If you read biographies, you notice a pattern that is frequent in the lives of many great leaders. Early success and then years of obscurity and hardship – even rejection and exile. Two good examples are Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. Child stars and prodigies often experience the same. Writers and artists may show promise and then languish for decades before creating anything again. One-hit wonders are common in music, as are novelists who cannot produce a second best-seller. Sometimes circumstances change beyond their control. Silent movie star Rudolph Valentino’s voice was not suitable for movies with sound. Yasha Heifitz was brilliant as an untaught prodigy but being taught how to read music ruined him for years. Marlon Brando had been in a 10-year box office slump before The Godfather revived his career. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple when the company decided to move to professional management.
In other words, early success – even brilliance – is no guarantee of longevity or continued success.
They fail where they used to win. They face rejection instead of applause. They go into slumps and dry periods. You remember what Tom Hanks says to Gina Davis in the movie A League of Their Own when she wants to quit because it is too hard? “Of course it’s hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”
Albert Einstein said, “Adversity introduces a man to himself.”
It was just so with David when he faced the deadly paranoia of Saul. Up to a certain point he had led a charmed life surrounded by acclaim, success and the measured love of Saul himself. But then the story turns and David is on the run for his life. Saul even kills the priests and destroys a whole city of his own relatives in retribution for his imagined belief that David is against him.
But, it is such adversity which often proves to be the necessary transition from the charmed life of early success and admiration to the truly courageous life.
One man alone escapes from the slaughter to tell David what has happened and this is, for me, the turning point of the story and David’s life.
“He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. Then David said to Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family. Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.”
David’s life took an unexpected and undeserved change that defined him for the rest of his life. “My life has changed. I didn’t choose it. It was forced on me but God has a purpose for my life.”
It is what Sheryl Sandberg writes about in her latest book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy. “You can give into the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning.”
How does David respond to adversity and the realization that he is no longer the fair-haired boy in the favor of the court? What do you do when you are an exile from what you once enjoyed?
Without overwhelming guilt he shoulders the responsibility of their deaths. He refuses to allow fear to rule his life. Unlike Saul who chose to live and die in fear and anger David chose trust in the goodness of God. He accepts that there is no more complete freedom for him because he is now responsible for people. He has commitments and obligations that will tie him down for the rest of his life. He has set the pattern of his own leadership – his commitment to take care of people for generations, especially the weak. Look at his treatment of Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Saul. He was committed to those who disappointed him and disagreed with him and stayed true even to those who betrayed him.
It’s the hinge point in his life – and often the hinge point in ours. There are things we don’t choose and while that may be the end of a charmed life it is the beginning of true courage.