Monday, March 24, 2014

To Be Mentally Strong

"Bring me men to match my mountains, Bring me men to match my plains, Men with empires in their purpose, And new eras in their brains." (Sam Walter Foss, from "The Coming American", July 4, 1894)

This past November, Forbes Magazine had an article entitled, ‘Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid’. Rather than address all the things a mentally strong person does, it briefly addresses the things mentally strong people DON’T do. The article is very powerful and spins out some interesting information worthy of taking into one’s hearts and applying it to our lives. Each point was addressed and then briefly described. As I read the article, I thought how much more time could be spent on each of the thirteen categories and expanded with more information for the reader. So with that in mind, I am going to attempt to take the thirteen points of each article and turn them into a series of writings on the do’s and don’t’s of the mentally strong.

When I begin to think of people who are mentally strong, like a time machine, and as a lover of history, my mind races back through the ages. To days long before all this technology has made life what it is today. Long before the automobile, washer, dryer, phone, computer, internet, and the world wide web. Long before the first man landed on the moon and long before the incandescent light bulb. Long before grocery stores had pre-packaged chemical, preservative laden foods lining the shelves for easy pickings. Long before meat was packaged with pretty pictures of sunshine and barns in easy and convenient methods of hunting for my game. Long before the invention of the fast food burger and the drive through meal deal. My mind races backward toward a time when, it seems to me, one didn’t have a choice but to be mentally strong. To this cornucopia of men and women who traversed the landscape of history with their blood, sweat, tears, and toil. Who looked adversity in the eyes and endured hardness and persevered beyond what today’s modern mind set could only deem as too crazy to accomplish.

So many times, the beginning of my complaints are usually stifled when I just say these words to myself, ‘It could be far worse!’ Instead of being sheltered by all the comfort of these comforts, I could be living back in the days when my life was dependent upon my raw ability to survive from day to day or even moment to moment. I think of the men and women who endured the voyages across the Atlantic Ocean to come to a new world. Even after enduring the three months of ocean waters and pounding waves, they were not greeted by a convenience store or pre-existing homes with the warmth of fireplaces burning waiting to soothe their aching and worn out sea ravaged bodies.

I think of women like Martha Washington, who supported her husband through the myriad of the complexities of war and holding public office. To the little know fact that Martha Washington saw her husband only a few times over the course of eighteen years because of his commitment to God and country is quite a testimony of a mentally strong woman. I think of the men and women who helped settle the West. Men like Daniel Boone, who was an original ‘iron man’. For instance, there was a time when Daniel Boone was captured by the Chief Black Fish of the Shawnee Indians, and after he learned of a British and Indian plot to attack Boonesborough, he escaped and rallied the settlers and successfully repelled a 10-day siege of Boonesborough. I’m talking men of strong mental character. From Sam Houston to Davy Crockett and ‘Remember the Alamo’, to men like John Paul Jones, “I have not yet begun to fight!”, and refused to surrender even when his ship was sinking and came back to win the naval battle. Or men like twenty-one year old, Nathan Hale, who was captured by the British and just before being hanged as a spy his last words were, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." I think of the men who on that June 6, 1944, bravely stormed the beaches of Normandy under the rain of German artillery and machine gun fire, risking it all and giving ‘their last full measure of devotion’ to gain a foothold on Nazi Germany.

And how can my mind not ponder the historical aspect of those who came before me in the gospel. Men and women who loved God’s Word more than their own lives. Men who labored and died, so that I may live. Of course there is the Apostle Paul who talks in Corinthians of his enduring afflictions and trials. “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28) And not just the Apostle Paul, who in the end history says he ran to the guillotine to be beheaded, but the entire twelve apostles, who were so mentally strong in the faith and were martyred for the sake of the gospel.

On and on I could continue to compose a list of inspirational men and women who were mentally strong in their endeavor to make it through this journey we call life. And when I ‘think’ of these testimonies and then take a moment to ponder our ‘difficult’ lives, it makes me wonder how much we have lost and how much prosperity has destroyed our ruggedness, and not only our ruggedness, but how our technology has helped to sabotaged our ability to ‘find’ ourselves and the hidden strengths we truly have within us. For it is in the trials of life our true character is forged, and it is in those depths of despair where we meet our true selves, and if possible, in those moments we actually find ourselves.

So this is an ‘introductory’ writing to begin a series of writings on the characteristics of the ‘mentally’ strong. Let me be the first to say, though I may be writing about being mentally strong, I am quick to admit that I have not yet obtained all aspects of what it takes to be an expert of mental strength. Obviously as reality has it, I cannot speak as though I lived back then while being a product of these, what I think, are pretty sissy-fied times. So though I have endured some hardships, more mental than physical, my own writing concerning strength, both physical and mental, may well be somewhat curtailed by own limitations and/or inabilities. But if you are like me, when I read of men and women who endured such tribulation and came out victorious, there is something in me that desires to know their ‘secret’. What did they possess that helped them through their most difficult times? I desire to know, because if I lack what they had, then I want it and if I have what they had, then I want to strengthen it. Either way, in this ‘rat race’ called life, I want to be running with the mental strength it takes to obtain the ability to capture the prize that my God has set before me!

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