WORKING ON THE HILL: Moving From Adversity To Aspiration On Capitol Hill

By Bret Bernhardt

Bret Bernhardt, former chief of staff for senators Don Nickles and Jim DeMint.

Moving from adversity to aspiration may seem like a matter of national policy, especially now, but it is just as relevant to us personally as we work on Capitol Hill.

These two “A’s” can serve to unite a nation, yet they can also help us individually to overcome personal trials. I can think of no better time to explore what this means than now.

Throughout American history, adversity has served to bring us together as a nation, and not just the United States, but other countries as well. Look no further than wars, disasters, and catastrophes.

In them, we have witnessed great examples of unity as we collectively sought to overcome the adverse conditions facing us. True, the same adverse conditions can drive us apart as well. But thankfully, it has more often than not served as the catalyst for remarkable seasons of clarity and uncharacteristic agreement.

Similarly, aspiration also serves to bring us together as we aspire to something that is bigger than ourselves. Envision two climbers approaching a peak from opposite sides of the mountain. They reach the same destination because they aspired to the same objective.

This principle is at work: We come together either through adverse conditions and, by necessity, are required to unite for our very survival, or in the absence of, or in spite of adverse conditions, we work together as we seek a shared vision.

On a personal level, we each face obstacles in which we choose to either allow them to make us better or get the better of us. Likewise, we aspire to ideals, hopes, and visions of what life can be as we make our way past the adverse circumstances.

“Aspiration also serves to bring us together as we aspire to something that is bigger than ourselves.”

This is instructive in light of the current pandemic which challenges us both on a national and personal level.  Like nowhere else, these two factors impact Capitol Hill where we face both the personal challenges posed by the crisis and as we work together seeking the solution as a nation to overcome it.

As we work, it is important that we move intentionally from an adverse state to an aspirational one. It’s understood by anyone who has faced trials and difficulties that living in an adverse state is draining and unsustainable.

Before long, we can no longer draw energy from the constant adversity, but must move to an aspirational state if we are to survive and thrive. As you navigate the next several months, this transition to an aspirational state will be your challenge.

To illustrate how adversity and aspiration work, looking at a physical principle is helpful. Imagine two forces, one is a repelling force, the other a compelling one.

Think of adversity as a repelling force, something from which you want to flee. The energy you draw from it is pushing you away and fuels your actions and reactions to it. But it is a force thrust upon you and not by choice.

Now, look at aspiration as a compelling force. Rather than being repelled, you are drawn to it and its energy sustains you until you’ve reached your objective.

“Think of adversity as a repelling force, something from which you want to flee.”

Much better that we are compelled to something rather than repelled from it. Thus, aspiration is the optimum of these two forces.

This global health crisis is an adversity that can serve to propel us together or tear us apart. But we can’t exist in this adverse state for long. We must move into aspiration to carry us the full way through.

We see this movement from adversity to aspiration throughout the Scriptures. Take the example of Elijah. His personal transition from adversity to aspiration parallels the situation facing the nation of Israel.

Both were threatened by wicked rulers and the Lord sent Elijah to turn the course of his people.  In the story, we find both a personal and corporate example of how God uses adversity and aspiration to accomplish His will.

Elijah had just come off a glorious high by defeating the prophets of Baal and putting King Ahab on the run.  The King’s wife, Jezebel, then vowed to kill Elijah. Instead of standing in the obvious anointing of the Lord, Elijah fled in fear.

He escaped into the wilderness for survival where he was so despondent that he asked the Lord to take his life. He was facing tremendous adversity. But it was this adversity that drove him into the wilderness where he found the comfort and direction of the Lord.

And then the Lord moved into aspirational mode. He asked Elijah, “what are you doing here?” A question we may ask as we toil in the halls of Congress.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by” (1 Kings 19:11). Then after a great and powerful wind, an earthquake, and a fire, the Lord finally showed himself as a gentle whisper.

“The inspiring stories of these men and women who have gone before us give us hope that we, too, can aspire to greater things beyond our current circumstances.”

In this gentle whisper, the Lord spoke his vision for both Elijah and the nation of Israel. This was the aspiration Elijah needed to rescue not only the nation but himself as well.

Where are you drawing your strength to overcome adversity and move into aspiration? This is important, not just for yourself but also in the role you play in putting our nation on an aspirational path.

Look again to the biblical stories of men and women confronting adversity and allowing it to propel them into God’s aspiration.

With Ruth, an entire book is dedicated to her heroic journey from the adversity of being widowed to the aspirational call of God by declaring to her mother-in-law, “Where you go, I will go … and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16-17).

Peter allows the adversity of his denial of Christ to thrust him back into the Lord’s presence where he is restored and given the aspiration for his world-changing ministry.

The inspiring stories of these men and women who have gone before us give us hope that we, too, can aspire to greater things beyond our current circumstances.

As you move from adversity to aspiration, use these examples in the scriptures, as well as those in history — Churchill, Lincoln, etc. — to give you a roadmap for the way forward. As you do, you will see the Lord honor your desire to aspire to His plan and vision for your life and His people.

Bret Bernhardt served on the Hill as chief of staff to senators Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina. He is now a member of the board of directors of Faith & Law and the Conservative Partnership Institute.




Author: Mark Tapscott

Follower of Christ, devoted husband of Claudia, doting father and grandfather, conservative lover of liberty, journalist and First Amendment fanatic, former Hill and Reagan aide, vintage Formula Ford racer, Okie by birth/Texan by blood/proud of both, resident of Maryland. Go here: