Part III: We Are Perplexed
Four-year old Tyler looked up at his daddy and asked him, “Daddy, how did you get to be so big? I wanna be big just like you!” His dad looked down and said, “Well son, I just kept growing. You will probably be just as big as me some day.” “But Daddy, I wanna know how to grow big now. I wanna be big just like you, right now!” the child said as he stamped his foot. “All I can tell you son,” Dad smiled and said, “is that growing takes time. You just have to wait.” “Well, I’m never gonna be big then,” Tyler said. “It’s just too hard for me to wait.”
Understanding how to grow in any area of lives is hard, isn’t it? Why God created life as something that grows and particularly why he created us as growing creatures and how this growth occurs may be THE most perplexing issue we face in our spiritual lives. (The notion of growth stands stubbornly fixed even between the two opposing theologies of free will—the colossus of Calvinism and the acropolis of Arminianism!) It’s hard even for adults to wait for growth to happen in any area—physically, emotionally or spiritually. We prefer time-lapse photography to be the actual time it takes for growth to occur.
The day-in, day-out practices that have to be kept up, the totally dedicated often agonizing routines that must be maintained, and the tiny, incremental, almost imperceptible progress can be hard to accept. We prefer God to “work His spiritual magic” in one fell swoop. When some young athletes discovered that they could have “instant resilience” or “bounce-back power” in a pill, even if it was illegal and considered cheating and actually damaged their body later in life, they could not resist the instant gratification that steroids offered. Here was instant growth in pill form. Christians aren’t immune to this temptation in the spiritual realm.
It’s hard to wait while a resilient little seed germinates into a tiny embryonic seedling that starts pushing ever so slowly through the soil up toward the light and the rim of that little Styrofoam cup where a wide-eyed first grader stands anxiously staring for the hundredth time in two days. Waiting is part of the perplexity of growth and suffering and the mystery of how to remain resilient in your life. Understanding resilience is an especially perplexing issue across a wide range of academic disciplines other than theology: psychology, philosophy, environmental biology, cultural anthropology, and medicine to name just a few.
Since Christian faith must involve the whole person (heart, mind, soul, body) then our becoming resilient includes all of these areas by definition. In other words, the Way of belief in Christ inherently seeks resilience (aiming for wholeness and abundance) in every aspect of our lives and our world especially over the long haul—from first crawl to final fall. This can seem overwhelming which is the reason that this very topic of resilience is at the core of several New Testament epistles—Hebrews, 2 Corinthians, 2 Timothy, 1st & 2nd Peter among others. It was clearly on Jesus’ mind during his last moments on this earth before his death and then again after the Resurrection before his ascension.
Of course, the natural childlike inclination or immature “instant gratification” instinct says, we want this capacity for resilience now. “Teacher, why won’t my seed grow up?” “Keep watching children, a plant has to have time to germinate and grow.” And even a growing plant has its limitations—it still needs water and sunlight and good soil and lots of patient nurturing. Even “Miracle Grow” takes time! You can get a steroid injection but you still have to swing the bat. Still, we dream of being supermen and superwomen when we are children and soon discover that the world does not cooperate. Our cape doesn’t allow us to defy gravity; we can’t control objects or other people just with our minds or some magical motion from our hands.
We soon discover not only that the world is not subject to our every whim; we can’t see very much that is even in subjection to Christ! Hebrews 2:8. Perplexing indeed! What’s more, as we continue to matriculate in this “school of hard knocks” called life, we find that we get knocked down a lot more often than the times when we get to knock it out of the park. We are perplexed, as Paul says, but for some reason we don’t give up.
But, curiously Paul doesn’t go on to demystify or “unperplex” the issue and give us a defining proposition for the secret to resilience in 2nd Corinthians. Instead he simply describes a Person who remained resilient despite suffering every human adversity. Hebrews also leaves us with a bit of a mystery as to exactly how resilience is supposed to happen. There’s no success formula, no stated philosophical equation, no State fiat from a government ruler. We’re only pointed to a man named Jesus who did it, who showed us, who exhibited by his life, this resilience we crave. After all, Resurrection is, by any measure, the ultimate resilience! To use a sports metaphor, Jesus was the ultimate “come-back kid”
I recently heard a teaching psychologist say that he often described human resilience like a bouncing ball. He would illustrate his point by holding a red rubber ball out in front of a patient or a class of students and then he would let it drop in front of them. While the ball bounced back up, they could see that it never bounced back up quite as high as where it left his hands. That deficit distance he called the “coefficient of human resilience.” At least that’s one way to look at the meaning of resilience. The definition of “coefficient” is just a figure measuring the property of a substance or a numerical constant that serves as some kind of measure for a property of a substance. In our case the substance is the human psyche—heart, soul and mind. The notion of resilience is the perplexing “human property” we want to possess in our lives. It’s not that easy to get our minds around. It’s perplexing to come up with a resilience formula.
So, what is it in your life that makes up the distance whenever you try to “bounce back”? It’s downright Satanic the way we tend to distance ourselves from Jesus at this point. We say, “Yeah, but Jesus was God and I’m not God, so I can’t bounce back the way Jesus did.” I wonder, in our depressed state, if we hear how horribly anti-Christ this idea is! Why send Jesus to us if we could never live like Him, nor He (really and truly) ever be like us in every respect?
Here is the truth that we must teach: It is possible to come back from anything (even death) because Jesus did. That’s the bottom line. That’s what matters. So, are you willing to wait for God to grow you up to be like His Son, Jesus? What’s your personal resilience coefficient? What’s your “bounce back” capacity? How do you exercise your resilience muscles or get your aerobic resilience rate to a healthy level?
Because the issue of resilience has been so perplexing through the ages, lots of smart people have tried to tackle this question. Vicktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning, is perhaps the best-known psychological analysis of how some people can remain resilient even in the most horrendous circumstances—Nazi concentration camps during World War Two. A couple of recent examples are Peter Ubel, You Are Stronger Than You Think, McGraw-Hill 2006 or Charles Barlow and Jane Clarke, Resilience: Bounce Back from Whatever Life Throws at You: Practical Solutions for Taking Control and Surviving in Difficult Times 2010.
Resilience as a product of growth over time is difficult. Patient waiting is not a popular message these days. Waiting itself is a Janus-faced concept. There is a waiting that is active and full of interiority and experience and reflection. And there is a waiting that is passive and empty and devoid of meaningful activity. John Mayer’s hit song “Waiting on the World to Change” could be heard as the latter. Gandhi’s famous line, “Be the change you want to see in the world” is the former. Sometimes just “being” itself as a kind of authentic stance in the face of an insane world takes courage and reflects an amazing resilience! Next time we go a little deeper into this perplexity issue.