As pressure builds on convictional Christians to compromise and cede truth for the elusive ideal of community solidarity or unity, an instructive lesson from the life of Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, might be instructive.

Born into a Lutheran family in Springfield, Massachusetts, Geisel graduated from Dartmouth College and then headed over to Oxford to study English. Only he did more doodling and drawing than taking notes during his classes, one of which was taught by the great J.R.R. Tolkien. At the prodding of his wife, uninspired and realizing he was more of an illustrator than a future English professor, Geisel exited the school before graduating.

Arriving back in the United States, Geisel began submitting artwork to various publications. He sold his first cartoon to the Saturday Evening Post. Still struggling financially, the artist took a position drawing ads for a bug spray company, which was owned by the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. Serving as an illustrator in the advertising department, Geisel began turning out whimsical drawings that would be a foretaste of his style that would one day yield sales of over 600 million children’s books.

Successful but still somewhat discontent, Geisel was eager to freelance and produce more sophisticated art beyond his 9-5 gig. Only his contract with Standard Oil prohibited him from venturing off into other genres – except for children’s literature. So, that’s where he began investing his creatives juices in his free time.

“And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street,” his first book, was turned down by 27 publishers before it was published in 1937.

Other books underperformed, until Houghton Mifflin approached him and asked if he could create a children’s book for first graders using only 250 words. He accepted the challenge and used just 236.

The “Cat in the Hat” continues to sell hundreds of thousands of copies each year.

If not for the limitations put on Geisel – first by his primary employer, and then by a publisher – it’s unlikely “Dr. Seuss” would ever have produced the 66 classic books we all know about today.

Sadly though, Theodor Geisel didn’t seem to appreciate the power of boundaries, and a failure of self-discipline would lead to an unprecedented personal tragedy.

Helen Palmer, Geisel’s wife of 40 years, and his longtime editor and fellow creative, discovered that her husband was having an affair with a neighbor’s wife. Devastated, Helen committed suicide, leaving behind this note:

Dear Ted, What has happened to us? I don’t know. I feel myself in a spiral, going down down down, into a black hole from which there is no escape, no brightness. And loud in my ears from every side I hear, ‘failure, failure, failure…’ I love you so much … I am too old and enmeshed in everything you do and are, that I cannot conceive of life without you … My going will leave quite a rumor, but you can say I was overworked and overwrought. Your reputation with your friends and fans will not be harmed … Sometimes think of the fun we had all thru the years.

Just eight months later, Theodor would go on to marry Audrey Dimond, the woman with whom he was having the affair. Audrey became a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood, reportedly funneling significant dollars from the Dr. Seuss fortune to abortion activism.

 The Lord sometimes lovingly puts limitations and restrictions on His people, and always for our own good. We may think we know what we want – but He will often close doors, and it’s only the fool who forces them open outside of His will.

“Enter by the narrow gate,” taught Jesus. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).

The creative, complicated and tragic arc of Dr. Seuss’ life is a reminder to trust God’s hand on your life, allow Him to guide you in directions you may not otherwise have gone – and embrace and celebrate the prohibitions and parameters placed upon us for our own safety and for His glory.


Image from Getty.