What’s in the Well?

“What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket.”  Years ago I had a Sunday school teacher who said that all the time.  It offers a truth.   

If you have ever had experience with the kind of well that allowed you to pull up a bucket of water, you know what this means.  If you’ve ever read the Bible, studied cultures where the women walk for miles to get the family’s water, or know history you can picture what I’m talking about.  But in this case, I’m not talking about the literal well and bucket.  It’s a metaphor for many aspects of life.

If we eat nothing but junk food, our bodies will let you know that what we’re putting in the well isn’t working for us.  We’ll lose energy.  We’ll gain weight.  Many of the vitamins and minerals needed to live a healthy life will be missing and cause health problems.  Such lack of nutrition will even affect our appearance.  The same is true for all aspects of our lives.

We are reminded often to take the time to wish someone well at this time of the year.  We go out of our way to help our fellow man – we pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child, take an angel off of the tree at church to buy gifts for underprivileged children, and drop money into the Salvation Army red bucket.  We take donations to the local food pantry, remember the elderly as we go caroling in nursing homes, and send cards to people we care about but don’t often get to see.  

We become more caring, more loving, more generous around the holidays.  But why?  Because everywhere we go we are reminded of the impact we can have as we do these seasonal things.  We hear stories of famous people like Tyler Perry or an anonymous donor paying off all of the layaways at the local Walmart. And maybe we pay it forward at the Starbucks or McDonalds.  We watch those Hallmark commercials that highlight family and the grandparents who need you to stop by.  And we call to make plans.  We watch Frosty and Rudolph and It’s a Wonderful Life.  We sing “Joy to the World” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” We ponder lines of lovely lyrics like “joyful and triumphant,” “peace on earth and mercy mild…,” and “sleep in heavenly peace.”  

There are many things that are feeding us the idea of Christmas cheer, generosity, and love.  We’re putting all of those feel-good ideas down in the well and they’re coming up in the bucket.  

The late singer-songwriter Harry Chapin lived his life with compassion and a sustained effort to end hunger.  One of the things I remember him talking about was how wonderful it was that people had all the food drives and thought about the hungry as the holidays came around but how much more wonderful it would be if they thought about it on Black Friday or December 26.  So what happens to all of that spirit?  

We quit putting worthwhile, loving, generous thoughts “down in the well.”  This, I think, it the part of what is wrong with our society right now.  We watch too much “news,” see way too many violent images, and hear too many negative ideas.  There is too much incivility and vitriol being taken in as we watch.  We have a 24/7/365 news cycle.  Obviously, for all of human existence things have happened around the clock.  What is different today is that we are taking it in all day, every day.  There really isn’t enough news to warrant this kind of coverage; therefore, these radio, television, and online sources rehash things over and over and over.  They bring in “experts” to opine on all things.  They take things that should never make the evening news and turn them into stories that last for days.   And they blow things up and completely out of proportion. 

Let me illustrate.  The horrifying story of the murder of a little girl in 1996 made headlines around the country and continues to make headlines every so often today.  JonBenét Ramsey was not the only child murdered that year.  Probably not even that month or that day.  But it happened on the day after Christmas when all of the lawmakers in Washington were at home, many businesses were still closed for the holiday…in other words, on a slow news day.  Sure she was cute and her family well-off and well-known in their community so the local news picked it up.  But those 24/7 news sources still had to fill the airwaves so the national news grabbed it too.  They continued to cover it over the next week for the same reason and by then couldn’t let it go.  They sensationalized it.  Sure it was awful and tragic.  But so were the deaths of all of the children who have died, especially those whose lives were tragically cut short in acts of violence.  Yet we don’t hear as much about the multiple deaths of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School as we do about the Ramsey case.  The news moved on.  Or in the years between the two events we have become inured to the violence because we hear it day in and day out.  That’s really frightening for what it would be saying about us.

Listening to a story recently I was given some food for thought.  I was only half listening until this point so I can’t even tell you who said it, but the person speaking on my radio made a distinction between news sources who are there as a public service to keep us informed and those who exist solely to make money and entertain.  It’s the difference between what we once new when Walter Cronkite told us “and that’s they way it is” and today’s talking heads who interpret the news as they bend it to their (or their network’s) point of view.  While I had never delineated the difference until I heard this, I instinctively knew it.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that depression has been something that I battle.  I’ve written about it and what it does.  I have found that one of the self-care things that I need to do to fight that depression is to be careful of what I’m putting in the emotional well.   Maybe you need to do the same – even if you haven’t been diagnosed with depression but just want to feel better and more content.  

I started by limiting my news to the updates at the top of the hour on the radio in the car, a half hour of local news, and the half hour of evening network news.  Some days I don’t tune in at all.  If there is something that I feel the need to know more about, I do some research and reading, but I don’t go to sources that will fan hysteria, hatred, name-calling, and incivility.  

If you aren’t liking what is “coming up in the bucket” in your emotional life, you might try thinking about what you are putting down in the emotional well.  Here are some areas that you can consider:

  1. The news.  Be sure you are watching good sources.  You should take in enough to keep you informed but not so much that you become obsessed or become emotionally distraught over the state of the world and things you can do little to change.  If you are too disturbed, take a few days off.
  2. Social media.  If you want to see an idea beaten, stretched, polarized, and exaggerated, there is no place like Facebook, Twitter, and many, many other places on the internet.  Shun the really polarizing ones.  Limit your contact with people who stoke fires on these sites and spread stories that don’t pass the BS meter.  Take a break from all of them when you find your emotional state being dragged down. 
  3. Entertainment sources.  Great drama is often uplifting.  But there is nothing like a great comedy that really makes you laugh!  Sometimes I have to look for lightness in my entertainment.  I find a light read, a rom-com movie, a magazine.  When I’m down, I avoid television shows that cause stress or show too many negative images. That’s when I go to watch HGTV – the worst that ever happens is they find nob-and-tube wiring and go over budget!
  4. Church and the Bible.  I find that things that help me to feel closer to God are vital at my low points.  It’s also at those moments that I’m drawn to stay home playing games online instead of reading something so worthwhile or going out and being with people.  But the worship service helps me to feel the goodness that is possible.  Granted, you have to be in the right church so that you are fed things that will lift you, but get up and find it.
  5. Music.  I love praise music.  I love great country songs that make my feet move.  I love jazz and classical music that make my spirit soar.  I love any song I can sing along to.  For someone my age, I defy you to hear “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…” without immediately smiling and singing!  I made an iTunes playlist from my music and burned a disc of songs to lift me up.  I have now created Spotify playlists to do the same thing.  (I made a special one for Christmas because I don’t want to hear “Blue Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” or any other song that makes me sad!)
  6. Friends and Family.  Don’t isolate yourself, but be careful of the people you allow into your life.  If you are surrounded all the time by people complaining and angry, you’ll find out why the old adage about lying down with dogs became an old adage!  I’ve had times I became one of them!  Find people who will listen and show compassion.  Find people to laugh with.  Find people doing good work and helping others and then join them!  One of the best things I’ve done for myself was to begin working with New Hope Ministries – when I am working with people who have the heart to help others and I’m doing good work, it makes me feel better.

In order to turn ourselves around and maybe even society around, maybe we just need to be sure that we are feeding our souls and our spirits.  This isn’t a new idea.  It isn’t even original to me.  Paul gave this advice in the Bible long, long ago.  Paul, writing to the Philippians from a jail cell, offers this advice, “…as I close this letter, let me say this one more thing:  Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others.  Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.  (Phil 4:8, TLB)  

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