I have just finished reading, Gifted Hands, the autobiography of Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon of some medical fame at John Hopkins Hospital. Authored in 1990, the book is a fascinating read of an Afroamerican boy who, along with his brother, during the 1950s and 1960s in Detroit, was raised by a single mother. Despite her own lack of education and the disadvantaged life situation of her boys, Sonya Carson had the common sense and commitment to believe that education was important and that her boys could achieve great things. Ben’s brother Curtis became a successful engineer, and Ben himself rose to world-class prominence in the medical field.
The story of Ben Carson demonstrates so well the power of biographical writing. Time and again I have been deeply inspired by this type of literature and Carson’s book is no exception. With the help of Cecil Murphey, the book is written in a style that attracts continuous attention to its very end. It is the candid expression of a person whose difficult start in life contributed to magnified temptations of a need for attention in his teen-age years. But by the persistent encouragement of a loving mother, the genuine commitment of some amazing teachers, and the grace of God, Ben Carson learned to prevail.
There are a number of things that stuck with me as I read this amazing story of God’s redeeming grace:
- One of the outstanding tributes of Ben Carson’s life is the significant influence of his mother’s love and faith. Though she only had a Grade 3 education herself, and had to work hard at menial tasks to “make ends meet” for her boys, she recognized the importance of commitment to that which is truly good and how to achieve it. Carson rightfully gives a great deal of credit to his mother for her consistent teaching of virtuous values.
- It is a significant feature of Ben Carson’s life that he makes much out of the importance of his personal Christian faith. Through the love and concern of people in the Seventh Day Adventist part of the church, Ben’s mother came to experience a great deal of help and support in what she was seeking to achieve for her boys. She came to personal faith in Christ and passed that faith on to her sons. In the book, Ben writes often of the importance of his personal faith, of the church, and his need for God’s help in his studies and his work of neurosurgery. He also writes often of instances of God’s miraculous intervention and supernatural guidance in his life.
- One can’t help but be inspired by this ordinary boy’s desire, despite some relapses and set-backs, to achieve excellence in his studies and influence. Though beset by common temptations by which he might be accepted among his peers, in the end he managed to see beyond the negative influences that often dog the hearts and minds of young people. Perhaps again, it was his mother’s influence that helped him realize that peer pressure was inclined to produce a kind of mirage regarding true value. Instead, in the end, he aspired to better values by choosing friendships and influences that weren’t necessarily the most popular among his peers.
- I also was inspired by the fact that Ben Carson became an insatiable learner — especially in areas in which he recognized that God had gifted him. Once having decided that he was destined to be a doctor he gave himself to acquiring knowledge in the field of medicine and especially in neurosurgery as that interest developed. Carson was an avid reader who developed a knack for the kind of diligent research that would benefit his life and work.
- Ben Carson became successful partly because of a very strong work ethic — something also attributable, no doubt, to his mother’s influence. I enjoyed reading about how he “rose to the top” not only in his school work, but also in his summer jobs — because of his commitment to work with diligence and integrity. In the end, his work as a neurosurgeon demanded that he spent long hours in actual surgery, not to mention routinely being at work in the hospital for 12 or more hours each day. In the end, he confesses to a need for more balance in order to spend time with his wife and family, and to pay attention to other responsibilities.
- One of the applications to professional leadership in church ministry, of special interest to me, is the commitment of Carson and the medical people of his ilk to work in team relationship in preparation and the execution of any particular surgical procedure. Carson stresses that there really is no place for lone rangers in this kind of endeavour. Evidently, a great deal of time, is given to communication and conferencing. Though he alluded to exceptions to this principle in actual practice, I liked the fact that Carson valued everyone on the hospital staff and accordingly related to them as real people.
- For all of his achievements, Ben Carson exudes an amazing sense of humility in the way he writes about himself and his accomplishments. No doubt, this is due to his obvious sense of dependence upon God for all that he is and does. But it’s important to point out that this sense of humility is not a self-depreciating kind of attitude. In fact, alongside or within this expression of humility, there exists in Carson a strong sense of confidence. “I’m a good neurosurgeon,” he writes, “That’s not a boast but a way of acknowledging the innate ability God has given to me. Beginning with determination and using my gifted hands I went on for training and sharpening of my skills.”
It is true that autobiography never really tells the whole story because of the personal perspective expressed. And, no doubt, that’s true in this case. No doubt also, there is much in the life of Dr. Ben Carson that is not disclosed in this account. Little, for example, is written about his own family life and any difficulties that may have emerged in that sphere because of his work. As it is we are left with the impression that his marriage and family life, as well as the other aspects of his life, were very satisfying. Regardless of any deficiencies in the account, one can’t help but be inspired by the amazing ways of God in the life of one of my own contemporaries in a very noble field of human enterprise.