For the introduction to the Lessons From My Father Series – Click Here
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, from a speech given in Paris at the Sorbonne in 1910
Dreams are amazing things! On the rare occasion that you are able to remember them, the opportunity to share it with someone else can be as entertaining as the dream itself. Some time ago my wife asked me, “What were you dreaming about last night?”
“Why?” I innocently asked.
“Because…all of the sudden, in the middle of the night, you jumped up in bed and flailed about like you were on fire!”
“It was a bee!” I shouldn’t have to explain. Most people understand the sentence. Just say, “Bee or Big Bee or flying stingy thingy” and that would be enough. When a stingy-thingy buzzes past or lands on you, running through fire or across broken glass to get rid of the little menace suddenly doesn’t seem like a very big deal. But, when you disturb the wife’s sleep, you have to provide additional explanation. “I dreamed a bee landed on my chest and I was swinging at it!” I am not really afraid of bees, I just know that they give me incredible energy when they try to posit their poison and I tapped into that energy that night.
I think everyone has something that can cause instant anxiety. We have dressed up many of these issues with fancy names that all end the same way – phobia. Ecclesiophobia, Phobophobia, Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia are a few favorites (the fear of churches, the fear of fear and the fear of long words). My phobia was public speaking and not knowing what to say or forgetting my lines. Talk about nightmares! These dreams make bees seem like puppies!
Having the first semester of college completed, I was feeling pretty confident. I was a college student and had this whole “adult thing” pretty much under control. So when I came home for Christmas break and dad asked me to teach his high school Sunday School class for two weeks, there was no doubt in my mind that I could impress these little Neanderthals with my superior training and experience. Dad gave me the lesson book and suggested that I spend some time preparing. Sure! I could crank this lesson out in 15 to 20 minutes!
Sunday morning came and after 10 minutes, I was speechless. I had already shared every witticism I knew, asked the famous filler question “Does anyone have anything to add?” and read through all the Teacher’s Notes in the lesson guide. I stared out into the class and saw 22 eyeballs looking back at me. (Well, maybe it was only four or five eyeballs. The rest were closed in bored slumber.) Those eyes that were opened seemed to say, “You idiot, why are you here? You think you’re so great…look at you now…Dork!” All of the sudden, I could feel the throbbing rush of blood to my face as it seemed to prevent words or even thoughts from forming in my head. Stuttering would at least have been something, but all I could do was stare into the abyss and remember my nightmares! Eventually the 45-minute class was done and so was I. As long as I live, I will never teach a class again. I would rather die than go back! Harpo Marks would make a better teacher! At least he would have made some noise. As soon as I got home, I handed dad the teacher’s manual and told him that I was not meant to do this…he needed to find someone else. I suspect he had been in the same place himself.
He took the materials and then calmly asked about my level of preparation for the class. I muttered something that sounded longer than reality and stared at my shoes. What I expected next was either a smack-down on my failure to prepare followed by crash course on study habits OR a warm, sympathetic apology for putting his darling son in such an awful position. I hoped for the latter but got neither! He simply said, “Son, sometimes it’s best to wait and make a decision after the emotions calm down. It is never good to quit in the midst of the struggle.” He handed the materials back to me and asked me to wait a day before I made the final decision.
Crap! The verbal Smack-Down would have been better! Now he was playing dirty. First, he accuses me of making an ‘emotional’ decision – that just makes me…mad! Then he uses the ‘quit’ word – I didn’t quit. I changed course!
It has been too many years for me to remember all of my thoughts and reactions to his response, but one thing became very clear. I needed to grow up. The simple choices of childhood that carry little-to-no consequences had given way to the grown up choices that ripple and affect others. As you can imagine, I kept the materials and taught the class the second week. I was still nervous. I finished early and impressed no one with my wit and wisdom – but I did not quit. The irony is that I am now at my greatest comfort when I am in front of a group teaching and sharing.
The desire to quit in the face of defeat is understandable, although unattractive. But to quit in the face of victory is almost unbelievable. I am reminded of Elijah in I Kings Even though he had won a great victory on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:19-40) against all of the false prophets of Baal, he was now hiding in a cave (I Kings 19:1-18). Jezebel wanted him dead and he was ready to quit. His victory was short lived as he wallowed in fear and self-pity. He felt alone and could not find the strength to go on. Retreat and defeat sounded like a noble option. It is an amazing turn in the story as God, Elijah’s heavenly Father, brings a violent wind (a smack-down wind). But God is not in the wind. He brings a tremendous earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. He brings a great fire, but He is not in the fire. Finally, God speaks in a still, small voice. In addition to God assuring him of many others who would stand with him, I imagine He spoke words of “do not quit; I am always with you – even to the ends of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
To quit is easy. To press on is hard. As a testament to this type of perseverance, my father is now celebrating 30 years as pastor of his current church and over 40 years in ministry. Do not live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat! Press on…having done everything to finish the race.
OPEN MIC: SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
- Share a time when you were tempted to quit but decided to stick it out anyway?
- Who has helped you to stay focused and not quit when you wanted to quit?