I am an internet searcher. When I think of something but can’t remember where I saw or heard it, off to Google go. Those that have read my work before know the value I place on giving proper attribution and credit to those that created ideas or uttered quotes that are memorable. One particular one came to mind again recently, so off I went on my Google search to find its origin. It wouldn’t take long to complete the search journey.
Botanist and inventor George Washington Carver, a professor at the Tuskegee Institute, was well known for his work to reduce the United States’ dependence on cotton by growing peanuts. Although commercially unsuccessful, as noted by Linda O. McMurry in her book George Washington Carver: Scientist and Symbol, he would be recognized late in his life by such entities as Time Magazine and the NAACP. Although he was a fine botanist indeed, it is his symbol as a humanitarian that roused a great fire in me when he famously said:
How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.
This is profound stuff, and I have no question in my mind that Carver based his humanitarian ideology on Christian principles. I want to take on each of these one at a time to see how they will make us better Christians.
First, let’s look at what the Bible says about being tender with the young. God loves children and considers them to be special among humankind. In Psalm 127:3-4, it is written: “Don’t you see that children are GOD’s best gift? The fruit of the womb his generous legacy? Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows are the children of a vigorous youth. Oh, how blessed are you parents, with your quivers full of children!” If you are a parent, you know the special joy that children bring to your life. Even if you’re not a parent, you can see the special gift that children are to the world – a gift from God. We should, as Carver said, treat them with tenderness. Jesus also taught us the importance of being tender with our children. In Matthew 18:4-5, Jesus said, “Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.” Tenderness toward children is the same as tenderness toward Jesus and the same as receiving Him into your life. Again, Carver had it right.
Second, Carver said we should be compassionate with the aged. I was told many moons ago that 40 was the age where things start to fall apart on us. For me, it was 30. Since the age of 30, I’ve had, in no particular order, diabetes, pancreatitis, a colon infection, a hernia, two dislocated spinal discs, low blood pressure, high cholesterol, retina pigmentosa, macular dystrophy, weight gain, weight loss, and recurring heartburn. I’m only 46 years old, for goodness sake! I’ve still (theoretically) got about 35 years or so to go before my entrance into immortality. As Bette David once quipped, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” Am I old? Well, it depends on who you ask. If you ask my step-mother, she would tell me that I’m still “just a baby.” If you ask my 13-year-old son, he once told me that “anyone over 30 is old.” Regardless of who is right, it’s clear that the older we get, the more compassion we need. In Leviticus 19:32, God commands us: “Show respect to the aged; honor the presence of an elder.” It takes more than respect alone to show compassion. 1 Timothy 5:1-8 instructs us:
Don’t be harsh or impatient with an older man. Talk to him as you would your own father, and to the younger men as your brothers. Reverently honor an older woman as you would your mother, and the younger women as sisters. Take care of widows who are destitute. If a widow has family members to take care of her, let them learn that religion begins at their own doorstep and that they should pay back with gratitude some of what they have received. This pleases God immensely. You can tell a legitimate widow by the way she has put all her hope in God, praying to him constantly for the needs of others as well as her own. But a widow who exploits people’s emotions and pocketbooks—well, there’s nothing to her. Tell these things to the people so that they will do the right thing in their extended family. Anyone who neglects to care for family members in need repudiates the faith. That’s worse than refusing to believe in the first place.
This scripture embodies true compassion for the aged. When we care for others more than ourselves, we please God with our selflessness and add value to the lives of others. Again, Carver was right and was on a solid foundation of Christian values.
