Misfortunes Can Be Blessings

An old story tells about missionary Robert Livingston, who lived among the natives in a small, primitive African tribe. He suffered from a rare blood disease that required him to drink fresh goat’s milk daily. During a visit to the village, the tribal king became enchanted with Livingston’s goat. Now, it was the local custom that everything belonging to the villagers was automatically considered to be the king’s property if he so desired. Having no choice but to honor the village custom, the missionary offered his goat to the king, knowing that he had just given away the very thing his life depended on. The king appreciated Dr. Livingston’s gesture and, in return, handed him what appeared to be a long walking stick he had been carrying. As Livingston turned away to go home, he sadly lamented to his house servant that he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to live without his daily supply of goat’s milk. The servant quickly turned to Livingston and said with a gasp of surprise: “Master, don’t you realize what the king has given you? That’s his scepter, and anything you desire in the entire kingdom is yours!”

How many times have we faced a disappointment or misunderstanding in our relationship with a colleague, family member, or friend? Whatever the difficulty, it is important for us to realize that a positive outlook can make a difference, can turn a “stick” into a “scepter.” A poor evaluation at work can actually lead to a promotion if you accept it as a positive challenge to do a better job. Throughout history there are countless examples of famous scientists and explorers who set out to prove one thing and failed, but who went on to discover something more significant. For example, Christopher Columbus was trying to find a new trade route to China and Japan. Imagine his disappointment when, instead of landing in the Orient, he found himself thousands of miles away from his original destination on some strange, unknown land mass, later called America. This failure, however, would eventually earn him a permanent place in history as one of the world’s greatest discoverers. British Conservative statesman and prime minister Benjamin Disraeli was once asked to define the difference between a calamity and a misfortune. Taking the name of his great rival, Gladstone, as his example, Disraeli said in jest, “If, for instance, Mr. Gladstone were to fall into the river, that would be a misfortune. But if anyone were to pull him out, that would be a calamity!” In his journal of December 10, 1801, Stendhal (Henri Beyle) wrote words of wisdom, stating, “Almost all our misfortunes in life come from the wrong notions we have about the things that happen to us. To know men thoroughly, to judge events sanely, is, therefore, a great step toward happiness.”

Challenges have a way of cropping up when we least expect them, and because they seem constantly to surprise us, we may not be prepared to handle them in an appropriate manner.

Many people tend to “get their hackles up” before taking a moment to remember that misfortunes can be blessings. Regardless of the appearances of the situation, the truth is that God is there in the midst of the confusion, ready and willing to respond to our needs. Often when we feel unprepared, we may become alarmed, confused, frustrated, irritated, and perhaps even become frightened and angry. These emotions can be overcome when we “stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord.” Friedrich Von Hugel once said, “How greatly we add to our crosses by being cross with them!” Think for a moment, do you get cross with your crosses? Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). This is a very clear instruction to follow the pathway of love in solving a problem, isn’t it? It doesn’t help to sit and complain about a situation. The experience may have come to you for a purpose, and when you follow the guidance of the spirit within, you may find that the purpose is a good one.

By turning our thoughts around, we can turn our own lives around. If we let negative ideas and fears invade our minds when our plans fail, our world may be filled with self-doubt and insecurity. Once we become aware of how often we limit ourselves through negative attitudes, we can begin to concentrate on positive thoughts. A consistent, positive attitude—making a stick into a scepter—can allow us to turn an impossible situation into a positive opportunity to find happiness and success.