At the start of the 20th Century, Alfred Adler suggested the counterintuitive Theory of Compensation. His thesis was that disadvantages can often work to our advantage because they develop within us attitudes, strengths and abilities that would otherwise not appear. His theory was that as we compensate for those disadvantages we discover our greatest gifts.
Adler studied Art students and discovered that 70% of those he observed had some form of optivcal anomaly. He cited Mozart and Beethoven as two among a number of history’s great composers who had degenerative traces in their ears.
More current writers such as Malcolm Gladwell and Matthew Syed of spoken of similar findings. Ethiopia continually produces world class long distance runners and it has been clearly documented that a large part of the reason for this is what we might term their ‘disadvantaged environment.’
Due to the poverty they experience reducing the lack of travel options open to them and then the environmental conditions of the region, people run a lot and develop breathing patterns and capacities to do so.
Some years ago it was discovered that British number one table tennis player Desmond Douglas had the fastest reactions of all professional table tennis players at that time. The reason? As he was learning the game the only place he could practice, which he did for thousands of hours was a garage. The confined space of that garage meant he developed super fast reactions in order to get back balls that were hit at pace towards him.
In these examples and many others success was achieved not in spite of the disadvantage but because of it.
David and Goliath
When David requests to take on the Philistine Champion Goliath in one of the Bible’s most famous stories everything we think leads us to believe he’s at a disadvantage. His weaponry is not as technical, he has no armour, in fact he is unable to wear armour, it’s just too heavy for him. He’s a teenager, Goliath is a seasoned champion, he’s a shepherd and a lunch carrier for his brothers, Goliath is a champion.
But David has one thing in his favour, something he never thought of has being in his favour. He had the lonely task of remote shepherding in dangerous places. This experience and I am sure the fear of wild animals had meant he was an expert sling shot.
He was never going to need to engage Goliath. Goliath would be dead well before he got anywhere near to David. David’s disadvantage was the reason he was successful against the giant because it developed in him the very skills and qualities he would need.
So often the things that we perceive as disadvantages we. try to change.
What if, the circumstances we are trying to change are the very circumstances God is using to change us?
I love what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
I know that in the midst of trouble or carrying a ‘disadvantage’ it can be hard to see, but God is sovereign and God is good! Even if he didn’t send it, he will use it.