Perseverance Despite Adversity

I want to take this opportunity to share with you excerpts from my May 2017 graduation charge to our sixth graders at Central Christian School.

Class of 2017… As I reflected on our three 2017 graduate speakers’ essays (A Passion for God, A Love of Truth, and A Zeal to Serve), I couldn’t help but notice how they all had a familiar theme—perseverance, despite adversity—one of the overarching themes of your 5th grade year.

As I was praying about this topic and the importance of faith in Jesus during difficult times, I remembered a story that I learned during my time in Washington, D.C.

This May marked the anniversary of one of the greatest communication breakthroughs in world history—a feat achieved through perseverance despite adversity by putting trust in Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. I hope the story of this individual blesses and inspires you as much as it did me.

Take Sam.

As a young Christian, Sam entered Yale University at the age of 15.  Although he studied electricity and chemistry under two of the top scientists of the day, Sam surprised his parents after graduation by choosing his true passion—painting.

His father, a well-known pastor and “Father of American Geography,” supported his son’s vision to study in London.  While learning from a renowned painter, Sam nevertheless epitomized a starving artist—bringing in little income and barely making ends meet.

Sam returned to America eager to apply his maturing talent.  During this time, he met and married his wife, with whom he would father three children.  But his search for commissioned work up and down the East Coast greatly reduced the time he would spend with his family.

Sadly, the death of Sam’s young wife occurred while he labored miles away on a portrait in Washington, D.C.  In what would later be a sad ironic twist, he would not arrive until after her burial because of the time it took to communicate the news.

“Oh, is it possible? Is it possible? Shall I never see my dear wife again?” Sam wrote, “But I cannot trust myself to write on the subject. I need your prayers, and those of Christian friends, to God for support. I fear I shall sink under it.”

Although painting a number of respected pieces, the next 12 years saw Sam struggle with finances and discouragement.  He attained an art professorship at New York University and soon sought the commissioning of one of the planned historic paintings in the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda.

Experiencing rejection yet again, Sam collapsed into despair. “The blow I received from Congress … has almost destroyed my enthusiasm for my art…. I have not painted a picture since that decision…. When so unexpectedly I was repelled, I staggered under the blow…and [it] would goad me to death were it not for its aspect in the light of God’s overruling providence. Then all is right.”

Sam decided to return to his science skills and gave his full attention to the development of a device that could communicate over long distances.  Petitioning Congress to test the invention, his funding request was ignored—causing him to seek a patent and financial support in Europe.

To his surprise five years later, both Houses of Congress approved his large grant request.  And on May 24, 1844, Sam tested his invention before some of the most powerful leaders of the day.

The invention?  The telegraph.

Using a verse from the Bible–Numbers 23:23—suggested by a friend’s daughter, Sam, or I should say, Samuel Morse delivered the message “What hath God wrought!” using what became known as Morse Code over the first electric telegraph line from the U.S. Supreme Court Chamber in Washington, D.C. to Baltimore.

To Morse, these words were an exact expression of how the telegraph had come into being.

As he would later write to his brother Sidney: “You will see by the [news]papers how great success has attended the first efforts of the Telegraph… ‘What hath God wrought!’  It is His work, and He alone could have carried me thus far through all my trials and enabled me to triumph over the obstacles, physical and moral, which opposed me.”

Reviewing the impact of Morse’s creation in recent years, The Economist Digital Editor Tom Standage dubbed it The Victorian Internet: “It allowed people to communicate almost instantly across great distances, in effect shrinking the world faster and further than ever before.  A worldwide network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionized business practice…and inundated its users with a deluge of information…Does all this sound familiar?”

With Morse’s invention came the growth and transformation of the Associated Press, the New York Stock Exchange, and many other communication breakthroughs in the United States and around the globe too great to list here.

Thus, after decades of trial, Morse became a worldwide celebrity—receiving honor after honor over the next 25 years—culminating in 1871, when a bronze statue of Morse was dedicated in Central Park.  That evening at the Academy of Music, many luminaries witnessed the following message sent to Washington, D.C., using Morse’s original telegraph: “Greeting and thanks to the telegraphic fraternity throughout the land. Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will to men.”

As The New York Times reported, “Morse, with trembling fingers, touched his key and signed his name to the above dispatch—the entire audience rose…with cheer after cheer.”

He would die a year later, embodying the words of St. Peter, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

A charge worth considering again today.

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