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In the Company of Failures

By August 2, 20072 Comments

As you could probably tell from my last post, I’m not exactly flying high right now. I’m not at a point in my life where I can look around me and think, “This is what I worked so hard for!” After laboring for 7 years at higher education, I can’t pay someone to give me a job. My parents are starting to wonder why they spent so much money for me to go to Duke. And I can tell you they’ll really start to scratch their heads when it comes time for me to get a job at the mall: “Why did we have to pay a small fortune for you to work at the Gap?” No, I am not living the dream, and this is not the life I had imagined for myself.

Fortunately, I had a small revelation today that really encouraged me and now I’m not feeling quite so bad about life. The revelation occured today when I happened to hear a reading of the Gettysburg Address (don’t ask…long story). As I listened to the words of Abraham Lincoln written 250 years ago, something dawned on me that I’d never thought of before: Abraham Lincoln must have thought he was a total failure!

Now, I’m sure we’ve all heard the story about how President Lincoln ran for all these different political offices and lost the elections over and over and over again. In fact, these constant failures went on for a gut-wrenching 28 years. But then, because of his diligent perseverence, he was eventually elected to be President of the United States. A wonderful story for us all! That story is not, however, the failure I was referring to.

You see, I’d always thought that Abe’s hardship and failure ended once he was elected as the President, but I was wrong. As I listened to the Gettysburg Address, the following words opened my eyes to the reality of how difficult his Presidency must have been: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

Think about this for a moment. Abraham Lincoln battles for 28 long years before finally getting elected as President. Then, when he finally does succeed, the country goes into a civil war. I mean, as the President of the U.S. you pretty much have one job–to run the country. So if you are the President, and it is your job to run the country, and then during your presidency the first civil war in your nation’s history breaks out, you’re probably not feeling like you’re fulfilling your Presidential duties. You’re supposed to keep the country together, not let it fall apart. If I had been Lincoln at that point in my career, I would have seriously considered the possibility that politics was not for me. He barely got himself elected, and when he did the country almost fell apart. Not a good track record.

For that reason I would not be at all surprised if Abraham Lincoln had some serious self-confidence issues. He must have felt like a terrible leader since he couldn’t even keep his own country together. Just about the whole of his career, even his successes, were marked by hardship and failure.

Yet we don’t remember him that way. Today, we only remember him for his greatness. Even though President Lincoln seemed to be the Charlie Brown of U.S. politics, we remember him as one of the greatest leaders our country has ever known. I wonder if he ever knew he would be remembered that way.

So as I feel discouraged about my life and I listen to the 100th person tell me that God works all things for good and that He is merely teaching me patience and humility and perseverance, and that my recent frustrations don’t mean that God isn’t actually at work, I can take comfort in the life of Abraham Lincoln. His life reminds me that, while the advice I am receiving does get old, it is nevertheless true. God does work things for good, He is in control, and God is teaching me to persevere. Sometimes it’s hard to embrace that truth when you’re learning it from the lives of Biblical characters who died thousands of years ago, so Abraham Lincoln’s life is a more modern reminder that, from an eternal perspective, failure doesn’t always mean failure. I may not be able to see God’s triumph in the near future, or even ever, but that doesn’t mean He’s not at work. He is a redeemer God who can use a political failure to lead one of the greatest, most necessary battles our country has ever known, and He can also redeem my seemingly loser-ish life, perhaps using me to bless others and expand His Kingdom, if I should be so lucky. I must simply hold on to that eternal perspective–just because another day went by does not mean my journey is over.


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