Physics was my most difficult class in high school. Every time the teacher posed a question and asked the class for an answer, I got it wrong. I did the equations and exercises and pushed around those little wooden carts, and still never really got it. Even though I didn’t get a good grade, I remained fascinated by the ideas of physics. I continue to be interested in concepts and theories about how the world works (luckily, I can do that with philosophy or metaphysics).

One of my favorite principles of classic Newtonian physics is the law of inertia. There are various ways of putting it, but it can be summarized in this way:

An object at rest tends to stay at rest.

I like this principle because it makes so much sense to me. It says that objects – and even people – don’t change easily. It’s also a scientific way of saying: things don’t move. They stay in one place. Like a bump on a log. Inertia.

The concept of inertia well-describes much of my everyday experience of living in a depression. I don’t move. I stay in one place. Like a bump on a log. Or a bump on a couch. Inertia.

My mind doesn’t turn off, but nothing really happens. There’s a kind of physical paralysis that comes with depression. There’s just no energy to do things – simple things like – washing hair, making breakfast, packing school lunches. My internal dialogue goes something like this:

I have to do such and such. I really should do such and such. I don’t feel like doing such and such. In fact, I’m really tired. I wonder if I can get back in the bed and throw the covers over my head and stay there for awhile. At least an hour or two longer. I should work out. But that would mean leaving the bed. Yes, I’ll stay in the bed. I can probably go to work today. That would be okay. I guess. But glad I don’t have to go yet. God, this bed feels good.”

I often tell jokes with friends who understand depression about why there aren’t many movies about depression. There are a couple movies about psychiatric institutions (like Girl Interrupted) and popular medicine (like Prozac Nation), but not about depression itself. When people go to make movies about mental health challenges, they make movies about people with schizophrenia or manias or dissociative identity disorder (that used to be called “multiple personality disorder”). Those are far more exciting. A lot more happens.

I think of depression as a time when things don’t happen. If a movie showed what most of depression is like, it would focus on a person, on the couch, in the bed, with a remote control, watching the hours go by.

It’s simply hard to find the energy and motivation to move.

There’s a point in a depressive condition where something shifts downward. At one point, the healthy warrior tools work: exercise, certain foods, prayer, meditation, holistic health practitioners, massage, acupuncture. These things can keep someone healthy for a good stretch of time. They can even make a mild depression liveable. But then, subtly – one missed workout at a time, one comfort meal too many – something changes. One stops moving. Those tools seem like good ideas for someone else who is able to move. Inertia sets in. At least, that’s how it happens to me.

So I understand the biblical story about the man at the pool of Bethesda. It’s found in John 5: 1- 18. As the story goes, there is this pool and legend has it that at a certain time an angel will go into the pool and stir up the water. Whoever stepped into the water first after the angel stirred the water would be healed. So right by the pool, sick people gathered.

Crowds of sick, blind, injured and paralyzed people gathered at the side of the pool waiting for something to happen. They waited for someone holy to stir things up. They waited for their change to come.

According to the story, Jesus interacts with one particular man who has had some kind of illness for 38 years. When Jesus asks him if he wants to be well, he tells Jesus that he has no one to carry him into the pool when the water gets stirred up.

Verses 6 and 7 read: When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

I can’t count the number of sermons and Bible studies I’ve heard about how this man should have done something different.

What kind of person, they ask, can get so close to being healed, but not get to it?

People who live with chronic health challenges can probably raise their hands in affirmation.

It’s possible to be want to be well, but to be unable to get to the source of wellness. It’s possible to be tired, run down, worn out and paralyzed by the mere thought of having to move. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to be well. It doesn’t mean we’re lazy. It’s inertia. It’s hard to move.

I appreciate that the man in the Bible says that he needs someone to take him to the source of healing. He’s saying that he cannot move on his own.

That reminds me of the rest of the law of inertia:

An object at rest tends to stay at rest . . . unless it is acted on by an external force.

In an object is going to move, it’s going to need some help from outside itself. Like the man at the pool of Bethesda, he needs someone to move him, to help him, to get him to the water.

I appreciate that Jesus was able to see that even if the man wasn’t moving, he wanted to be well. I’m glad to have a story where Jesus doesn’t ask the man where his friends are, or why he didn’t scoot his way closer to the water. I’m glad to have a story where no one tells the sick person to pray more diligently or find some kind of inner motivation. Jesus doesn’t say, “Did you try . . .?” I like that Jesus comes to him. I like that Jesus recognizes inertia when he sees it.

Sometimes it takes an external force.

  • A friend who drives you to the doctor and sits with you when they take blood.
  • Someone to bring you dinner, or order take out and watch TV with you while you munch together.
  • A colleague who sees that you are tired, and comes by the office to check in on you, drag you to that concert or lecture.
  • A parent who jumps on a plane to make sure the grown child is going to make it to the next day.
  • A friend who calls back because your “I’m okay” was unbelievable.

If there’s any truth to Newton’s laws and this Bible story, the external force doesn’t have to be a miracle- worker. Just someone who sees and knows. To come and stir things up.

* * *
my survivor strategies
Connect with me on facebook

Follow me on twitter