One of the most inspiring things I find in the life of William Wilberforce is his attitude of gratitude, something that enabled him to remain cheerful and to worship God despite numerous setbacks and tragedies.
I’ve heard life be described as one series of losses after another, with the key element being how we cope with those losses. On this basis Wilberforce has much to teach us.
Throughout most of his life he suffered from ill health. As a boy he was often ill, and it was only as a young man he experienced a few years of good health. From the age of 21 onwards his eye sight started failing. But it was from the age of 29 that he began suffering from ulcerative colitis, a debilitating condition that made him frequently ill and suffer stomach discomfort for the rest of his life. Later on his spine started to curve, and he needed to wear a painful brace to try to keep his back straight. Wilberforce definitely knew what it meant to lose his health and live a life filled with physical pain, yet he still remained cheerful, and grateful for the health he did enjoy.
He had a happy marriage and family life, with six children; four boys and two girls, but both girls died when they were young. Wilberforce had to miss his eldest daughter’s funeral due to ill health; his family were afraid that attending the ceremony in a cold and damp church could kill him too. After the hearse left the house, bearing his daughter to her grave, and with all the rest of his family and friends going to the church, Wilberforce sat down alone and made a list of all the reasons he had to be grateful. He knew the loss of loved ones, even losing two of his own children, yet still chose gratitude as his response.
Then towards the end of his life, he lost his fortune. This man who was once so rich as to own several properties ended up selling them all, to bail out his eldest son and save him from bankruptcy. The last years of his life were spent by him and his wife shuttling back and forth from staying with two of his sons who were now clergymen. Through it all, he remained grateful.
Wilberforce on Losing His Fortune
The loss incurred has been so heavy as to compel me to descend from my present level, and greatly to diminish my establishment. But I am bound to recognize in this dispensation the gracious mitigation of the severity of the stroke. It was not suffered to take place till all my children were educated, and nearly all of them placed out in one way or another; and by the delay, Mrs Wilberforce and I are supplied with a delightful asylum under the roofs of two of our own children. And what better could we desire? A kind Providence has enabled me with truth to adopt the declaration of David, that goodness and mercy have followed me all my days. And now, when the cup presented to me has some bitter ingredients, yet surely no draught can be deemed distasteful which comes from such a hand, and contains such grateful infusions as those of social intercourse and the sweet endearments of filial gratitude and affection.
Gratitude has been described as the greatest weapon we have against Satan. By always choosing it, we constantly defeat his plans for destroying our souls. Where do you need to practice an attitude of gratitude like Wilberforce?
Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s an experienced leadership trainer, author of biographies on John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and is also passionate about praying for London. He enjoys good films, good food, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markonerock.