Sometimes when we hear quotes of inspiring words from the past, they do not have that special WOW factor that makes us sit up and take notice. For example, the following words are attributed to Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), the grand-nephew of Nathan Hale (1755-1776), the American Revolutionary War hero executed by the British for espionage. Edward Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”[1]

We cannot sense the urgency and passion of these words unless we learn more about the context in which they were spoken. America was in the grip of a terrifying civil war that threatened to tear the great E Pluribus Unum (“out of many, one)” nation apart. Sadly, it was not Americans fighting foreign soldiers, but fellow Americans. Nevertheless, he felt so strongly about keeping the union together that he wrote the article “The Man without a Country” about a Union Army Officer named Philip Nolan who died in the war as a prisoner aboard U. S. Corvette and published by The Atlantic Monthly Magazine.

One reader named Henry Seidel Canby wrote that there are few stories charged with stronger patriotism than the narrative of a man who “loved his country as no other man has loved her.” Not many poems called forth by the intensities of our war period so well embody the strong loyalty engendered by the struggle. And there are few narratives whose last line we can say with stronger conviction. After his death, they looked in his Bible, and there was a slip of paper at the place where he had marked the text in Hebrews 11:16 “They desire a country, even heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He has prepared for them a city.” In 1903 Edward Hale became Chaplain of the United States Senate.

Too often, we fret and express regret over everything we were unable to do or that should have been done by somebody, especially in times of emergencies or dire circumstances, by our church, community, city, state, or country. Could it be they didn’t care or never took the threat seriously, especially today when watching the disintegration of law and order in our cities and eliminating all Biblical values, virtues, and ethics in our educational system, courtrooms, State and Federal legislatures, society, and news media?

But God did not design this world, so every problem would be left to one resource to solve or provide for all needs. So instead, just like the workings of a fine clock, each part, no matter how big or small, is only required to do its job to keep the correct time.

So don’t get caught up in the distress of what should have or could have been done; ask yourself, “Did I do what I was able to do?” If someone is retired and sits home all day reading the Bible and brags about how many chapters they read daily, don’t feel you’re not doing the same when you work two jobs to pay the rent and keep food on the table. I’ve heard preachers proud of spending two to four hours praying each day but won’t reveal it because they don’t have much else to do. All that matters to God is when we stand before Him on judgment day. Then, He will not ask us what we could not do but what we did with the time we had to do it.

[1] Statement published in “A Year of Beautiful Thoughts,”‎ Complied by Jeanie Ashley Bates Greenough, Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. Publishers, New York, 1902, p. 172

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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