I started reading a book the other day, interestingly enough (to me at least) I've been far more productive this week by taking time to read something refreshing aside from and along with Scripture than I had been in the weeks previous without doing so. The book is called A Resilient Life by a man named Gordon MacDonald about practices and concepts that are helpful towards resiliency in life, especially a Christian walk.
I had not previously heard of MacDonald, though strangely enough I've had this book on my book shelf for a few years now and have never picked it up aside from purchasing it some time ago. I am not exactly sure when it may have been though my best guess would place it at a Christian book store in Red Deer, Alberta roughly 3 and a half years ago while in the midst of a life transition I thought it could be useful...so here I am some years later taking a look through it and discovering some interesting things both about the topic and the author himself.
MacDonald is a few generations ahead of me, actually probably about a generation before that of my father's so he just escapes the "baby boom" generation (that's a topic for another time). This isn't a book review or anything, I just find some of what I've been reading interesting in light of MacDonald's own life journey and some of his perspectives. I remember reading Wild at Heart a few years back when it was the talk of the evangelical Christian world of men. I was finishing up some (albeit not so good) work at a church after my final year of Bible college before moving on to a new adventure of pastoral leadership in a small Saskatchewan town. Life was in turmoil to a degree and I found comforting and challenging words from John Eldredge, but similarly I sat in discomfort as well as I read. I find this to be a recurrence this week with MacDonald's musings. He's of a very different generation than I and there are ideals he describes which I am not extremely comfortable with agreeing to. Mainly some of what is portrayed as a "rest is for wimps" kind of mentality that you may find prominent of some Christian circles past. I do recognize that he is not expressly saying this as truth, but there are certainly undertones of a grievance of lost work ethic in younger generations. Again, not a book review, just expression of thoughts as I've been reading.
MacDonald certainly has a lifetime of insight to offer on such a topic of resilience and has had the misfortune of a public moral failure to add to it. Some may (and have, judging by some reviews read online) write off a person like MacDonald whose high profile ministry career had been torn apart by his adultery. This really is a story of resilience, however, because he has been in essence "nursed back to health" by a group of committed people who exercised the love of Christ and effectively helped to restore this man from his brokenness and walked with him and his family through the turmoil of it all.
I don't know much about the situation just described but I do know that this is a reality in life. Hopefully it's not something that is praised by any means, but to face such horrific disaster in one's life...to own it and walk head on into the fire storm for the sake of renewal is commendable to me. It also allows me to learn some wisdom from a man who's "been to hell and back" so to speak. He'd gone so far down the path of least resistance that he could no longer see straight and has had to claw his way back and by the grace of God has found just that...grace. Not that this is my experience per se, but such an extreme example gives me hope.
Resilience, to bounce back in a way. To fall, fail, drop, collapse under the pressure of life, be destroyed by circumstance either chosen or imposed and to chose to stand up and keep walking through it. To face adversity with determination, to be pressed but not crushed, persecuted not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. I think this is what a life of faith looks like. Unfortunately sometimes a lack of faith can be the cause of the collapse under pressure, but restored faith and the practice of spiritual discipline can be what begins to bring one back.
I wonder how many know what forgiveness feels like. To be in a position where someone has every right to despise or reject them but to be looked in the eye and hear the words "you are forgiven". How many Christians really know the weight of this concept? It is, after all, the crux on which many of us base our beliefs that Jesus died for this very purpose (simply put) and rose from the dead for life. All that to say, if one really experiences forgiveness, sees the core of that mean then we can all become agents for a resilient life. Once you've known forgiveness, release of a debt you owe, you can really only then become an encourager of resilience for others. Just what MacDonald has become.
It's interesting that I picked this book up this week as I'm preaching this Sunday and had been considering two women in Mark, a poor widow who gives all her money and a woman who pours out expensive perfume on Jesus' head. These two women pour themselves out for the sake of others in their individual circumstance, just like Jesus was about to do (both of these events occurred in the days previous to his crucifixion). Resilience requires emptying oneself for the sake of others. This isn't just confession to be absolved of sin and it's not just the matter of bouncing back, it is these things but more than that. One can be resilient without having sinned, of course, something may be inflicted or circumstance may call for one to climb back after a hard hit. One can be resilient by taking responsibility for malicious actions and facing the onslaught of marauders who want nothing more than what they feel is "JUSTICE" though their picture of justice is rather skewed.
More than any of this I think that a resilient nature requires one to be an encourager of resilience in others, a facilitator of it one might say. When you take on the task of walking with someone who needs to "bounce back" and perhaps is trying to but is not given a chance by others, you are in fact personifying resiliency, you are personifying Christ the ultimate example of it.
A thought struck me yesterday, however minute it may seem for some it was a remarkable moment for me: I can treat this time as sabbatical. I am unemployed, in a new place, seemingly desperate to work and unable to do so because of the market or what have you, but I am afforded the opportunity to study in these days. Why it hadn't struck me sooner is a mystery, perhaps because I have been absorbed by the situation and not able to gain much perspective beyond my "closet", is beyond me. But it has struck me nonetheless, I am taking some classes and I have time to learn in between looking for work and writing sermons and volunteering elsewhere. Why not dive into Scripture? Why not dig up some old treasures of books long gone dusty? Why not look for ways to grow and to nourish and to discover the call of God on my life (once again)? Why not take advantage of a hopefully relatively brief moment in time where I am afforded the opportunity to bask in the presence of the Almighty God to glean from him what I can in preparation for what is coming...developing resilience for the future and learning lessons for today.
I may not always sit comfortably as I read this book (just like Wild at Heart) but that's a good thing, it keeps me sharp and makes me aware of those things in me that need a little smoothing out.