Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul

April 20, 2022
Tim Lien

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Psalm 42:5

After twenty-five+ years of ministry I’ve seen some things. I have witnessed inexplicably beautiful and momentous things. I have also wanted to quit and have entertained ideations of premature admittance to the afterlife, or, at the very least, a retirement pasture conveniently adjacent to a glue factory.

Before you raise any alarms or call any hotlines, this is quite normal. What is perplexing to my own soul is the proximity between those highs and lows.

Consider Elijah.  
He had just witnessed a holy column of hot plasma fire consume a small plaza of water-soaked bulls, wood, stones, and water. Yes, the text says it consumed the stones. That would have been a pretty good day. “How do you like dem apples, Ahab?” Considering Elijah’s A+ shade game in mocking the prophets of Baal, I wonder if he also had some post-fire gestures to Ahab. It would have felt so good.

Cut to the next scene: Elijah runs pell-mell to the southern-most tip of the country, frees his servant (as a pre-death act), lays down, wishes for death. That’s the high/low proximity I’m talking about.

Consider Peter.
Having just participated in The Plentiful Perpetuating Picnic with 5000+ other picnickers, he was appropriately awe-struck. It was also nice to have a full belly. The Carbo-Pescatarian diet paired with cool well water isn’t too far from a Blue Zone lifestyle.  

Cut to the next scene: Peter gets afraid of ghost-like Jesus on the water, but decides that he’d like to try some aqua-ambulation. He starts off great then gets struck with some leaden boots of fear and doubt. That’s the high/low proximity I’m talking about.

Though they do not explain the strange proximity between high and low, it does feel nice to have a fraternity of pals who have gone through the same thing. A band of brothers gets bonded in trenches, not beach chairs. Thanks Elijah; thanks Pete.  

But what do you do when you find yourself just off a cliff from Mt. High? What do you say to a person experiencing the doldrums after a particularly wonderful experience?

A personal approach: Manage through stoicism. Tampen emotions. Find a level of non-emotion. Do not cheer too loud even though it’s good, oh so good. Resist melodrama in expressing sadness. Grit teeth and endure. Put a governor on endorphins. Mix the darkness with the light until a solid grey emerges. Find a level emotion that resembles a flat line. If you don’t climb mountains, there are fewer valleys. This is not biblical nor does it sound like the psalms, but it is a strategy.

What would you say to an Elijah, a Pete, or a Tim? What do you say to someone in fatigue when you know they’ve also seen Jesus at work. You know they know His power. You know they know His goodness. What to do for a friend? What would you say?

Just so you know, I only report the facts, but we are not so good at giving good news to our friends. We’ve got advice and management solutions. We are too thin on good news. We’re not very good at providing lightness that precisely intersects with their exhaustion, fear, doubt, and failure. We often provide well-intentioned necklace millstones that fashionably go with the leaden boots of doubt.

Our friend-to-friend offerings:
#1 Exquisitely carved millstone (in blue): “You need to learn how to set-up boundaries; you need a work-life balance!”
#2 Tastefully crafted millstone (in bronze): “You need to learn to say no; just say no to new projects.”
#3 Finely adorned millstone (in crusted sapphire): “You need to learn to delegate; just ask for help!”
#4 Glistening millstone (now in tungsten!): “You really need to rest; try harder at resting properly. You need to be better at taking a day off. Rest!”
#5 Custom-fitting millstone (buttery smooth, oiled Corinthian leather surface): “You’re alive! The poor sap who fell last week didn’t make it. But here you are! Alive! Count your blessings! You have so much!” Comparative analysis finds a lower low off site from your tired friend.

We often address the low points with advice, solutions, and personal management tips.  

But good friends know how to deliver good news.  

It sounds like this: God is working all the time without you. You are his son/daughter already; you’re not working for His love. Your harder work doesn’t make His Plan more effective. Yeah, you’re valuable, but you are not the star of the show. If you stopped, not only would His love not stop, neither would His Amazing Plans. You have done enough, because Jesus has done enough. Mt. High was not proof of your acceptance. Low Valley is not a measure of His distance. You’re exactly right where you need to be: in His Hand. And you are there now. His story for the renewal of the world has your name in it. Your gifts will be used. Yes, yours—the ones He gave you. But listen to me, friend, I’m counting on the God who inhabits you; I’m not counting on you, silly. We’d all be sunk if I was counting on you. I’m hoping in the God in you.

What do you say to a friend? You remind them that there is good news— the good news that sounds like the last half of Psalm 45:5:

Psalm 45:5
Hope in God;
for I shall again praise him,
my salvation

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