Before he was a British politician, or an army officer, or a renowned writer, or the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Sir Winston Churchill was a prisoner of war.
On a night in 1899, the 25-year-old Churchill scaled a wall to escape the Dutch Settler prison camp in which he was detained. He persisted even after two of his fellow inmates cowered back into confinement. While others rued cold feet in their cells, Churchill held onto hope until the night he conquered that which confined him. He later said this as an exhortation to us all: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
There is a bell that echoes in the soul of every human when we reflect on stories of overcoming. It tends to ring loudest in the comfort of our homes or in the simple seasons, empowering us to believe we can all be victors. But, when times are difficult, money is tight, kids are screaming, work is overwhelming, or we are behind the bars of despair, depression, or anxiety the chiming fades to a nagging hope muted by dismal inner noise. At some point in each of our lives, we are left with the question, how do I keep going when it feels like I just can’t go anymore?
“There is a bell that echoes in the soul of every human when we reflect on stories of overcoming. But, when times are difficult, the chiming fades to a nagging hope muted by dismal inner noise.”
As much as I’d like to say I have the resilience of hope Churchill had, I relate more to those who turned back. From putting my dreams of being a Power Ranger on hold so I could quit karate class to being a four-time college dropout, it’s just too easy to cower in the heat of the moment when emotions escalate and every impulse commands to hide. I’ve been a slave in the shackles of anxiety, and a prisoner in the dark cell of depression. I’ve even teased suicidal thoughts as a viable option. I am often confined to my circumstances and trapped in hopelessness. Time and time again, when I have an opportunity to claim freedom, I turn back to imprisonment—a comfortable yet dark and malicious place.
If you’ve been there too—or maybe “there” is where you are now—take some tips from the great Winston Churchill, a man who conquered that which once confined.
Leave The Lies Behind
“Every man should ask himself each day whether he is not too readily accepting negative solutions.” Winston Churchill
Any notion of giving up or whisper of hopelessness or claim that your life is over is a lie worthy of hellfire hotter than a blister bug in a pepper patch. Give no such falsehood the opportunity to shackle you to despair. The truth is you can keep going, and you do have hope. It’s a fact proven by this very moment in which you are breathing, living, going.
We all know it can be difficult to identify every lie we tell ourselves, but it’s not impossible. When we lay our shackles before others like a counselor, therapist, doctor, pastor, or close friend, they can help us to recognize falsehood and reconcile with the truth.
As long as there is breath in your lungs, there is life to be lived. There is an opportunity. There is a possibility. There is a world beyond the cell. Learn to leave the lies behind where they belong.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill
When we are pursuing hope in a season of despair, it will serve us well to expect setbacks. This is an essential (and often forgotten) strategy when striving for victory. It’s easy to be swept up by the moment with unrealistic conclusions or fantasies of freedom before we are actually on the other side of hardship. But, if we remain sobered by reality, when others turn back or we stumble into old habits, the pain of disappointment will be more bearable and less deterring.
Expect setbacks, brace yourself for them, and move through the hardship when it inevitably comes.
Begin Scaling Your Wall
“It is wonderful what great strides can be made when there is a resolute purpose behind them.” Winston Churchill
Everyone is familiar with the concept of one-step-at-a-time progress. Yet, in our all-or-nothing habits of thinking, a simple staircase is often approached as an uphill Slip-and-Slide.
Break down your main objective into attainable goals and challenge yourself little by little. Focus not on the end goal but on the next step toward your end goal. This approach is less overwhelming and ultimately more productive. Winston Churchill didn’t leap over the wall to freedom; he climbed it. There is no need to rush progress.
Conquer What Once Confined
“Never, never, never give up.” Winston Churchill
Every potential end is quite possibly a new beginning. It will take time to move past your external situation, but whatever it is for you, the very thing that confines you is conquerable, be it work, family, friends, or a mental illness. Today, you can begin the journey to mental and emotional freedom by learning to leave the lies behind like wasted shackles, overcoming unexpected setbacks by expecting them, and scaling the wall one achievable step at a time.
Imagine the amber sun rising on Churchill’s new freedom, the crisp morning air smelling of opportunity, and the dew underfoot as he dreamed of what else he might soon accomplish. Like Sir Winston Churchill, one victorious day, you will look back on that which once confined you and chuckle as you inhale the sweet smell of freedom.