More White than Black
J. R. Miller, 1905
A little story-poem tells of a shepherd-boy leading his sheep through a valley, when a stranger, meeting him, looked over his flock and said, "I see you have more white sheep than black." "Yes," answered the boy, "it is always so." It is always so with sheep. In every flock there are many more white ones than black. Then we may take a wider view, and we shall find that everywhere in life—there is more white than black.
It is so in nature. There are some desert spots on the earth—but, on the other hand, we may think of the broad fertile fields which spread out everywhere. Much, too, of what we call desert is really rich in its possibilities of fertility and culture, needing only the bringing to it of the water from the mountains overshadowing it—to change it into garden beauty. Then even irreclaimable deserts have their compensations. They are not altogether useless. Sahara seems a blot on the face of the earth—but it makes Southern Europe what it is, with its semi-tropical climate and productions, while but for the desert—it would be, in its long winters and its cold, like other countries at the same parallels. There is more white than black in nature.
It is so in the matter of human conditions. There are some afflicted people in every community. There are those who seem unfortunate in their circumstances. There are homes with sorrow in them, with empty chairs and vacant places, and with memorials of sore losses. There are sad hearts and lonely people in every community. But the number of sorrowing and grieving ones—is far exceeded by the great multitude of those who are happy. There are more songs than wails. There is more laughter than weeping—more white than black.
There always are many sick, crippled, blind, and suffering ones in any neighborhood. There are hospitals, always filled. Physicians are kept busy going their rounds. But the proportion of the sick and suffering, to the well and strong—is very small. For one home with its illness—there are many with bounding health. The great majority of people are well, active, and strong. There are some cloudy or rainy days—but there are far more days of sunshine and blue skies.
But there are people who take no note of any, but dark days. They keep a weather record—but enter in it only the disagreeable features, the excessive heat or the excessive cold, the rain, the snow, the thunder-storm, the high humidity, the drought. Every year must have its unpleasant days—but for every one of these—it brings us many days of comfort and delight.
In every individual life, too, there is more white than black. Some people are unwilling to confess that it is so with them. They seem unhappy if they have nothing to speak of—that makes an appeal for sympathy. They are never heard saying in genuine gladness, that they are perfectly well. They must always tell you of some ailment, some suffering, some drawback. They are pessimistic concerning their own lives. They magnify their troubles. They think that the evil days are more in number than the good days; that there is more cloud than blue sky in their lives, that they have more sorrow than joy.
But this is never true. The list of mercies in any life, if added up through the years, would make a measureless total; while the sad and painful things would make a very small list. One tells of keeping a two-column account: on one side—all the trials, losses, disappointments, sufferings; on the other side—all the joys, benefits, favors, pleasures, mercies, kindnesses; and the bright column grew until there was no room to set down the items, while in the dark column there were but a few painful things noted. It is always so. There is more white than black.
Even our few dark days have their mission and bring their blessing. All sunshine would be the bane of the fields. If no clouds ever gathered, if it never rained, what would become of the trees, the grasses, the growing grain. Nature needs rain. If there were no cloudy days in our experience, if no showers ever fell—our lives would not reach their best. The dark days come to us—on friendly errands.
We must not think we are losing time, when we are called apart from activity to rest shut up in a sick-room. Work is not the only way of pleasing God. Activity is not the only duty of our lives in this world. We have lessons to learn, as well as things to do. Some day we shall learn that many of our best days—have been the days we thought we were losing ground—idle, wasted days. But the day that has shadow or pain or sorrow in it—may have more of heaven in it than any day that is cloudless, full of joy and pleasure.
Some of us train ourselves to see only certain things—to the exclusion of other things. Thus we each make our own world, and two people looking out from the same window—see altogether different worlds. One looks through his little pane of glass—and sees only mud; and another looks out—and sees blue sky and shining stars. The trouble with too many people—is that one little spot of darkness bulks so in their vision, that it hides a whole heavenful of light and a whole earthful of beauty! One sorrow blots out the memory of a thousand joys. One disappointment makes them forget years of fulfilled hopes.
Many people have a strangely perverted faculty of exaggerating their mole-hills of trouble into mountains; and then of looking at their blessings through diminishing lenses. A cheerful heart always finds brightness, while an unhappy spirit sees nothing but discouragement in even the most favorable conditions. One person is happy in the poorest circumstances; while another is wretched in a luxuriant home with every desire granted.
Some people never see anything to be thankful for. They may attend a service of praise on Thanksgiving Day—but they are not in a joyful mood, and not the first strain of thanksgiving rises from their hearts. They never stop complaining long enough to allow a grateful thought to nest in their hearts! They keep themselves always in such a mood of discontent, that no note of praise is ever heard from their lips! One would think, to hear them talk about their trials, that God does not love them and that no favor ever comes into their lives. Yet, really, they do not have any more than their share of human suffering, while they certainly have a full portion of blessing and good.
But this is not the way for a Christian to live. We dishonor God, when we indulge in unhappiness and refuse to be grateful! We spoil our own lives and make existence wretched for ourselves, when we insist on seeing only the black. Then we make it harder for others to live, casting the burden of our gloom upon them. We should train ourselves just as carefully and conscientiously to be thankful and songful—as we do to be truthful, honest, kind, or thoughtful.
Some people try to excuse their unhappiness—by saying that they were made that way and cannot change their disposition. They were not born with a sunny temperament, as some of their friends were. They are naturally predisposed to gloom and depression. But, even if this is true—it does not doom them forever to gloom and depression. The best Christian gladness—is conquered sadness. Christ is able to make us over again, giving us new hearts, and the new hearts. He makes are all songful hearts, full of rejoicing and gladness.
We all have our special days, when we go up to the hill-top, out of our low valleys, and get a wider vision. It is well to have such a day even occasionally—but it would be better if we should live on the hills all the time! Some people stay always down amid the mists—and never get to see a mountain-top. They never behold the sun. They never breathe the atmosphere of heaven.
A little dog, one chill autumn day, was seen to get up from where he was lying in a dark corner of a room, and go and lie down in a patch of sunshine which he saw on the floor. The dog teaches us a good lesson. There are always bright spots in even the darkest experience, and we should find them and live much in them. Yet there are too many Christians who seem to live always in the fog-banks of fear and unbelief. Then they wonder why they do not have the joy of the Lord. But the joy of the Lord never is found in such climates. We must dwell in the uplands of God—if we would know the secret of God's gladness!