When I was a teenager, my mother told me she thought I could President of the United States.  She was completely serious — but, then, she was my mother.  As a young man, this goal didn’t seem unreachable.  When you are young, all goals seem with reach, no matter how improbable.  You could be an NFL quarter back, an famous actor, start your own .com company, cure cancer, invent a better mousetrap.  Someone from American Idol or a baseball scout could discover you.  You could become the next Walter Cronkite.

At graduation ceremonies, countless students have been told by their class valedictorian in a speech carefully vetted by the principal that each student has it within himself or herself to make amazing things happen.  “If you can dream it, you can make it happen,”  they are told.

And then … life

For some students, life has already been hard.  They don’t do well in school.  Perhaps their family is dysfunctional.  They are uncoordinated, unattractive, or unpopular.  They already know they won’t be President or start a business or cure cancer.  They look to their peers with … admiration or envy, and they know they won’t be one of them.  They listen to their graduations speech and know the words aren’t for them.

Others find out later.  An injury sidelines a promising basketball career.  A summa cum laude graduate has difficulty finding a job in her field.  An unexpected pregnancy, a car accident, or a youthful indiscretion can derail a promising student.  Many dreams lie as wreckage on the shoals of life.

Others have initial success, only to discover as they become older, they haven’t reached their dreams.  They watch men and women 20 years their junior whiz past them up the corporate ladder, and they are forced to realize that they are no longer the “golden boy” they were when they started.

And some, a very few, become famous and rich politicians, TV stars, CEOs, or athletes.  They grace the covers of the magazines at the checkout lane in the grocery store.  They smile at us from a lofty position.  They are successful.

But not many

More than 99% of us will remain unknown.  Our “10 minutes of fame” may be very modest.  Eventually, those of us who never will be rich, never famous, or never powerful, learn to be content with our lot.  The poet, Thomas Gray, said it very well:

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
         Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
         They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

For those of you who find poetry difficult, let me translate.  “Far from the frenzy of success, good people live, content.  Their lives are unnoticed and unheard.”

But lack of success doesn’t mean failure

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
         Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
         The short and simple annals of the poor.
Again, I translate:  “Don’t despite these obscure people.  Don’t look at them condescendingly.”  Gray says this because he knows something that the rich, powerful, and successful may not know:  success is only for this life.  Riches, fame, and power are fleeting.
Many people reading this may not even know who Otto von Bismarck, Felix Mendelssohn, Rudolph Valentino, Greta Garbo, or Rex Stout were.  They are dead and gone, and their riches, fame, and power are in the dust heap of the past.

There are better things

Jesus was born in a stable.  He said, “Blessed are you who morn, for you will be comforted.”  (Matthew 5:4)  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)  The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:26 “Brothers, think about your own calling. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”  And Jesus famously said, “But, the greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)
God is concerned with things other than power, wealth, or fame.  The problem with our  culture is that it does not look into the future with the eyes of God.  It doesn’t see eternity.

A true and instructive story

I actually know someone who was set to try out for the NFL.  He had a good chance, but he was uncomfortable.  He felt God was calling him to some other work.  On the day of the tryouts, he walked away.  He married, had children, and is now completely alone.

Some would say he was foolish to throw his chance and riches and fame away, and yet, he is content “he noiseless tenor of his way.”

We can’t all be rich, but we can all be generous with what we have.  We can’t all be powerful, but we can all be kind.  We can’t all be famous, but we can all be a friend, a wife, a father, or a sister.  It would appear that God values these things more than someone’s picture on a magazine cover.
And if life is hard — and for many of us it is — there is more than life, too.
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
       Heav’n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear,
       He gain’d from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend.
No farther seek his merits to disclose,
       Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)
       The bosom of his Father and his God.

 

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