarter of an hour passed,” Keckley remembered, “and on glancing at the sofa the face of the president seemed more cheerful. The dejected look was gone; in fact, the countenance was lighted up with new resolution and hope.” Wanting to see what he was reading, Keckley pretended she had dropped something and went behind where Lincoln was sitting so that she could look over his shoulder. It was the Book of Job.

Throughout history a glance to the divine has often been the first and last impulse of suffering people. “Man is born broken,” the playwright Eugene O’Neill wrote. “He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue!” Today the connection between spiritual and psychological well-being is often passed over by psychologists and psychiatrists, who consider their work a branch of secular medicine and science. But for most of Lincoln’s lifetime scientists assumed there was some relationship between mental and spiritual life.

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James writes of “sick souls” who turn from a sense of wrongness to a power greater than they. Lincoln showed the simple wisdom of this, as the burden of his work as president brought home a visceral and fundamental connection with something greater than he. He repeatedly called himself an “instrument” of a larger power–which he sometimes identified as the people of the United States, and other times as God–and said that he had been charged with “so vast, and so sacred a trust” that “he felt that he had no moral right to shrink; nor even to count the chances of his own life, in what might follow.” When friends said they feared his assassination, he said, “God’s will be done. I am in His hands.”

Click here to subscribe to Beyond Blue and click here to follow Therese on Twitter and click here to join Group Beyond Blue, a depression support group. Now stop clicking.



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment amy

    Lincoln one if the most memorable presidents! He has always interested me.

  • http://thornrose7.blogspot.com/ Donna Collins Tinsley

    This is one of your best articles and you have had numerous ones that have blessed me. Please keep writing and know that you have helped a lot of families with your honesty and your work.

    Donna Collins Tinsley

  • http://www.giveupanddie.com Andrew

    Thanks for this. I’m going to read the full Atlantic article later, but this was a great morning pick me up.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shamrock

    It is clear this country needs another leader like Lincoln, a true believer, to lead this country back to the path of sane government and fiscal responsibility. A government that truly “trusts in God” where its motto needs to be enacted.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment AliciaDimitriou

    I very much enjoyed reading this article and believe that faith plays an enormous part on a person’s whole life and attitude towards it

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Carolyn

    What an inspiring story. Thank you for sharing it in your blog.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Nicole M.

    You are beautiful, you inspire me more than you know. I feel as if the words you write were gently pulled right from my own soul and then translated into the beautiful blog you write, thank you so much:)

  • http://topelevenhackfr.blogspot.com/ http://Topelevenhackfr.blogspot.com/

    Brilliant,chaud perroquet à l’intérieur modifié avec plus top eleven cheat token.
    proposer à l’exclusion dépravation top eleven hack 2013 password txt.

  • http://24jourslaveritesurlaffaireilanhalimi.blogspot.com la vérité sur l’affaire Ilan Halimi Télécharger

    Incredible! This blog looks just like my old one!
    It’s on a totally different subject but it
    has pretty much the same layout and design. Wonderful choice of colors!

Previous Posts

Seven Ways to Get Over an Infatuation
“Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I” wrote US songwriter Lorenz Hart about the feeling of infatuation. It’s blissful and euphoric, as we all know. But it’s also addicting, messy and blinding. Without careful monitoring, its wild wind can rage through your life leaving you much like the

posted 12:46:43pm Feb. 19, 2014 | read full post »

When Faith Turns Neurotic
When does reciting scripture become a symptom of neurosis? Or praying the rosary an unhealthy compulsion? Not until I had the Book of Psalms practically memorized as a young girl did I learn that words and acts of faith can morph into desperate measures to control a mood disorder, that faithfulness

posted 10:37:13am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

How to Handle Negative People
One of my mom’s best pieces of advice: “Hang with the winners.” This holds true in support groups (stick with the people who have the most sobriety), in college (find the peeps with good study habits), and in your workplace (stay away from the drama queen at the water cooler). Why? Because we

posted 10:32:10am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

8 Coping Strategies for the Holidays
For people prone to depression and anxiety – i.e. human beings – the holidays invite countless possibility to get sucked into negative and catastrophic thinking. You take the basic stressed-out individual and you increase her to-do list by a third, stuff her full of refined sugar and processed f

posted 9:30:12am Nov. 21, 2013 | read full post »

Can I Say I’m a Son or Daughter of Christ and Suffer From Depression?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we read: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” What if we aren’t glad, we aren’t capable of rejoicing, and even prayer is difficult? What if, instead, everything looks dark,

posted 10:56:04am Oct. 29, 2013 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.