Ben Franklin’s Humbling Headache

Thomas Kidd is one of my favorite authors and historians. His biography of George Whitefield is one of better biographies I have read in the last 5 years. Recently, Kidd released his newest biographical work covering the fascinating and equally perplexing spiritual life of one of the most important figures in American history: Ben Franklin.

Early in the book, Kidd references an event that played a pivotal role in Franklin’s understanding of humility and the importance of it in his life as the Lord expanded Franklin’s influence in the early years of colonial America.

The scene is set in the home of young Franklin’s mentor, Rev Cotton Mather, when he recollected a “pleasant and instructive conversation” while visiting Mather’s home.

“As I was taking my leave he accompanied me through a narrow passage at which I did not enter, and which had a beam across it lower than my head. He continued talking which occassioned me to keep my face partly towards him as I retired, when he suddenly cried out, ‘Stoop!’ ‘Stoop!’ Not immediately understanding what he meant, I hit my head hard against the beam. He then added, ‘Let this be a caution to you not always to hold your head so high; Stoop, young man, stoop- as you go through the world and you’ll miss many hard thumps.’ This was a way of hammering instruction into one’s head: And it so far effectual, that I have ever since remembered it, though I have not always been able to practice it”. (p. 22)

Mather was right. Leaders who fail to “lower their heads” in humility are bound to be caught off guard when life’s inevitable humbling takes place. It is also a caution to heed caution. Leaders must be quick to “stoop”, taking the seat at the table that no one else desires, and serving others when the rest of the room is seeking to be served. It is this ‘way of the cross’, this willingness to humble oneself, that displays the true marks of Christ-like leadership.

Matthew 12:11-12 The greatest among you shall be your servant. exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Chad Williams

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