If You Can't Help It

  We should always like to have the ability to make things go as we wish them to go in this life. We should always like to accomplish everything we attempt. We desire all our plans to work out as we plan them. We should like to avoid all disappointments, all failures, all wrecking of our hopes and plans. Unfortunately, or perhaps sometimes fortunately, we cannot always accomplish what we desire. There are none of us but who can look back upon mistakes, failures, and other things in the past that bring us regret. I suppose all of us would like to change many things in our lives. We should like to have the opportunity of trying again where we failed.

  Perhaps we realize that failure was our own fault. Perhaps we look back upon errors, indiscretions, blunders, etc., that humiliate and trouble us. We live under the shadow of them. Some of us are saying to ourselves, "Oh, if I had not done it. Oh, if I had done differently." Others are saying, "I failed. What is the use to try again?"

  There are others who look back upon dark things in their lives that have come upon them seemingly through no fault of their own. They cannot get away from the influence of these things, or at least they do not do so. A blighting influence from the past permeates and darkens the present. What shall we do with those things of the past, We cannot live over those days that are gore. We cannot have another chance in the things wherein we failed. We cannot turn the clock of time back; to yesterday. We are here in today. Those things are back in yesterday. We are eternally separated from them so far as having power to change them is concerned. We cannot help the past.

  There is but one thing left for us, that is—make the best of the present. We cannot make the best of the present if we bring into it things of the past that be me present hindrances. Some wrongs of the past may be righted. Some things that have been done may be undone. If so, instead of letting the shadow of these things rest upon our lives and their weight upon our consciences we should make haste to do all that can  be done to right them. There are people who should make things right that they have done that have wronged people. I shall not tell you to pass these by, to forget them. Instead I must say it is your duty to do everything possible to make right any wrongs of the past.

  I am talking in this chapter of things we cannot help, not of things we can help or of damage we can repair. There can be no excuse for our not doing what we can do to repair errors of the past. At the same time there are many things that cannot be improved by anything we may do. No effort of ours can make them better. We may regret the past ever so much. We may be humiliated by it. It may be a constant trouble, goading us all the time. What shall we do about such things? I find in my notebook a little verse, the origin of which I do not know:

"For every evil under the sun
There is a remedy or there is none;
If there is one try to find it,
If there is none never mind it."

  This is excellent advice. If there is a remedy for the past try earnestly to find it, but what cannot be remedied should be left to the past. Shakespeare says, "What's gone, and what's past help should be past grief." We should shut the door of the past lest the chilling breezes that blow through cause us to be unable to make proper use of the present. Paul had things in his life that troubled him. Mention is made here and there in his writings of that much regretted past. The blood of God's saints was upon his garments. He remembered the bitterness and hatred he had put into the pitiless persecution that he had visited upon the Christians. He remembered his part in the death of Stephen. He remembered how he had witnessed against many, had thrown many into prison, had brought many to death. He could not change the past. There was but one thing he could do. He resolved to do what was possible to do. He said, "One thing I do. Forgetting those things that are behind I press forward."

  Ah, yes, forgetting the past. We should like to forget things. We cannot forget them. Alas! neither could Paul forget in the sense of banishing them from his memory. He could forget them, however, in a very practical sense, and this he did. He did not let them hinder him living a life of freedom and activity, of love and sacrifice, of wholehearted devotion to the Christ he had hated. He threw all his energies into today. He did not let vain regret hinder him. Perhaps those regrets, deep and poignant as they were, often pressed in upon him, lint he pushed them aside and threw himself anew into the work he was doing, perhaps even more zealously than he would have done or could have done had he not been spurred on by these regrets.

  Some are chained to the past by griefs and sorrows. Some live in the past with loved ones who have gone to a brighter clime. Some homes are kept darkened and th, voice of music is hushed. A dead hand lies upon the heart and upon the home. Such a sorrow can be a blight the life. What shall we do? Shall we tear affection fom our hearts? Shall we put from us thoughts of the happy past? No, we need not do this, but we must not walk with our sorrow and commune with it until it becomes the greatest fact in our lives.

  We must resolutely overcome blighting sorrow. We must live in today. There may be a sort of grim pleasure in living in a cemetery. Such a life is but a living death. Our loved ones would not wish us thus to sorrow for them. They would desire us to enter into the activities of today. They would be remembered but not with a sorrow so deep and absorbing that it shuts out any of the happiness that might come to us today or prevents us from filling the useful place we might fill.

  There are others who are not so troubled about the things of yesterday as they are about the things of today. There are people who have within themselves things that are constantly getting them into trouble. They are of an unfortunate temperament or they have things in their disposition that are constantly cropping out, things that they try to curb but often fail to master. To be sure we should resolutely endeavor to be masters of ourselves but if we have things in our makeup that we cannot help we cannot help them, that is all there is to it. We should do all we can, but when we have done all we can we should adjust ourselves to the facts. We should not permit these things to blight our lives.

  When the Lord accepted us he accepted us with those things in us. He knew all about them. If those things did not prevent his accepting us they will not prevent his continuing to love us. They will not prevent our serving him acceptably. They may cause us trouble and humiliation, but if we cannot help it we cannot help it, so we must make the best of it.

  Have you tried again and again to overcome something and still it troubles you? Well, Paul had such an experience. Of course you remember that oftmentioned "thorn in the flesh." Paul tried to get rid of that, but the Lord did not take it away. He said, "My grace is sufficient." In other words, he said to Paul, "I am not going to take that away from you. I am going to leave it there to work a good purpose in you. I know what it will work out. You put up with it. You make the best of it. I will see that you come out all right." Now, the Lord may talk that way to us or at least may hold that attitude toward us. Paul went ahead and made the best of an unpleasant situation. He succeeded. We may do likewise.

