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The Beauty of Every Day: Chapter 15 - Narrow Lives

By J.R. Miller

      Some people seem to live narrow lives. Their circumstances are narrow. They are hemmed in, as it were, and it appears to them, that they never can make anything of themselves. In their little, circumscribed environment, they dream of a larger world outside, with its beauty, its opportunities, its privileges, its achievements --and they wish they could climb out of their close, cramped place and enjoy the wider world, the freer air, the larger room for living, outside. And some young people fret in the limitations in which they find themselves.

      But we should never chafe--chafing spoils our lives. It is ingratitude to God. We should accept our circumstances in life, our condition, our providential environment, with love and trust, in the spirit of contentment.

      We are not, however, indolently to accept our limitations, as if God wants us to stay there forever, and make no effort to get into larger conditions. Usually we are to be led out of them at length, into a larger place--if we do our part and are faithful. Contentment with our lot is a Christian duty--and yet we are never to fret about our small lot in life, not trying to better our condition, and blame God for it, complaining that if we would have had the larger opportunity which somebody else had--we would have made something worth while of our life.

      God does not want us to be contented with insignificance, if we are able to hew our way out to better things. Ofttimes narrowness of this kind is really a splendid opportunity, rather than an invincible hindrance. God puts us into a small place at the beginning, that in the very narrowness, we may get impulse and inspiration for larger things, and in the effort and struggle grow strong.

      A young medical student was speaking of his hampered early beginnings, poverty, necessity for hard work, and more struggle to get an education. A friend said: "Do you know that these very experiences were God's way of blessing you? He gave you the narrow circumstances, that you might make the effort to grow. If you had had money, easy conditions, and affluent circumstances, you never would have been where you are today--about to enter an honored profession."

      In one of the Psalms, there is a word which tells not only the writer's own life story--but that also of countless others. David says, "He brought me forth also into a large place." He is referring to troubles and dangers which had encompassed him, shut him in, made what seemed an invincible wall around him. But the Lord delivered him from his strong enemy and brought him out into a large place. Many people have had similar deliverances. We remember times when there appeared to be only disaster and calamity for us, and trouble, shutting us in, entangling us in the wilderness, with no hope of escape--when God, in some way we had not dreamed of, brought us out into a place of safety, of joy, of peace, of enlargement, of prosperity.

      But in still greater way, David's word was true of his life. He had been brought up in lowly circumstances--but the Lord led him out into a large place, making him king of a great nation, and giving him opportunities for wide usefulness.

      The same was true of Joseph. Through thirteen years of what seemed adversity and calamity, God brought him to honor, power, and great success. Nearly all who have reached noble character and great usefulness, have been led forth from limiting circumstances, into a large place by a divine hand.

      Some people, however, permit themselves to be dwarfed in their hampering conditions. They allow the narrowness of their circumstances to get into their souls, and every noble aspiration is smothered, the wings of hope are cut, the fires of enthusiasm are quenched. There are stories of men who have been buried alive, sometimes built into cement walls. So these people allow themselves to be buried alive--in their narrow circumstances. Far more people than we know, make this mistake.

      They have not wealth with its luxuries to give them a soft nest. They have not influential friends to open doors for them, to lift them into places of comfort and favor, to give them opportunities for a great career. So they conclude that their lives are doomed to littleness and failure. But really, if they only knew it, what they consider disadvantages, are meant for advantages. What they regard as hopeless handicaps, are meant to be wings on which they may rise. The narrowness which makes some people despair, is really a condition full of great possibilities. It needs only courage and persistence to turn it into a blessing.

      One writes:
      Misfortune met two travelers, and swelled to twice his size;
      One, cowering, groaned, "Alas, this hour!" and fell, no more to rise!
      The other climbed the ugly shape, saying, "lt's well you came!"
      And made Misfortune serve him, as a stepping-stone to fame!

      Look at Christ's own life. We know how narrow it was in its early conditions. He was brought up in a peasant village, without opportunities for education, for social improvement, for training for life. When we think of the bare circumstances in which Jesus grew up--we wonder how his life developed into such beauty, such nobleness, such marvelous strength.

      The secret was in himself. The grace of God was in him. At the end he said, "I have overcome the world." He always lived victoriously. His circumstances were narrow--but no narrowness from without, could cramp or dwarf or stunt his glorious spirit. The narrowness never entered his soul. His spirit was as free in the hardest days of his earthly life--as it was in heaven's glory before he came to the earth. He found in the Nazareth home, with all its limitations--room enough in which to grow into the most glorious manhood the world has ever known! We need not say that it was the divine within him, that enabled him to triumph over hindrances and disregard limitations. He met human life--just as we all must meet it. Temptation and struggle were as real to him--as they are to us. He showed us how we may overcome the world.

