When Your True Self Shows

When hard times come, the true self shows! The River of Doubtis Candice Millard's fascinating account of Theodore Roosevelt's dangerous journey into the Brazilian rain forest. Following his failed bid for a third presidential term in 1912, Roosevelt teamed with Brazilian explorer Colonel Cândido Rondon to descend the uncharted River of Doubt. Their team met incredible hardships during the five-month expedition. Malaria was rampant. Hunger pains were constant. The rain was unrelenting. The jungle was a cauldron of threats: Indian attacks, alligators, poisonous snakes, unseen predators, and the incessant barrage of insects of every kind. One man drowned; another was murdered. Roosevelt himself almost died from disease and infection.

Hardships reveal character! Millard weaves the words of Roosevelt's son, Kermit, with her own assessment of the impact of persistent challenges:

The accumulation of disease, hunger, exhaustion, and fear had begun to wear the men down, and their true selves were starting to show through. 'There is a universal saying to the effect that it is when men are off in the wilds that they show themselves as they really are,' Kermit wrote. 'As in the case with the majority of proverbs there is much truth in it, for without the minor comforts of life to smooth things down . . . the inner man has an unusual opportunity of showing himself--and he is not always attractive.

A man may be a pleasant companion when you always meet him clad in dry clothes, and certain of substantial meals at regular intervals, but the same cheery individual may seem a very different person when you are both on half rations, eaten cold, and have been drenched for three days--sleeping from utter exhaustion, cramped and wet.1

Unlike some of his companions, Roosevelt's "true self" was one of generosity and steely resolve. Read the book and you will discover that the former president never expected privileged treatment, not even when his own life was at stake. The Greeks had a term for the tempered tenacity of this kind: HUPOMONE. The word conveys the steadfast spirit that keeps one going in the midst of the toughest challenges.2James tells us that kind of staying power is just what God wants to produce in you and me.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (HUPOMONE). And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:2-5 ESV)

One need not be traversing an uncharted river in the Amazon rain forest to be "off in the wilds." There is plenty of mean country in the city. The office can be a jungle, the university a spiritual desert, and even the home can become a lonely wilderness at times. It is in these unintended safaris that the true self shows. But we must also remember that our good God is using the challenges we face to produce the staying power we need to see us through to the end of our journey.


1Millard, Candice. 2005. The River Of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey. New York: Broadway Books. Page 252.

2You can read more about HUPOMONE by clicking here.