Life, no matter in what aspects it has been presented before us, when we come to the reality, is full of pitfalls and entanglements, into which our unwary feet often stumble. Day after day, as we watch the different vicissitudes of life, we are reminded of the frailty of human hopes and aspirations. As the leaves of the tree, once flourishing, once verdant, lose their vitality and finally waste away, so it is with our desires and anticipations.
In youth we look forward; the future appears calm and tranquil; as we approach manhood and womanhood life changes its appearance and becomes tempestuous and rough, as the ocean changes before the advancing storm. In the changes of real life joy and grief are never far apart. In the same street the shutters of one house are closed, while the curtains of the next are brushed by the passing dancers. A wedding party returns from church, and a funeral train leaves from the adjacent house. Gladness and sighs brighten and dim the mirror of daily life. Tears and laughter are twin-born. Like two children sleeping in one cradle, when one wakes and stirs the other wakes also.
Be not dismayed at the trials of life; they are sent for your good. God knows what keys in the human soul to touch in order to draw out its sweetest and most perfect harmonies. These may be the strains of sadness and sorrow as well as the loftier notes of joy and gladness. Think not that uninterrupted joy is good. The sunshine lies upon the mountain top all day, and lingers there latest and longest at eventide. Yet is the valley green and fertile, while the peak is barren and unfruitful.
Trials come in a thousand different forms, and as many avenues are open to their approach. They come with the warm throbbing of our youthful lives, keep pace with the measured tread of manhood’s noon, and depart not from the descending footsteps of decrepitude and age. We may not hope to be entirely free from either disciplinary trials or the fiery darts of the enemy until we are through with life’s burdens. Men may be so old that ambition has no charm, pleasures may pale on the senses, but they are never too old to experience trials.
Life all sunshine without shade, all happiness without sorrow, all pleasure without pain, were not life at all—at least not human life. Take the life of the happiest. It is a tangled yarn. It is made up of joys and sorrows, and the joys are all the sweeter because of the sorrows. Even death itself makes life more loving; it binds us more closely together while living. The severer trials and hazardous enterprises of life call into exercise the latent faculties of the soul of man. They are for the purpose of putting his manhood to the test, and rouse in him strength, hardihood, and valor. They may be hard to take, though they strengthen the soul. Tonics are always bitter.
Heaven, in its mercy, has placed the fountain of wisdom in the hidden and concealed depths of the soul, that the children of misfortune might seek and find in its healthful waters the antidote and cordial of their cares and calamities. Knowledge and sorrow are blended together, and as closely and inseparably so as ignorance and folly, and for reasons equally as salutary and just. Such is the established course of nature; such is her best and wisest law. When she leads us from what is frivolous and vain in the land of darkness, and brings us to the impressive and true in the land of light, the first act she performs is to remove the scales from our eyes that we may see and weep. We must first learn to mourn and feel before we can know and think. And the deeper we shall go into the depths below the higher shall we ascend into the heights above.
Man is like a sword in a shop window. Men that look upon the perfect blade do not dream of the process by which it was completed. Man is a sword, daily life is the workshop, and God is the artificer, and the trials and sorrows of life the very things that fashion the man. We should, remember when borne down by trials that they are sent to us only for our instructions, even as we darken the cages of our birds when we wish them to sing. Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls, the most massive characters are seamed with cares, martyrs have put on their coronation robes glittering with fire, and through tears many caught their first glimpse of heaven.
Never meet trouble half-way, but let him have the whole walk for his pains. Perhaps he will give up his visit even in sight of your house. If misfortune comes be patient, and he will soon stalk out again, for he can not bear cheerful company. Do not think you are fated to be miserable, because you are disappointed in your expectation and baffled in your pursuits. Do not declare that God has forsaken you when your way is hedged about with thorns, when trials and troubles meet you on every side. No man’s life is free from struggles and mortifications, not even the happiest; but every one may build up his own happiness by seeking mental pleasures, and thus making himself independent of outward fortune.
The greatest misfortune of all is not to be able to bear misfortune. Not to feel misfortune is not the part of a mortal; but not to bear it is not becoming in a man. Calamity never leaves us where it finds us; it either softens or hardens the heart of its victim. Misfortune is never mournful to the soul that accepts it, for such do always see in every cloud an angel’s face. Every man deems that he has precisely the trials and temptations which are the hardest of all others for him to bear. From the manner in which men bear their conditions we should ofttimes pity the prosperous and envy the unfortunate.
The simplest and most obvious use of sorrow is to remind us of God. It would seem that a certain shock is needed to bring us in contact with reality. We are not conscious of breathing till obstruction makes it felt. So we are not conscious of the mighty cravings of our half divine humanity, we are not aware of the God within us, till some chasm yawns which must be filled, or till the rending asunder of our affection brings us to a consciousness of our need.
To mourn without measure is folly; not to mourn at all is insensibility. God says to the fruit-tree bloom and bear, and to the human heart bear and bloom. The soul’s great blooming is the flower of suffering. As the sun converts clouds into a glorious drapery, firing them with gorgeous hues, draping the whole horizon with its glorious costume, and writing victory along their front, so sometimes a radiant heart lets forth its hopes upon its sorrows, and all blackness flies, and troubles that trooped to appall seem to crowd around as a triumphant procession following the steps of a victor.
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