Life Lessons From Churchill

I’ve said before that one of the best reasons to read biographies is that you get a chance to learn someone’s life lessons while you are still young enough to incorporate those lessons into your own life. Let me explain more of what I mean.

Any thirty year old would quickly admit that they made some significant mistakes when they were twenty. At the same time, any forty year old would say that they know a lot more now than they did when they were 30. These life lessons are wide ranging from values to priorities to relationships to financial decisions, etc… The list is nearly endless.

A personal example. When Christine and I got married right out of college, I developed a bad attitude toward my mother-in-law. Now I know that I’m not alone in that part of the difficulty in the early years of marriage is learning to adjust to “in-laws.” But just because it is a common struggle is no excuse for bad behavior. My “in-laws” lived in Kansas City and would have loved for us to come visit them every weekend. They were used to getting the extended family (most of whom lived in K.C.) together for any and every occasion. Let’s just say that that wasn’t my idea of a good time.

At the time I thought that I was right in “not giving in” and “protecting my time and new family.” First, what a surprise that a 20 something thought he was right! Second, by the time I was in my thirties it was rather obvious to me that I was just being a selfish jerk. Or to put it more biblically, I was putting my own interests above my mother-in-law’s interests (see Philippians 2:3-4).

So now when I do pre-marital (and post marital) counseling, I try to encourage young couples to be respectful and loving and Christian toward their respective families. It’s not that they have to do everything that their “in-laws” want. That wouldn’t be smart. But what I learned is that it is good, right, biblical, and God honoring to think of others interests and not just my own, serve others even when it’s inconvenient, and always speak lovingly and respectfully to your wife’s mom and dad. When I give that advice to young couples, I’m trying to let them learn from my mistakes. I’m trying to let them learn a very practical lesson that I didn’t learn till I was much older (and in many ways am still learning today).

So I love to read biographies because it’s a way for me to be mentored by older people. It’s a way for me to learn from their mistakes and successes. In that spirit, last fall, I read Paul Johnson’s wonderful, short biography on Winston Churchill. Churchill was a very colorful man who led a rather adventurous and interesting life. There are probably hundreds of biographies that have been written about him. And I’m sure that they all have something significant to add to the conversation about this rather important man.

But one thing that I really appreciate about Johnson’s biography is the epilogue in which he lists five lessons from Churchill’s life. I think that there is a lot for us to think about and learn and apply.

5 Lessons From Winston Churchill’s Life

1. Aim high. Churchill didn’t settle for what came easily or naturally. Too often I do. I want to set lofty goals and pursue them with real vigor. I don’t want to coast through life doing what’s most comfortable.

2. There is no substitute for hard work. Johnson writes, “He worked hard at everything to the best of his ability: Parliament, administration, geopolitics and geostrategy, writing books, painting, creating an idyllic house and garden…” I would feel honored if at the end of my life someone could write about me what Johnson writes about Churchill: “Mistakes he made, constantly, but there was never anything shoddy or idle about his work.”

3. Churchill never allowed mistakes, disaster–personal or national–accidents, illnesses, unpopularity, and criticisms to get him down. I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t find excuses for why things didn’t work out. I want to be the kind of person who overcomes the obstacles that everyone faces.

4. “Churchill wasted an extraordinarily small amount of his time and emotional energy on the meannesses of life: recrimination, shifting the blame onto others, malice, revenge seeking, dirty tricks, spreading rumors, harboring grudges, waging vendettas.” It’s easy to get caught up in pettiness of life whether it is settling scores or the self-pity that comes when one realizes that someone else appears to have an easier life. Great lives avoid such traps.

5. “The absence of hatred left plenty of room for joy in Churchill’s life.” I need constant reminders that God has given me much to be joyful about.

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