The Dark Side of Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

[L]ike so many other people, I’ve long been fascinated by the life of Abraham Lincoln. I’ve read thousands of pages about him. I even have a category on my blog dedicated solely to him. I’ve most recently read through Joshua Wolf Shenk’s book Lincoln’s Melancholy. It takes a look at the depression that Lincoln dealt with his entire life and how that fueled his ultimate success.

While I wouldn’t say that I suffer with depression, I definitely relate to things that are a bit darker than most people care for. It’s always felt more honest to me. The more I learn about Lincoln the more I share his outlook on things such as this. There were a few descriptions about Lincoln that particularly stood out to me in Shenk’s book:

“The music of Lincoln’s thought was always in the minor key.” – A colleague of Lincoln

“It’s not that his moods turned in a cycle, as day gives way to night, but that he lived in the night and made a strong effort to bring the sun in.” – Joshua Wolf Shenk

The first quote resonates with me especially since I’ve always loved music in minor keys. The second quote resonates with me as a beautiful picture of what we should do as Christians. The world is dark but we have access to the sun.

One of Lincoln’s favorite poems was called “Oh! Why Should the Spirit of Mortal Be Proud” and it’s easy to see why. Here are the last two stanzas of the poem:

Yea! hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,
We mingle together in sunshine and rain;
And the smiles and the tears, the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.
‘Tis the wink of an eye, ’tis the draught of a breath,
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,–
Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

My favorite phrase of it is the line that says “mingle together in sunshine and rain.” That is the reality of life and Lincoln found a way to embrace that. I’ve noticed that we often go to one of two extremes when it comes to this discussion. Either we focus only on the darkness (or rain) and allow despair to take over. Or, we focus only on the sunshine and pretend that the darkness doesn’t exist. Either extreme is unhealthy. Lincoln was successful because ultimately he found a way to balance both. The challenge is the same for us.

Question: Do you naturally gravitate more toward the sunshine or the rain? How can you intentionally keep balanced between the two?

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Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan. Husband to Michelle and father to Gavin, Madsen, Adelyn, Aiden, and Abel. Author of Redeeming Pleasure and Lead Pastor at Abundant Life Church in Portland.

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