My small elementary school had the most amazing gardener we all called “Uncle Silas.” He could make one of those “picture-book gardens” with tomatoes, beans, cabbage, and lettuce bursting out everywhere. The flowerbeds in front of the school were always an amazing range of colors, and he knew exactly which plants and flowers worked best for the different times of the year. He had years of experience, and he knew all the tricks of the trade.
There is a story, versions of which can be found on several websites, about the world-famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. It illustrates a beautiful principle about God’s grace and power, how He can take whatever we have to offer Him in this life and make it into something beautiful. I’d like to recount it for you.
A few years ago it dawned on me that I was seriously out of shape. My work had become more sedentary, and I hadn’t made up for that. I enjoyed exercise but never seemed to find the time or motivation to stick with it, day after day. Part of the problem was that I put accomplishments in my work ahead of my health.
As believers, we can sometimes have unrealistic expectations about our lives. When things aren’t going smoothly, there’s a tendency to beat ourselves up about it, or feel that God isn’t answering our prayers because He doesn’t care enough or because we’re doing something wrong.
Recently, two friends, my brother, and I participated in a very special event—the Fisherman’s Friend Strongman Run! This 15 km route includes 30 obstacles of varying difficulty. There’s sticky mud which sucks your feet down rapidly, and you have to keep moving to stay on top. Then there are icy river sections to swim or wade through, testing endurance. Nets, trenches, tires, steep dirt slopes—all good reasons to justify to oneself, I just couldn’t make it. But the fact is, it’s possible.
Fred was 19 when our paths crossed—a troubled ambitious youth in search of purpose. After leaving home as a teenager, he’d tried many different ways to make a living and had unfortunately made some wrong choices along the way; but there was much potential for change, and Fred was blessed with numerous talents and the willingness to learn.
I’ve been watching the TV series The X Factor, in which singers across the United States participate in a talent show contest where the winner will be awarded a multimillion-dollar recording contract. For those unfamiliar with the show, in each episode the judges choose who will move on to the next level in the competition, based on talent, of course! But there’s another trait that they’re also looking for. They want someone reliable.
All the performances of human art, at which we look with praise or wonder, are instances of the resistless force of perseverance: it is by this that the quarry becomes a pyramid, and that distant countries are united with canals. If a man was to compare the effect of a single stroke of the pickaxe, or of one impression of the spade, with the general design and last result, he would be overwhelmed by the sense of their disproportion; yet those petty operations, incessantly continued, in time surmount the greatest difficulties, and mountains are levelled, and oceans bounded, by the slender force of human beings.
—Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)
Life is hard sometimes.
When you’ve worked as hard as you possibly could and yet you failed to make the grade, your dreams remain out of reach, and you feel you just can’t do it anymore, you can feel like giving up.
All of us have probably felt that way at some time or another. Maybe you’ve been in that situation recently. In fact, maybe you feel that way right now.
I recently climbed Table Mountain, here in South Africa, and what a wonder it is! A flat-topped mountain smack-dab in the middle of a city, overlooking two oceans, and with a mountain range dubbed “The 12 Apostles” right behind it. It’s over 3,500 feet (1,066 m) high and teeming with gorgeous vegetation, birds, wild animals, rocks and cliffs, but my favorite thing about it is the breathtaking view!