The journey is hard and long. It doesn’t get easier or shorter by staying where you are. Get up. Keep moving. You’ll be glad you did.
~ LaShawnda Jones
It’s been years since I’ve completed a book. My goal for the holidays was to get through three. The holidays have been over for three weeks and I’ve only just finished one of the two books I started. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants was a holiday present to my boss. It arrived with a card while she was already home on her holiday vacation, so I started reading it. I was drawn to the subtitle. I am an underdog and every obstacle I’ve overcome in life has been one no one even considered I could come close to approaching, let alone overcoming. This was my first Malcolm Gladwell book and I must say, he has interesting concepts and tells a good story. Here’s my book report.
Gladwell breaks the book up into three parts:
- The Advantages of Disadvantages (and the Disadvantages of Advantages)
- The Theory of Desirable Difficulty
- The Limit of Power
Quite honestly, I almost gave up on the book in the first chapter. Gladwell re-imagines the fight between David and Goliath, which is fine, in and of itself. I do a lot of re-imagining when I write too – that’s where the magic happens. However, his re-imagining was part history lesson (somewhat believable) and part television reenactment with modern-day expert commentary (not at all believable). He writes about how skilled David was with his sling and how all the soldiers of the day would have recognized the sling-thrower as an able and fearsome combatant. The way the Bible describes David’s reception at the army camp of King Saul, suggests plainly that he himself, and his weapon of choice, were not respected at all. In fact, King Saul tried to give David a sword and his heavy armor. David wasn’t comfortable with such and said he’d battle the giant with his sling and pebbles and he could do it because he had taken down a bear and lion with the same (1 Samuel 17:34-37).
Unfortunately, the revisionism didn’t stop there. Gladwell writes that “many medical experts now believe… that Goliath had a serious medical condition. He looks and sounds like someone suffering from what is called acromegaly – a disease caused by a benign tumor of the pituitary glands. The tumor causes an overproduction of human growth hormone, which would explain Goliath’s extraordinary size…. And furthermore, one of the common side effects of acromegaly is vision problems.” Gladwell goes on to claim the reason David was able to run towards Goliath and get off a perfect hit with his sling was because Goliath was blind! He couldn’t see David coming. And because he couldn’t see David coming, he was slow to defend himself.
Truly, sometimes it’s best to just read what the story says and not add anything to it (1 Samuel 17). For indeed, if David had been seen as a fearsome combatant who was a deadly master slinger, what would be the value of the story of David and Goliath? If Goliath was a blind swordsman, would an entire army truly have feared him (1 Samuel 17:4-7)? More than that – would his king have made him the champion of their nation? Probably not.
I managed to get through the first chapter which, in my opinion, made a mockery of faith by trying to explain it with “scientific” assumptions.
The rest of the stories in the book were new to me. Each chapter focused on one person and the huge way they succeeded in the world despite, or because of, their disadvantages. These stories are intriguing and for that reason, I am glad I stuck with the book to the end. I can’t say that I learned anything new about advantages or disadvantages (I reached similar conclusions long ago based on my own experiences), but the stories reconfirmed that all the challenges in my own life have been blessings. Certainly, in the short-term, pain does not feel like a blessing. But the way you process your pain and build from it over time, strengthens you and adds wisdom and insight that you otherwise would not have. In one chapter, Gladwell points out a correlation between the high achievement of world leaders (British prime ministers and American presidents) and the number of them who lost a parent to death during their youth (under age 20). He explores the same correlation with famous poets and writers. To that end, the passage that struck the deepest chord with me is a quote from Pastor André Trocmé as he recalls losing his mother in a car accident as a child:
If I have sinned so much, if I have been, since then, so solitary, if my soul has taken such a swirling and solitary movement, if I have doubted everything, if I have been a fatalist, and have been a pessimistic child who awaits death every day, and who almost seeks it out, if I have opened myself slowly and late to happiness, and if I am still a somber man, incapable of laughing whole-heartedly, it is because you left me that June 24th upon that road.
But if I have believed in eternal realities…if I have thrust myself toward them, it is also because I was alone, because you were no longer there to be my God, to fill my heart with your abundant and dominating life.
And later, when his eldest son committed suicide:
Even today I carry a death within myself, the death of my son, and I am like a decapitated pine. Pine trees do not regenerate their tops. They stay twisted, crippled…. They grow in thickness, perhaps, and that is what I am doing.
Overall, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is a good read. It makes you think about the world as it is and how it formed from what it was. It openly discusses socially acceptable situations that are morally reprehensible and that were overcome in morally compromising ways. But those who overcame did not see themselves as morally ambiguous. For that reason, this book makes you think: if I want to change my world (or something in the world or my life) today, is anything too radical for me to do?
Lately, I’ve been struggling with being content with my blessings (read: overflowing cup of grace). I’m used to having just one more hurdle, yet another obstacle, and some more unforeseen challenges to get through before I could breathe easy about a plan, an opportunity or change. I’m used to the prize being visible but forever out of reach like a mirage of water in a sweltering desert. I’m used to not getting what I truly want and learning to appreciate what I get. That’s been my life.
How would I act if I got what I wanted? If my most earnest prayer was answered? Would I remember that I had asked to be blessed and embrace the responsibility of receiving God’s favor and grace with wisdom and gratitude? Or would I lose sight of the blessing and treat God’s favor as a common unremarkable thing?
I would like to say without a doubt that recognizing my blessings and receiving them with contented appreciation is natural for me. But what I’ve come to realize in this season of abundance is that contentment requires as much hard work and focus as perseverance in hardship. It’s easy to lose sight of a blessing – you’ve already received it and can look for new challenges. But who forgets the weight of the world when it’s pressing down upon them? No one. Focusing on our difficulties is what comes naturally, but when we are consumed with thoughts and anxiety about what we don’t have, we are robbed of appreciation for what we do have.
This week the thought crossed my mind: What would I do if this blessed situation was a difficult problem? Immediately, strategic plans for fixing the problem came to mind. There is always something to DO to eliminate a problem. But what does one do with a blessing? The most obvious answer is: Enjoy it and share it. But that doesn’t sound much like DOING anything. Here lies my problem.
I don’t have an established behavioral pattern for when things go really well in my life. The closest situation I can think of is writing and publishing my own books. That’s great, yes, but when do I enjoy finishing a book? I haven’t. Marketing, promoting and selling the book then becomes the focus. And even in the midst of that cycle, my mind is planning and outlining the next book project. Same scenario in my job-that-pays-the-bills. Every year, I get praised for putting on a great annual conference. And every year I smile and tell the praisers, “Thanks… until next time!” I’m already thinking about what didn’t go so well and how to improve it next time.
I know you’re thinking – WOW, what a problem to have! But what this tells me is that I have a deficit of gratitude and thanksgiving my heart and spirit. I should be able to appreciate and honor completion (conclusion; fulfillment). I should fully experience something coming to fruition (realization of something desired or worked for; accomplishment)in my life. It shouldn’t be an afterthought to honor a process that bears fruit (come to a satisfactory conclusion) on my journey. It’s nonsensical to labor over a plant and ignore it when it blooms. That’s essentially what I have been doing – ignoring my blooms.
My Dear Heavenly Father has been blessing me enormously. I am grateful and I have given repeated and profuse thanks, but I haven’t paused to rest, enjoy or soak in all that He has done for me. I want to reach out to my Lord as much, if not more, when the blessings are raining down as I do when it’s hard to even hope for a favorable outcome. I have never just sat and marinated in a blessing. That changes now. Going forward, I’m taking the time to rest in and fully experience my blessings. For the first time in years, I am actually planning a vacation to just stay home and enjoy my life.
What I’ve learned in this season is that there is a time to simply sit and enjoy the fruit or your labor.
“A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”
~ Jorge Luis Borges
The other day, I shared a current frustration with someone. They responded that I should not “claim frustration or stress”. I replied that frustration and stress were facts at that point and time, so it wasn’t a matter of claiming anything. She then commented that if she were in my situation she “would not be stressed because she would just let everything go and give it all to God. What is for me is for me. If I keep coming up against adversity, then it’s a sign to me that that thing or situation is not for me and God has something better in store for me.”
I looked at her with a befuddled squint and said, “If I thought like that, I would never have anything. Absolutely everything I have in life has come with adversity. Each situation has strengthened my character and my faith. I don’t give up until God removes me from a situation.”
Long after she walked away, I continued to think about her “advice” and my rejection of it. Then I looked up my favorite verse on perseverance, Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Here are some more words of encouragement for others who may feel they are nearing the end of their hope and their rope. People in your circle may give you platitudes (empty words) meant to lift you up, but if those words don’t line up with the Word of God, you will soon fall flat again. No where in God’s Word are we told to give up when we are confronted with opposition. No where. But in all things we are to count the cost of our pursuit to make sure it’s something we can sustain and succeed in.
Be blessed. And know that your blessings won’t always look like the next person’s blessings.
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” ~ Luke 22:31-32
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. ~ James 1:2-4
“A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” ~ Mark 13:12-13
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. ~ Romans 12:1-2
After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. ~ Acts 14:21-22
This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive: “I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life. ~ Revelation 2:8-10
This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently, obeying his commands and maintaining their faith in Jesus.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!” ~ Revelation 14:12-13
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said,
“My child,don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” ~ Hebrews 12:1-6