Adversity — the Seedbed of Greatness

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An excerpt from the introduction of Chuck Swindoll’s book “Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit.”  I found this to be extraordinarily inspirational.  I hope you do as well.

Each time we engage in a serious study of a great life, we need to brace ourselves for surprises. Interestingly, the greater the life the more shocking the surprises. You can count on it, the circumstances and events that led to greatness in that person took place in the hidden years when few were looking and no one cared.

That’s certainly true of America’s sixteenth and probably greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. Most would assume the office of President of the United States would be a fitting climax to an already prestigious life. After all, anyone who becomes president surely grew up with sort of a silver-spoon background, emerging naturally into the limelight before beginning an easy slide into the role of president. Hardly.

Lincoln was born in 1809 in a primitive log cabin in what was then known as Hardin County, Kentucky. His father was an illiterate, wandering laborer, his mother a frail sickly woman. They were forced out of their home when he was only seven. His poor mother died when he was nine. He had virtually no formal schooling.

He first attempted a career in business in 1831 and failed miserably. A year later he ran for state legislature unsuccessfully. That same year he lost his job and applied to law school but was laughed out of consideration because of his miserable qualifications. Not long after that humiliating ordeal, he started another business using money he borrowed from a close friend. Before the year closed, however, that business faded and failed. Lincoln claimed bankruptcy and spent the next seventeen years paying off debt.

In 1835 he fell deeply in love with Ami Rutledge, only to have his heart broken when she died soon after their engagement. The following year he had a complete nervous breakdown and spent the next six months in bed recovering.

In 1838 he sought to become speaker of the state legislature and was defeated.

In 1840, two years later, he sought to become the elector of the state, and was defeated.

Three years later he ran for Congress and lost.

In 1846 he ran again for Congress and won. Only two years later he ran for reelection and was soundly defeated.

In 1849 he sought the job of land officer in his home state but was rejected.

In 1854 he ran for the Senate of the United States. Again, he lost.

In 1856 he sought the vice-presidential nomination at his party’s national convention. He got less than one hundred votes, suffering yet another embarrassing defeat.

In 1858 he ran for the U.S. Senate and lost again.

Finally in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency of the United States and soon after endured the most devastating war our country has ever experienced. His perseverance rewarded him with unprecedented political success, and he was reelected for a second term. Sadly, only five days after Lee surrendered, on the fourteenth of April 1865, Lincoln was assassinated. He was dead before reaching sixty years of age.

Not knowing any of that, we reflect on a presidency like his and our tendency is to think, my, what a magnificent background he must have had. Then we peer deeper into the dark cave of his past and realize it’s riddled with failure and tragedy, heartache and pain. We’re surprised. Even shocked.

The steel of greatness is forged in the pit. It’s true of all of us. Don’t ever forget that, especially when you’re in the pit and you’re convinced there’s no way anything of value will come of it.