The Resilience of Dying

I am not known for being an optimist.  But when I think back to my expectations before I moved here, I can only smile (and sigh) at my innocent optimism.  I had lived overseas before, so I thought I knew what I was getting into.  I knew it would be hard.  I knew it would be harder than I expected.  But I had no idea how incredibly hard it would be.

I have a pretty strong will and don’t give up easily.  But in the last year and a half, as challenges have piled up on every hand, it has been too much for my tenacity.  Over and over I have come to the point of thinking, “I give up.  I can’t do this anymore.”  I’ve begun a mental search for the easiest way out.

Determination and stubbornness do not equal true resilience.

Life is hard for the people around me. Relatives and friends die often. Marriages and families are usually in shambles.  Some face real poverty and hunger. But they seem resilient.

A young mother mourning the loss of her one-year-old baby is told, after just a few days, to get over it—her heart is healed now.

A little girl whose mother died, and whose father deserted her, works hard for the family that has taken her in. A smile sent her way is sure to bring a big bright grin in response.

Women joke about their husbands taking a second wife, making light of their fears for the future or their already-realized pain.

With their friendly cheerfulness and seeming acceptance of the fact that life is hard, these women appear strong and resilient. But I don’t have to sit with them, laugh and listen with them, very long before they peel back the thin outer layer of their souls and reveal broken hearts festering with bitterness and anger.

Ignoring or making light of life’s difficulties and suppressing heart’s emotions do not equal true resilience.

A week or two before I began my first saga overseas, I heard a message on John 12:24. My mom knew that it really spoke to me, so she made a laminated print of the verse for me to take along—plain black script over a picture of golden grain ready to harvest. That print has been an important part of each of the many places I’ve called home since then (except a couple where putting anything on the walls wasn’t an option), and that verse has become a sort of life motto to me.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”

What greater example of resilience can there be than thatLife springing out of death?

There is One who has walked the path of death before me. His touch, the touch of the One who redeems, robbed death of its terror. His touch transformed death, the end of life, into death, the gateway to life.

Not long ago I was again at the end of my rope. I was lying on my bed, tissue in hand, trying to wrestle my way to the top of my emotions so that I could catch my breath and begin to sort them out.

Then my eyes fell on that verse on my wall, and the whole situation snapped into perspective with startling clarity. I had been knocked “into the ground,” so to speak. I was writhing in the muck, trying to crawl out so that I could go on with life, go on and produce.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and can climb back out again….”?

No. That’s not what Jesus says.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”

Die.

Surrender to pain, to loneliness, to being dismantled. Surrender to the work of the Master Farmer.

Let go of my rights, my plans, my desires. Let Him take control.

Give up my identity, my reputation, my comfort. Give them into His hands.

Say, “I can’t do it anymore,” cast myself into the arms of the cold dark earth, and breathe my last prideful, independent breath.  Alone.

But not alone. Because those arms are actually the tender arms of my loving Father, and into the surrender, the giving up, the dying, He breathes the spark of His own divine life.  In the silence, in the darkness, new life begins to stir. Slowly, it may be, but surely, new roots reach down, new leaves reach up. And the end result is a harvest of grain.

This isn’t something that I did once and now I’m set for the rest of my life. The apostle Paul said, “I die daily.”

Resilience is embracing the hardships, the obstacles, the deaths, that assail me every day. Surrendering to them. Or rather, surrendering to the One who presides over them.

Resilience is dying.

Daily.

There is no weapon stronger than death. The enemies of my soul may fight me to the death, but they can fight no further. In death, I conquer. In death, we conquer.

No, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

How have you experienced the resilience of dying?

12 Comments

  1. Sarita June 7, 2017

    This was so good Michelle, such a necessary reminder of what can be built out of dying. I wrote about this a few years ago, on this same verse while living in Uganda. I thought you might resonate. Thanks for doing the hard work. Thanks for not giving up. http://www.saritahartz.com/how-to-die/

    1. Michelle S June 8, 2017

      Thank you for sharing your story via the link, Sarita! I love how God faithfully teaches each of us these lessons, at different times, in different ways, usually over and over again. He’s such a gentle, patient Teacher!

  2. Joyce June 8, 2017

    Thanks, Michelle, for sharing in a beautifully written way. This really touched my heart and showed again what God is teaching me– to die to my dreams and desires and expectations, that fruit will come forth– to His glory, but in the process I will (and am) knowing Him in a deeper way. I’m in the midst of re-entry transition, three years back in the USA after 30+ years in East Asia, and once again learning in different ways what giving up and dying really means.

    1. Michelle S June 9, 2017

      So true. I think perhaps one of the richest fruits of dying is the deeper knowledge of Him that results.

      30+ years in Asia…I wish I could sit at your feet and learn from your wisdom and experience! Praying for you as you continue to navigate the path of re-entry.

      1. Joyce June 9, 2017

        Oh, Michelle, not sitting at my feet, but by my side and sharing our stories. I am learning from you, too! Let us press on!

  3. M'Lynn June 11, 2017

    Honestly, this hit my inbox and I was not in the mood to read something with such a deep title as “The Resilience of Dying.” I’m so glad I tiptoed over here today to read this. So good! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Michelle S June 12, 2017

      God bless you today, M’Lynn, with strength and courage to embrace whatever the things are in your life right now that require resilience!

  4. Shelly June 13, 2017

    “Resilience is embracing the hardships, the obstacles, the deaths, that assail me every day. …[and] surrendering to the One who presides over them.”

    I have been thinking about the role of death in life as spring burst forth this year. The beautiful, colorful blossoms gave way to the summer leaves of the trees and bushes. They had to die to make way for the next season of growth. Death must give way to life – always. And all of this is under the sovereign care of God. THAT encourages and strengthens me in the midst of the sorrows and afflictions of my life and those I journey alongside.

    Thank you for sharing with us.

    1. Michelle S June 13, 2017

      “Death must give way to life – always.” That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts….I love the vivid pictures God gives us in nature of this principle of life out of death.

  5. Tess June 13, 2017

    LOVE this! What you write about a daily dying and surrender is so true. I have been musing upon similar things lately, as our family journeys through a season of particular stress right now. In trials, I know I tend to just want out, any kind of escape route whether physical or emotional, but I’m (slowly!) learning to see that the Lord has a purpose for us in those times of darkness and difficulty…He is teaching me to have the humility to surrender and submit to ‘death’ each day. I particularly appreciate how you bring out that we’re NOT alone as we do so, much as we can feel that way, but that we are falling into the Father’s arms. Thinking about that tiny seed sprouting in the darkness into something vibrant and life-giving is so encouraging to me…makes me think of these words from Isaiah 45: “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

    1. Michelle S June 16, 2017

      Such a precious verse–thank you for sharing it! Praying for you and your family during this stressful season.

      1. Tess June 16, 2017

        Thanks Michelle!

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