Our grand business – undoubtedly

By Dave Henning / March 31, 2021

“Our grand business undoubtedly is, not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”- Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian

In his Introduction (“Day-Tight Compartments”) to Win the Day: 7 Daily Habits to Help you Stress Less and Accomplish More, Mark Batterson relates the story of William Osler.  Back in 1871, the twenty-one-year-old medical student read the above Thomas Carlyle quote.  And it changed the trajectory of his life.

At that time, Osler neared a nervous breakdown, almost buckling under the pressure of final exams and starting a medical practice.  Yet, those words of Thomas Carlyle propelled William to achieve status as the most famous medical doctor of his generation.  For example, he organized the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.  Sir William also wrote the predominant medical textbook of his era: The Principles and Practice of Medicine.

Therefore, Dr. Osler put his fingerprint on the words of Thomas Carlyle.  In an address he delivered to Yale University students on April 20, 1913, Osler used maritime machinery as a metaphor.  He urged them to:

” . . . live with ‘day-tight compartments.’  Touch a button and hear, at every level of your life, the iron doors shutting out the Past – the dead yesterdays.  Touch another and shut off, with a metal curtain, the Future — the unborn to-morrows.”

However, Pastor Batterson observes, past things paralyze us – things we cannot change.  In addition, the future cripples us – things we cannot control.  Hence, Mark exhorts, focus on inputs rather than outcomes.  Because yesterday is history, while tomorrow is a mystery.  So, when you win the present day, the next day then takes care of itself.  Also, when you do that enough days in a row, it’s possible to accomplish almost anything.

Lastly, Mark asks you to think about this question.  But, it doesn’t refer to how long your heart’s been pumping blood:

“How long have you lived?  I mean really lived?  It’s easy calculating age.  It’s more difficult quantifying life?  Why?  Because time is measured in minutes while life is measured in moments.” (emphasis Mark’s)

Today’s question: Do you embrace Carlyle’s quote about our grand business?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Eternity is counterclockwise”

About the author

Dave Henning

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