Built to Last

There are things we learn later in life that we wish we would have known sooner. Disappointing? Maybe, but some things are better learnt now than never.

I hadn’t seen or even known this prayer written by General Douglas MacArthur existed until earlier this year. In it, MacArthur requests the things he desires for his son. It’s a short read that I am including here.

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee—and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.

Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high, a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength.

Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, ‘I have not lived in vain.’

Source: New York Times archive

Take a moment to reread the prayer one more time. You might think that a successulf father would wish for his son to be just as successful, if not more so. Perhaps he would wish for his son to have a successful career, to hold a powerful position of influence, to make enough money to live a comfortable life.

MacArthur’s prayer mentions none of these things. He prays that his son will possess the traits that make him be a person of strong, exemplary character.

MacArthur was aware that a successful career, a position of power, money, health, the opinion of others, that all things that are out of one’s control. They can be granted or taken away from one in a moment’s notice. One’s character, on the other hand, defines a person. It is an integral part of who a person is. If one invests the time and effort to build and maintain it properly, it becomes a foundation for one’s life that can stand the test of the time.

Here’s a look at most, but not all, of the characteristics he prays for:

  • Having the awareness to recognize his faults and weaknesses
  • Being gracious in defeat, humble in victory
  • Demonstrating strength of character through actions over words
  • Pursuing knowledge of self as the cornerstone to building wisdom
  • Accepting the challenges life presents to test and strengthen character rather than choosing the easy path through life
  • Dealing honestly with others and desiring to master self before attempting to master and instruct others
  • Possessing the ability to dream about the future and to learn from the past
  • Remembering to never take one’s self too seriously
  • Recognizing that true greatness exists in simplicity, that true wisdom requires an open mind, and that true strength requires a gentle, humble spirit

It’s a prayer I wish I would have read long before I had children. It so succinctly states what we should all wish for our children – not that they will be immensely successful by others’, or society’s standards, but that they will live a life of good character that is timeless, that is built last. And if we, as parents, are able to achieve this with our children, then we may also dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.’

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