Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: On Surviving Defeat

In his monumental book titled PETER THE GREAT, Robert K. Massie gives a thumbnail sketch of European monarchs who were contemporaries of Peter the Great, one of the first Tsars of Russia, who reigned from 1682 through 1725. Concerning William of Orange, who later became King of England, Massie wrote, "William's talent lay not in winning battles -- he was frequently beaten -- but in surviving defeat." Strange but important strength in life.

When Louis XIV of France was on the verge of crushing Holland, it was to the House of Orange that the Hollanders instinctively turned. The French Army was a day's march from Amsterdam, as they moved like a steamroller over the Dutch Army. The diminutive William of Orange, who seemed indifferent to fatigue and oblivious to fear, ordered the most unthinkable solution to the menacing approach of the enemy. He ordered the dikes cut and Amsterdam became an island, at which the powerful French Army could only look in frustration. The French had no boats with which to achieve the victory that was almost within reach. William did not win the battle but he saved Amsterdam, and lived to fight another day.

Our greatest achievement may never be measured by the waving of flags on a day of decisive victory; however, greatness can emerge from the resolute courage of those who, like that Calvinist General from the House of Orange, know how to achieve victory by surviving defeat. Only in fairy tales is the struggle to survive reduced to one decisive winner-take-all battle. In real life there are snipers, skirmishes, and rear-guard actions. There are times of discouragement and just plain weariness in life in which we long for one decisive head-on battle. We just want to get it settled once and for all. But seldom does it work out like that. As long as you live, trouble will turn up in a moment of weakness or a state of confusion, trying to wear you out. We see people every day who are managing some slow-moving tragedy which never culminates in a decisive winner-take-all battle. There are debilitating illnesses, family problems, job loss, children who bring home a load of trouble and endless unanticipated difficulties. Add your current problem to the list. The list is endless. The final victory goes to those who can survive nagging skirmishes, indecisive battles, and occasional defeat, and live to fight another day.

When I was growing up in rural South Alabama during the Great Depression there was an outbreak of hog cholera in our community. One Saturday afternoon several farmers were sitting around the country store discussing the problem. There was one farmer who seemed to have had more experience than the others, so they turned to him for advice about what to expect when their hogs got sick. He thought for a moment and then made this interesting observation: "Hit appears that them what gits it and lingers for a few days do better than them what gits it and dies right off." Life is like that. Victory belongs to those who can hang on a little longer and live to fight another day.

Retreat, rest and reconsider your options. Cut the dikes and flood the area around you. Do whatever it takes. Say your prayers, do the best you can, and trust God to help you survive to fight another day.