      Whatever our conditions may be--however bare, hard, and invincible they may seem to be--Christ can enable us to live in them just as he lived in his barer, harder conditions--and to come out at length into a wider place. We have in us an immortal life, which ought to be unconquerable. We should laugh at our limited conditions; they cannot bind or limit us.

      Someone, or perhaps it was a bird or a squirrel--dropped an acorn in the crevice of a great rock. It sank down and was imprisoned in the heart of the stone. But moisture from heaven's clouds reached it, and it grew. 'It must die in its dark prison,' you would have said. No; it grew and burst the mighty rock asunder and became a great oak tree. So we should grow in the severest conditions, and then we shall come out into a wide place.

      Truth is mighty. It may not manifest itself in a strenuous life. It may be quiet, making no noise, and yet it has all the power of God in it.

      A noble girl was engaged to a young man who was in business with his father---the ale-brewing business, although they did not say much about this--with fine prospects of wealth and prosperity. When the girl learned the fact, she talked it over with the young man and then told him very frankly that she could not marry him unless he abandoned the business in which he was engaged. She said that she was a Christian, and believing that the business was wrong, she could not be the wife of a man who was engaged in it. She could not live in a home which the ale business maintained. She could have no blessing in it.

      The young man was astounded. He saw nothing wrong in the business. His father was honorable. Yet he loved the girl, listened to what she said, and considered seriously the possibility of doing what she asked. After much thought, he became satisfied that she was right, and decided to give up his place in the business--for his father was immovable. He went to the bottom of the ladder and began life anew. His friends talked of the unreasonableness of the girl in demanding such sacrifice, and of the young man's folly in accepting her guidance. They called it bigotry and intolerance.

      But the narrowness was really in the circumstances in which he was already bound in his father's business. He was held a prisoner there. Christ now led him out into a larger place. His manliness developed into splendor of character. It took half a dozen years of hard work, severe struggle, and pinching economy--but he came out at length a man of strength. If he had remained in his old environment, he would have been only a rich brewer, unrecognized among men, unhonored, even cut off from men of noble rank.

      But in this new free life, he became a power among his fellows, a moral force in the community, building up a home which became a center of beauty, happiness, and good. He was accustomed to say afterward, "My wife's principles made a man of me!" Here was indeed the gentle hand of Christ, sent to lead him out of his narrow prison--into a wide place.

      Sin stunts life wherever it touches it. Selfishness cramps and dwarfs. Envy and jealousy bind the soul in a wretched environment. Love enlarges the tent.

      A Christian woman tells of the kind of friend she used to be. She would choose a girl friend and would love her intensely. But she was so insanely jealous of her, that the girl must be her friend and hers only. If she called on another, or walked with another, or even spoke kindly to another--her friend's anger knew no bounds. There was no happiness in such friendship for either of the two. It was a miserable prison in which the woman herself was bound, and her passionate friendship made only bondage for the one she loved.

      Then the woman tells of giving her heart to Christ, and learning from him--the secret of true friendship. The old jealousies bad vanished. When she had a friend, she was kind and loving to her, and wanted everybody to love her. God had led her forth into a large place. She had a thousand times the joy she used to have, in the old narrow, exacting, suspicious friendship. She had enlarged the place of her tent. It was no longer a little place, with room only for herself and one; it widened out until it was as wide as the love of Christ.

      We cannot let Christ into our hearts--without becoming broader in feeling, larger in interest, wider in hope, more generous in all ways. We have no right to remain narrow. We should pray to be delivered from all narrowness in our friendships--in our heart life, our church life, our neighborhood life, our school life, our social life. Look at Christ himself as the perfect One. He enlarged the place of his tent--until it became as wide as the blue sky. Under its shelter all the weary, the lonely, the heart-sick, the suffering, and the sorrowing take refuge.

Back to J.R. Miller index.

See Also:
   Chapter 1 - While We May
   Chapter 2 - The Glory of the Common Life
   Chapter 3 - Seeds of Light
   Chapter 4 - He Calls Us Friends
   Chapter 5 - Not Counting God
   Chapter 6 - Perfection in Loving
   Chapter 7 - Shut Your Door
   Chapter 8 - Things That Hurt Life
   Chapter 9 - Getting Away from Our Past
   Chapter 10 - Thomas' Mistake
   Chapter 11 - Friends and Friendship
   Chapter 12 - The Yoke and the School
   Chapter 13 - The Weak Brother
   Chapter 14 - The Lure of the Ministry
   Chapter 15 - Narrow Lives
   Chapter 16 - The True Enlarging of Life
   Chapter 17 - Through the Year with God
   Chapter 18 - The Remembers
   Chapter 19 - Caring for the Broken Things


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