By: Laurie Polich Short
Excerpt taken from: When Changing Nothing Changes Everything
As a child, I remember vaguely hearing about a man serving a 27-year sentence for wanting what his people deserved. But my adult eyes watched as that man emerged from his prison cell and four years later was elected president of a sovereign state. Under this man’s leadership, an entire nation was transformed.
For the 27 years that I moved freely from childhood to adolescence, and then adolescence to adulthood, Nelson Mandela lived every day in prison, with the same schedule, the same limitations, and the debilitating structure of prison life. He spent nearly a third of his life in captivity. However, in more than one interview, Mandela said he learned things in those 27 years that uniquely prepared him for his presidency. Though Mandela would not have chosen the route he was forced to take, it was clear his circumstances shaped him into the person he became.
While he was in prison, Mandela informed his ideals through books he disciplined himself to read and built bridges of friendship with enemy prison guards to widen his grace. He never surrendered to a sedentary life. When he finally emerged from prison, it took little time for his country to recognize their new leader. But the time Mandela spent in adversity helped make him the leader he turned out to be.
When we see our circumstances with the long view in mind, it empowers us to live them well, because we are viewing our circumstances as an important part of our story. Difficult circumstances shape what happens to our character and often position us for what our story will become, but we usually see this only in hindsight. Keeping this perspective in front of us enables us to persevere with promise and hope.
If we don’t see our circumstances with the lens of the big view, we may draw conclusions, based on our limited view, that could alter what happens next. Certainly that was true for Nelson Mandela, for at any time in those 27 years he could have surrendered in despair to the apparent realization that prison would be his life. History now shows that prison served as preparation for his life; however, Mandela didn’t know that when he was living it. He made a decision not to give in to despair, and his grit and perseverance helped him make the next good choice in front of him. The way he grew in grace and knowledge while in prison gave him a deep well to draw from in his presidency.
Though our story is somewhat limited by the circumstances we are given, the stories threaded through the Bible support the fact that we play a significant part in how our story gets written. The narratives indicate that God writes our story with us, not around us, and our story evolves by the way we respond to each scene. God’s overall plan may be secure, but we have been given freedom for how we live our part.
Looking at what is happening to us as building something in us helps us view our circumstances as giving us something we need for the path ahead. This can infuse us with hope and optimism in those seasons when we are waiting for something to change. Our faith is stretched when the path is long, and the route seems unclear. But during those times, God does his finest work in writing our story—if we can hold on until he is through.
*Laurie Polich Short serves as associate pastor at Oceanhills Covenant Church in Santa Barbara, California. A speaker at numerous conferences and colleges, she is the author of When Changing Nothing Changes Everything and Finding Faith in the Dark. This excerpt was taken from When Changing Nothing Changes Everything. Copyright 2017 by Laurie Polich Short.
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