  Sometimes we are tempted to look upon ourselves as failures. I suppose all of us come short of our hopes and expectations many times. One thing, however, is certain. We shall never be real failures unless we surrender to circumstances and give up the fight. Sometimes out of failure come the greatest victories. What seem to be the greatest failures sometimes prove to be the greatest successes. I shall quote something from the Great Western Magazine concerning that great man, Abraham Lincoln. It has in it a lesson of perseverance under the most trying and disconcerting circumstances one can imagine. As you read, think if you have had more failures in your life than he or more cause to give up trying.

  "When Abraham Lincoln was a young man he ran for the legislature in Illinois, and was badly swamped."

  "He next entered business, failed, and spent seventeen years of his life paying up the debts of a worthless partner."

  "He was in love with a beautiful young woman to whom he became engaged—then she died."

  "Entering politics again he ran for Congress, and was badly defeated. He then tried to get an appointment to the United States Land Office, but failed."

  "He became a candidate for the United States Senate and was badly defeated."

  "In 1856 he became a candidate for the Vice-Presidency, and was once more defeated."

  "In 1858 he was defeated by Douglas."

  "One failure after another—bad failures—great setbacks. In the face of all this he eventually became one of the greatest men of America, whose memory is loved and honored throughout the world."

  These do not exhaust the catalog of Lincoln's failures. Many others might be added to this list. But was Lincoln a failure? By no means. Neither need you be, notwithstanding all the failures you make.

  Perhaps the greatest "failure" the world ever saw was Jesus of Nazareth. Seeking to do a great work he came to his own, but his own rejected him. They hardened their hearts against him. They opposed him most bitterly. Again and again he had to escape for his life, and at last he was taken, condemned, ignominiously crucified. He who had proclaimed himself Son of God was now a pauper, laid in a borrowed tomb, leaving his disciples disappointed, chagrined, hopeless, despairing. But was that the end? Ah, no, he rose again to be the world's Redeemer.

  The question is not, "Have we made failures?" or "Will we make other failures?" We shall never become blunder proof. We shall not always be wise and discreet in our future conduct. We do not know enough always to avoid such things. Then, too, we are often taken by surprise by things and have to act without consideration. Of course we shall not always do the wisest and best thing.

  We also have weaknesses and these weaknesses will sometimes assert themselves. Perfection in the realm of human conduct is not a thing of this world. Paul speaks of that which is perfect as being in the future. When that comes we shall know as we are known. We shall see clearly and we shall be able to do that which is wise and we shall be strong enough to meet, as they should be met, all the circumstances that arise. But now we are imperfect. We have our weaknesses and shortcomings. We should not surrender to these. We should not allow them to blight our lives, nor to discourage us, nor to make us feel that we are failures. We should resolutely make the best of these and face life with courage. But de you say, "I am so ashamed of my blunders and weaknesses ?" Wesley's advice to his fellow ministers was "Never be ashamed of anything but sin." If you cannot be what you desire to be, be what you can be and do not be ashamed of it. Do not let mistakes or imperfections prevent you from doing what you would do. I remember one young man who succeeded in getting a position that paid him a salary which for that day was looked upon as being rather unusual. Through a combination of circumstances he lost that position. It was not his fault. His conduct reflected honor upon him. He sacrificed greatly to do what he did. He felt he was wronged. He returned to his home, surrendered to circumstances, gave up to discouragements, and so far as I have learned permitted his life to be ruined by it. This is an example of what we should avoid. But, leader, are you doing the same thing? Are you following out the same principle? If so, cease to do so. Be the man or the woman you can be and hold up your head and look the world and circumstances in the face and assert your manhood or your womanhood. Say, "I have failed, but I am not a failure. I have failed, but I will yet succeed." There are many things that people have to face— home troubles, business reverses, debts, physical handicaps, and many like things. But look upon the great names of history and see how many of those who had such things to meet have risen above them and in spite of them have resolutely gone forward to victory. Many people seem to do well until some crisis comes, and they fail. This failure seems to change the whole course of their lives. They look upon their lives differently and hold a different attitude toward themselves than formerly. I had such an experience. Actively engaged in evangelistic work, feeling that I had developed to the place where I was prepared to do more effectual work than hitherto, having plenty of opportunities for work, I was going forward, hopeful, even confident of success. Nevertheless in the midst of this I was stricken. Worst of all I realized that I had brought it upon myself. Lying upon my bed suffering day and night, continually without respite, I would look back to the time I was injured and think I had no one to blame but myself. The fact that it was wholly an unexpected thing, that I had no way of foreseeing and thus could not avoid it, did not change the fact. I had brought it upon myself. Oh, the days and months of self-condemnation, of bitter regret! It darkened all nature. It brought me to the verge of despair. Again and again I said to myself, "I am only a has been. The future holds nothing desirable for this life. I have nothing to look forward to. So far as my work is concerned and my life among men I had better died." For eight long weary years I went on without any ray of hope shining for the future. But I learned to make the best of the present, to turn resolutely away from he past and to cease self-condemnation. After I had learned this lesson God opened the door of opportunity to me again in a most unexpected way. He has given me a larger field than ever before, and to the glory of his grace I believe he has made me more useful than I ever should have been without learning these hard lessons. Whatever there may be in your life that cannot be helped, do not sit down and fold your hands and spend your days mourning. Make the best of it. There is a out, and that way leads to victory and success.


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