If You Can't Help It
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
There is a remedy or there is none;
is one try to find it,
If there is none never mind
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
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
"Entering politics again he
ran for Congress, and was badly defeated. He then tried
to get an appointment to the United States Land Office,
"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
"In 1858 he was defeated by
"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
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.