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 that? Life 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.”
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.
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?