William Ernest Henley penned the famous poem “Invictus” which is often quoted at graduations to encourage graduates to take control of their lives.  Who has not heard the famous admonition to be the  “master of [our] fate…captain of [our] soul”?  Of course, there is nothing wrong with taking charge of your life, being self-sufficient, having an indomitable spirit, or having a positive outlook.  All these things can make your life better.  But there are two limitations to this philosophy or outlook.  First, there is always a limit to the human spirit when facing adversity.  The Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa captured it beautifully in his poem, “The World is Dew”  or “The World of Dew.”  In Issa’s life, he had faced much adversity.  Each time he faced a new trial, as the story goes, he took his troubles to his Zen Buddhist teacher and was told each time, “the world is dew.”  The message from his teacher was, all is illusion in life, so we should not let these problems control our emotions.  However, Issa could not get beyond the grief that he felt at his troubles.  No matter how he might try to simply dismiss these trials as mere illusions not worthy of emotional pain, he could not get beyond his own human frailty, his emotional commitment to these people, and his need to love and be loved in the physical, temporal world.  The words of the teacher felt hollow, never bringing him any solace nor helping to supply meaning to his life.  The words of his poem written after the death of two of his children are haunting in their poignancy and seem to cry out in dissatisfaction, searching for meaning:  “The world of dew --; A world of dew it is indeed; And yet, and yet …”

There seems to be no end of people in life who are full of answers.  But when you are in the midst of trials, they are no more comforting than the empty words of Issa’s Buddhist teacher or of Job’s condescending friends who did not seem to understand the reason for Job’s trials and offered no sympathy.  The human heart and spirit need so much more.  We need to be loved, and we need to know that there is something higher and greater than us that can offer hope and can give us meaning and power in our lives, especially during trials.  Only God can do these things without fail.  I know that, in my own life, I reached the end of my rope with the grief from my tour in Iraq.  I developed PTSD even before my tour ended.  I faced some very dark days after returning to the states.  That time in my life was like walking through "the valley of the shadow of death" (Psalms 23).  And it seemed as if no one understood what I was going through, nor could they help me.  The psychiatrists and therapists were only of nominal assistance and frequently added to my burden with their ignorant methods.  Moreover, I found that so many of the professionals in that field had more problems than I did, so it was the “blind leading the blind” (Mat. 15:13-14 and Luke 6:39-40).  The point at which I started finding healing and comfort was the point in which I turned to God for all things, pouring out my heart and soul to Him daily in many hours-long prayer sessions every day for months that turned into years.  Many times I was intoxicated while conversing with God because I did not have the strength or courage to withstand the pain without some chemical relief to take the edge off of the painful memories that were coming to the surface.  But I sensed that He did not mind my coming to Him in this way because He was truly compassionate, truly knew my sorrows, and truly knew the sacrifices I had made for my country which brought me to this grief. 

Not only is the human spirit limited in its ability, but the second reason I suggest that we cannot simply take charge whenever we choose is that there is too much in life over which we do not have power.  There are people around us at all times with their own motivations that can impact us at a moment's notice, and there’s nothing we can do about it.  We can take precautions to limit the number of ways they can intrude or the intensity of their intrusion, or we can even make preparation to react appropriately in the aftermath, but we CANNOT stop all people from ever impacting our lives no matter how smart and no matter how rich and powerful we become.  Even the most powerful people on the earth cannot make themselves self-sufficient islands, shutting out everyone, and never needing or wanting anyone.  Some try to do this, but they always fail.  We are not gods, so no matter who we are, there will always be the intrusion of the unexpected in life from other people.  Additionally, we are unavoidably social creatures.  We need human contact.  I’ve read stories of babies in maternity wards who inexplicably died when they were not wanted by their parents and did not receive the loving human contact that we all need from the very beginning of life.  There's just no way to get beyond our need to be loved by another. 

 


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    I'm a retired soldier, having spent 23 years of my life serving our country, actually 30 years when you count the reserve and National Guard time as well.  I believe in servant leaders, following the example of our Lord, and I believe in giving back to the troops once one has attained a certain status or level of success in life.  But I also believe in fighting back against corruption and incompetence wherever you find it if it hurts people.  Our national values were worth dying for.  They are also worth living for.  A man or woman can actually live a life by these principles of humility, service, love, duty, and honor, and have a significant impact on the world around them...if you have the dedication to see it through. 

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