Guests constantly visit my study and though I talk to them, sometimes quite loudly, they are strangely invisible to everyone else. One frequent visitor is my father. His presence helps me prepare speeches. When the ideas flow too slowly or I find myself struggling to memorize a difficult paragraph, I invite him in. He knows how hard it is but he nods encouragingly and tells me that he often encountered similar challenges.
Sometimes, Orville and Wilbur Wright join me. They’re an interesting pair. I invite them whenever I find myself falling into the trap of envying others. I eavesdrop as they mutter to one another about Samuel Langley who was given $50,000 by the United States War Department to build a flying machine. In 1903, $50,000 was a lot of money! When Langley’s contraption crashed into the Potomac, he gave up. Orville and Wilbur remind me that they persevered year after year, crash after crash, while others got the press and the awards. In December 1903, the Wright brothers succeeded.
Another favorite companion is Ernest Shackleton. Though he usually glowers at me, his visits strengthen me when I feel weak. After his ship, Endurance, was crushed by ice on his Antarctic expedition, he and his men suffered unimaginable hardship and deprivation. With considerable self-sacrifice, Shackleton brought every one of his men to safety.
Imagination is a wonderfully useful tool and developing it allows you to entertain your own visitors, as I am sure you do. Bringing them into your life allows you to draw inspiration and courage from them.
Do I need to know every detail of each exhausting attempt made by Orville and Wilbur? No, of course not, just as I do not need to know the gruesome details of Shackleton’s frostbite. Just the fact that the Wrights made a heavier-than-air flying machine, and that Shackleton brought real meaning to his ship’s name is enough to strengthen my resolve.
This past weekend, at the Passover Seder, we detailed God’s goodness to the Israelites in a song composed of fifteen stanzas. Each stanza concludes with the words, “It would have been enough for us,” or in Hebrew, Dayenu.
For instance, we sing, “Had God given us the Egyptian’s wealth but not split the Red Sea – It would have been enough for us,” and, “Had God brought us to Mt. Sinai, but not given us the Torah – It would have been enough for us.”
This makes absolutely no sense, does it? After all, had God given us wealth and then not split the Red Sea, the Egyptian army would have overtaken the Israelites and quickly recovered their treasure, not to mention their slaves. The whole point of going to Mt. Sinai was to receive the Torah. How can we possibly sing, Dayenu – It would have been enough for us?
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the song is meant for us today. It isn’t a historical recollection of 3,330 years ago. In those days, they needed the Red Sea to split in order to escape their tormentors. However, for the purpose of inspiring us today and allowing us to draw on the power of those events, recollecting each isolated instance of God’s goodness is enough. We don’t sing, “It would have been enough for them,” but rather, “It would have been enough for us.”
Similarly, details of what the Wright brothers did and what Shackleton accomplished are way beyond what I need in my study when I seek added fuel to overcome the obstacles I encounter in my own work. Bringing their basic stories to mind suffices for me, though for their own lives every last ounce of resourcefulness and perseverance was needed.
During his frequent visits, my father reminds me of one additional truth that makes all the difference. We never need to stand alone facing the future fearfully. God is with us; we only need invite Him in. And it is easier to bring Him into my study than those other guests because it takes no imagination at all.
Edited and reprinted from April, 2011