“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Effort, pain, and difficulty…the trademarks of a life well-lived. If you examine the great innovators, social activists, and heroes who truly made our world better with the sacrifice of theirs, you will not find men and women who lived easy, uninterrupted lives. Instead, you will find people like Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr., Theodore Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, and Abraham Lincoln.
This incredible list of names conjure up images of leadership, dignity, toughness, and a willingness to go against the grain, but what often gets lost is the amount of difficulty, tragedy, and hardships that they endured, most of which was not of their own doing.
Jesus Christ was betrayed by one of his closest friends, abandoned by His disciples after his arrest, falsely accused and rejected by Jewish leaders, mocked and tortured by Roman guards, and was crucified between two thieves at the cross on Calvary.
“For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” – Jesus Christ
Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested more than 20 times, had his home bombed and burned down, was stabbed by a woman while at a book signing, saw dozens of crosses burned on his front lawn, and was eventually assassinated. In 1963, King led 200,000 people in The March on Washington to the Lincoln Memorial where he made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He was also awarded The Nobel Peach Prize at the age of only 35.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Theodore Roosevelt was born a frail and sickly boy who suffered from asthma, which was often fatal in that day. At the age of 26, he lost his mother to typhoid fever and his wife to kidney disease less than 12 hours apart. Roosevelt lost sight in his left eye during a boxing match. He was shot in an attempted assassination in 1912, but delivered his two-hour speech anyway, with a bullet lodged firmly in his chest.
Roosevelt contracted malaria at age 56, lost his oldest son and saw the other two severely injured in the midst of WWI. He eventually succumbed to a blood clot in his heart in January, 1919. he was buried with no fanfare, not even a eulogy. After his death, Thomas Marshall said this about Roosevelt, “Death had to take him in his sleep, for if he was awake there’d have been a fight.”
“It is not the critic who counts. … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Nelson Mandela endured tremendous prejudice and discrimination throughout his entire political career, and was eventually jailed for trying to overthrow the pro-apartheid government of South Africa. He would spend 27 years of his life in prison. He was sentenced to hard labor, but never lost his sense of purpose. South Africa eventually ended apartheid and Mandela was elected President at the first general election following his release.
“Whatever sentence Your worship sees fit to impose upon me for the crime for which I have been convicted before this court, may it rest assured that when my sentence has been completed I will still be moved, as men are always moved, by their conscience….” – Nelson Mandela
As a child, Winston Churchill had a pronounced lisp, suffered from dyslexia, and some even consider him to have exhibited the traits of ADHD. His energy level and aloofness was incredible as a child that he once ruptured a kidney and suffered a concussion from throwing himself off of a bridge.
He was hit by a car while crossing 5th Ave in New York, crashed a place while learning to fly, and was thrown from numerous horses. Churchill also suffered from bouts of severe depression. While traveling through South Africa in 1899, his train was attacked by the Boers and he was promptly marched to a secluded prison camp. His first organized attack of WWI was a spectacular failure, causing him to be stripped of his post of admiralty .
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
Mother Teresa lost her father when she was only 8 years old. Of course we never picture Mother Teresa to have struggled with her faith but according to the book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, Mother Teresa actually struggled intensely with feelings of loneliness and even abandonment…an absence of Jesus in her life.
In a letter thought to have been written in 1961, Mother Teresa wrote: “Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God. … The torture and pain I can’t explain.” It is somewhat saddening, but also uplifting to see that even someone of her faith struggled so intensely with feelings of sadness and separation.
Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” – Mother Teresa
Abraham Lincoln’s family was forced out of their home when he was only 7 years old. He was forced to work in order to help support the family. Two years later, at the age of 9, his mother passed away. His sister died 10 years later when Lincoln was 19. He undertook a business venture in 1831, which failed and forced him into an incredible amount of debt which took him 17 years to pay off. In 1832, he ran for the State Legislature and lost. IN 1835, he met and became engaged but unfortunately his fiancé died that same year. The following year, he had a complete mental breakdown. later that year, he ran for Speaker of the Legislature, but lost. 4 years later, he ran for Elector and again was defeated.
In 1842 he marries Mary Todd; they have 4 boys but only one would live to maturity. The following year, he ran for Congress and lost. In 1846 he ran for Congress again and finally won and then moved to Washington. Two years later, he ran for re-election to Congress and lost. In 1850 his son, Edward, dies. In 1854, he ran for the Senate of the United States and lost. Then in 1856, he sought the Vice Presidential nomination at a national convention, but recieved less than 100 votes. In 1858, he ran for the Senate once again and lost again. Finally in 1860, Abraham Lincoln is elected President of the United States. Two years later, his son, Willie, dies at the age of only 12. In 1865 On April 14th, Abraham Lincoln is assassinated.
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” – Abraham Lincoln
Despite the incredible setbacks and hardships that accompanied the lives of these great individuals, they managed to overcome adversity on the grandest of scales. Not only did they overcome, they thrived and accomplished unbelievable feats of leadership, courage, caring, and most of all – they made the world a better place for those who followed. Their lives were certainly not without effort, pain, and difficulty…and they certainly did not lead easy lives.
We all face adversity…every single one of us. We can let these setbacks stop us or we can let them make us into the people that we are destined to become.