Third, Carver said we should be sympathetic with the striving. The word strive has several meanings, but Carver’s meaning, as defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is to struggle. What kinds of things to people struggle against in our modern lives? First world problems such as slow internet speeds on our phones, no cream for coffee, and interruption of our favorite TV shows for special news bulletins about catastrophes elsewhere in the world? How about these instead: starvation, disease, poverty, addiction, mental disorders, developmental disorders, war, grief, loss, and homelessness. Fighting through these challenges can test the will of any soul, no matter their social circumstances. People fighting these battles deserve our sympathy. Romans 12:15 tells us: “Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” We often have no idea how much a stranger might be striving to overcome something in their life. When we treat them with sympathy, whether we know them or not, we treat them the way God intends for us to do. Jesus taught us more ways to be sympathetic toward others and ways to recognize our blessings even during times of strife. In Matthew 5:1-12, Jesus tells us in The Sermon on the Mound the Beatitudes, in which He said:
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Again, the Bible tells us of the importance of caring for others through the teachings of Christ. Carver knew the value of sympathy toward those in strife, and he knew it was God’s will that we do so.
Fourth, Carver told us to be tolerant of the weak and strong. Our societies don’t like weakness. Whether it be the runt of the litter or the wimp that gets sand kicked in his face at the beach, we don’t like weakness. We like strength. We like strength so much that we invented games of strength to amuse us, such as The Olympics, American Football, boxing, wrestling, MMA, and others. We glorify those that are strong and champion them when they compete. But what about the runt? They are often cast aside, even by their own mother, or even killed off because of their lack of fitness for survival. And the wimp? Mocked, jeered, and sometimes bullied to death – or to the point of suicide. It is intervention that makes the runt able to survive until it can stand on its own and the wimp capable of surviving the abuse. The runt survives when a human, much stronger than the runt, helps nurse it to health and independence. For humans, the intervention comes from Christ. In 2 Corinthians 12:8, we learn:
“My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
Christ will help carry the weak through his strength. But what about the strong? Are they all just bullies to the weak? Certainly not. Many physically strong people are also very mentally strong as well. Here’s the real question to consider: how do we define strong? I’m about 5’8” and 140 pounds. By NFL standards, I ain’t strong. But what about when I’m compared to a baby? Or an elderly person in a nursing home using a walker? Strong, indeed. When we are weak, we don’t like it when other people are strong. But we’ve all been there. We’ve all been babies at one point in our lives, and if we make it to old age, we will most certainly be elderly and weaker. This kind of tolerance is necessary because every one of us, no matter how strong we are today, weren’t even strong enough to lift our own head or even sit up on our own. Every soul on this Earth is in a different stage of their strength. Galatians 6:4 tells us, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” I believe that is the ultimate form of tolerance: acceptance. When we don’t concern ourselves with comparisons, labels, or what others do, and focus on what we should be doing instead, we become both tolerant and accepting. Accepting others for who they are is a form of love of humankind that pleases God and makes us better Christians. As Carver said, tolerate the weak and the strong.
Finally, Carver said that someday in our lives we will have been all of these. True words, indeed. As we pass through our life’s journey, we go from weak infants to strong adults to weak geriatrics. We go from possessing nothing to possessing much to possessing nothing at the end. We go from the vivaciousness of youth to the restfulness of old age. As humans, we like sameness. Why else would we frequently be reminded that “birds of a feather flock together”? Because they do, and so do we. We like people that look like we do, talk like we do, are around the same age we are, have the same interests we do, and are in the same part of life’s journey we’re in. But what about all the other folks out there that aren’t like us? In all reality, they are exactlylike us. They are just in a different part of the journey than we are, whether it be youth or old age, strength or weakness, peace or strife. We’re all in this together, and by embracing one another and our differences, we become one. In John 13:34-35, Jesus told his disciples: “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” That is the key to understanding Carver’s declaration that each of us has been one of the things he described. Love is what makes all of Carver’s mandates possible. Following the instructions of Jesus is what makes the love possible.
In reference to his audio recordings, Zig Ziglar used to say that you have to hear something 16 times to memorize it. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this quote before, but I assure you, I will never have to seek out its source of attribution again. I can also assure you of one other thing: I will strive to add Carver’s words to my daily life, along with the scriptures that are their foundation, in order to become a better Christian. I hope you can do the same. Imagine the world we will live in if we all can.
May God bless you, now and always.