Cheerful Hearts and Crushed Spirits

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22

By Michael Giere Published on September 3, 2023

As the decades roll on, one hopefully sees life more clearly. Youth grips the emotions, middle age tempers them, and finally, with effort, wisdom comes. Reflection becomes a tool, not a sentimentality. You see the patterns of life and the rhythm of life as a whole, not in part. The purposes of our lives become less about us and more about those we love. And what we will leave behind us. We are cheered on in our lives.

A precious part of this process is gratefulness and thankfulness. The perspective of those emotions is the on-ramp for maturity and wisdom, mental health, and sustaining relationships. It fits with the ancient wisdom handed down over thousands of years. It conforms to everything we can see in the world’s ways. It’s because those emotions make us step outside of ourselves and recognize the contribution of someone or something else. We’re cheered on.

Proverbs 17 has 28 nuggets of this logic, and one of them has struck me in recent years. It’s the 22nd verse, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Solomon became King of Israel nearly three thousand years ago, and it is to him that the Book of Proverbs is primarily credited. He was perhaps 20 when he followed his father, King David, as Israel’s ruler. In a dream, God asked the young king to name anything he wished, Scripture tells us. Instead of asking for wealth or success, Solomon asked only for “wisdom.” And because he asked for nothing material nor personal, God granted him wisdom and “riches, wealth, and honor,” unlike any king who had been or would ever be.

And, today, his gift is ours in part.

Solomon’s Gift Can Be Ours

Despite his vast wealth and extraordinary political skills, Solomon’s wisdom is like finding a gold mine to the hungry mind. In 31 chapters, hardly a facet of life has missed scrutiny. There isn’t a behavior or relationship not positively or negatively assayed for its actual value. It’s packed to the brim with practical and applicable wisdom. Over the years, I’ve read my share of psychology and surveyed many byways representing how we can understand human thought and behavior. While I appreciate the varied perceptions, in the end, I’m always left unsatisfied and somewhat weary of the continual evolution of causes and treatments for simply living.

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The phenomenal motivational speaker, the late Zig Ziglar from Yazoo City, Mississippi — he would always remind an audience to explain both his drawl and his bona fides as a common man with common sense — often talked of “stinkin’ thinking.” I suspect he was an avid student of Proverbs because of his pithy statements that stuck to you, like Gorilla Glue. He reminded us that most of life’s rules were simple. “Life is an echo. What you send out comes back. What you sow, you reap. What you give, you get. What you see in others exists in you.” That’s Proverbial logic.

Proverbs 17 has 28 nuggets of this logic, and one of them has struck me in recent years. It’s the 22nd verse, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Where Has America’s Cheerful Heart Gone?

I’m wondering where our country’s “cheerful” heart has gone. We used to be a joyful land. There were smiles and hellos virtually everywhere you went across the great nation. There was laughter. The comedians were funny on late-night TV. Passing someone on the street in almost any town or city frequently brought a simple smile and often a “How are ‘ya?” Now, not so much. There seem to be plenty of crushed spirits — unwarranted ridicule and bitterness instead of laughter. A flinty stare replaces a smile in response, all too often. Solitude seems more sought after than community.

Maybe it’s too much to ask in an age where we’re locked into the most self-centered activity imaginable — staring at a screen of pixels that demand homage for most of our waking hours. In a day when so much is expected — often from someone else. Or in a time when massive social disconnections, failing family units, and hopeless addictions are seemingly everywhere. Maybe we are simply trying to make too much of too little time — and driving ourselves into gloom and missing the smell of the roses, as it were.

Wisdom is Still Out There

But wisdom is still out there, along with grit. I thought of this when my wife and I were traveling recently and stopped at a Cracker Barrel at the far end of nowhere. My waitress, Debbie, greeted me with four stars on her apron, signifying four years on the job. I smiled and bantered with Debbie about my luck at having her serve me. And, as we talked, I learned that she “worked like a dog” because she was a single mom who never received the promised child support. “Now my daughter is 17 and graduating soon, so I’m bound and determined to keep a roof over our head and get her to a college somehow.”

Debbie wasn’t complaining or crying — she was trying. She was asking for and receiving nothing. And far from a crushed spirit, she had a cheerful and grateful heart. She believed she was “blessed.”

But far too many don’t do that. The culture presses down on them with its entire weight of lies. They can be anything they want to be, even without the gift or the talent. They can “be” any sex they want at the moment. Or none at all. They can work without sweat and succeed. But elsewhere in Scripture, it explains that things will not go well for us, or the nation when we — or the society — abandon the truth, the reality of life, and its moral firewalls. With crushed spirits, we will find “weakness in our hearts,” and even the “sound of a driven leaf will chase [us].”

It seems that it is yet another of God’s binary choices. The only question remains — when will the adults stand up and begin the long process of undoing what has been done?


Michael Giere writes award-winning commentary and essays on the intersection of politics, culture and faith. He is a critically acclaimed novelist (The White River Series) and short-story writer.

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