When You’re Up to Your Neck in Mud — Sing!

9 August 2022 by Wes Bredenhof

Christians recognize the value of singing. God’s Word teaches us not only to praise him with our songs, but also to encourage one another with singing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). There’s just something God has put into music that it can have such a powerful positive effect on our state of mind.

This is even recognized in the world. William McRaven was the commander of US Special Force Command when he gave an oft-quoted speech at a university graduation in Texas in 2014. He spoke of his experiences in becoming a US Navy SEAL. This special forces selection and training is regarded as being the toughest in the world. Many don’t make it through and those who do are not only tough physically, but mentally.

McRaven spoke about his Hell Week at Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL (BUD/S) training:

The ninth week of SEAL training is referred to as Hell Week. It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are an area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana sloughs—a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.

It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing-cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure from the instructors to quit.

As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud. The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit—just five men and we could get out of the oppressive cold.

Looking around the mud flat, it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up—eight more hours of bone-chilling cold. The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything. And then, one voice began to echo through the night—one voice raised in song.

The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two, and two became three, and before long everyone in the class was singing.

We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well. The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singing—but the singing persisted. And somehow, the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

Who knows what kind of song they were singing? It doesn’t matter. Singing in adversity gives hope and lifts spirits. If that’s true in general terms, how much truer wouldn’t that be if we were up to our necks in mud and singing songs that actually spoke of hope, songs like psalms and biblical hymns?

Martin Luther recognized this too:

I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people joyful; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor…My heart bubbles up and overflows in response to music, which has so often refreshed me and delivered me from dire plagues.

I’ve heard many stories of believers being ushered into heaven with the singing of loved ones gathered around their death-bed. That’s how I’d want to go too, if I had a choice. But singing isn’t only for death, it’s also for life. When we make a habit of singing every day, whether we’re up to our necks in mud or not, God is praised and we’ll be encouraged.

“I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD forever…” — Psalm 89:1

“I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” — Psalm 146:2