The other day I heard someone quote from Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet The Crisis, published on December 23rd, 1776. You know, the one that starts, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
That’s the part we always hear quoted and usually that’s about all we hear from it, other than the line about “summer soldiers.” But it turns out he said a whole lot more than that. After hearing it quoted, I looked it up and checked it out, and these words really struck me.
“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
This quote struck me in a lot of different ways. It made me think about what I’ve been learning about the relationship between delayed gratification and transformation. That’s still a work in progress so I can’t really address it here. Maybe another time.
But there’s another offshoot that I do want to discuss. Paine says something here that strikes at the root of making life, and all the people, places and things in our lives, more meaningful. The more I think about this the more I believe it’s an especially important message for this particular time and place.
I keep hearing the phrases, “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph;” and “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” Just take a moment to ponder those words (or as the ancient writers of the Hebrew Psalms might have said, Selah, which means stop and think about it).
We live in an age devoted to labor saving devices of all kinds. We all use at least some of them and for the most part love them as well. I ought to know, being the Microwave King of the Greater Southwest. When it comes to preparing food for myself I have a steadfast motto: If you can’t microwave it then it’s not food!
Words to live by, my friends!
Well maybe not. Because as much as I love all my modern shortcuts, I have noticed how easy it is for us to just throw things away because it’s ‘easy come, easy go.’ If this were limited to just things I wouldn’t be so concerned about it. Because in the long run everything wears out anyway, so why become attached to mere things. In this sense our disposable culture might actually be teaching us something good for a change.
But when it comes to the people in our lives it’s another thing all together. How easy we throw away friends and family today. Groups that we’ve been part of for years, even decades, we blithely toss into the trash if they dare to disappoint us, or worse yet, challenge us too much. Over the last few years I’ve been amazed to see how easy it is for so many people to just ‘move on’, leaving old friends behind for no other reason than it’s convenient. How sad is that?
Healthy relationships are hard to build. As Thomas Paine said when things come too easy we just don’t value them. Just think of all those public housing complexes built in the 60s and 70s that they shoved people into. The occupants didn’t own their apartments. They couldn’t pass them onto their kids. They just lived there because they had too. The places were trashed and became centers for all kinds of crime. Eventually many were torn down.
It all came too easy and was under the control of others. What might have happened if the occupants had been given an option to purchase their apartments, over a long period of time with low payments back by interest free government loans? I don’t know, but I suspect once they saw it could be theirs and passed onto to their children, we would have seen a very different outcome.
Freedom and everything else that makes life meaningful doesn’t come easy. Nor should it. We could learn a lesson from our forefathers and cherish the value of sacrifice and working for the long term not the short term.
When we value the people, places and things in our lives they become meaningful and we become better people. So put down that credit card, stay out of debt and try saving up your money until you can actually buy something for cash! It’s an amazing experience and one that many of you may have never experienced. I can tell you from my own personal experience, being debt free isn’t easy, but it’s a truly liberating place to be in your life.
So maybe we ought to challenge ourselves to focus on doing what’s hard, because in the end the difficult things are usually the only things worth doing at all.
Having said that, I want you to know that I’m keeping my microwave!
Louie Marsh is pastor of Christ’s Church on the River on the Parker Strip. Visit the website HERE.