What sets apart a survivor from someone who perishes? Barring a mortal wound of some kind each one of us has a chance of survival no matter what the circumstance. It might be slim but even if there is a slim chance, there is a chance. And I believe there are three critical components that drastically impact your ability to survive. Foundation, faith, and forgiveness.
A fascinating book titled, The Unthinkable researches and discusses the reasons why some people survive in terrific disasters and some don’t. Crucial, among other factors, is preparation because it replaces the panic stage with action. And in crisis, timing is often the difference between life and death. Preparation provides you with knowledge and strength to manage extreme situations. Preparation is your foundation.
I just read the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand about the life of Louie Zamperini. This man survived 46 days on a raft at sea and over two years as a POW in a Japanese prison. He endured unimaginable hardship and cruelty, yet he survived. Why? Certainly he was prepared. He had survival training and other knowledge that kept him physically and mentally safe during his ordeal. He knew for example,that he could fight off a shark by punching it in the nose. He made bags to capture valuable rain water from canvas, he made fishhooks out of bird bones, and quizzed himself to keep his mind active.
While this is an extreme example I do believe no matter what the threat in life, we all have the capacity to overcome. You take the blows, you adjust to new circumstances and you keep fighting for the good with all your mind, body, and spirit. You just do! You reach deep to everything you ever learned about things, people, and yourself and you use your strength to survive. There is no other option! In the Christian life, our preparation is a steady diet of the Word of God and prayer. Without those two things, it is very difficult to manage through life’s challenges in a manner worthy of our calling. Without a good foundation we could easily rationalize sinful reactions and action in our life and excuse our own behavior thus bringing shame and dishonor to the God we represent. A good foundation is very important.
But doing what we know and being prepared can only take us so far. It might be enough for a time, but eventually we all get to the end of ourselves. No matter how great, smart, strong, or clever we are, there is a point where we are at a loss. Our spirit can no longer muster the energy it takes to go on. For whatever reason it is at this critical stage where the difference between life and death hangs in the balance. Do we throw in the towel or persevere? The key at this stage is faith. Do we believe that despite the evidence we can still win? We can still live? We can survive? Against all odds? The moment you begin thinking of other options, is the beginning of defeat.
For me this stage came quickly after my husband decided to leave me. I had fought the good fight, I had done what God had told me to do. And it looked as if I had failed. I was disillusioned, scared, and very tired. I contemplated suicide. I struggled with depression, and couldn’t think of good reasons to keep doing what I knew to be “right” anymore because where had it got me? What was I winning if what I was fighting for was lost? This was my critical stage. I began listening to faulty logic, and dark thoughts. I could have gone either way. I was now nursing pain, hurt, cynicism, fear and exhaustion. I was tired of the fight, I was ready to admit the loss and I just wanted it to be over.
Louie’s story hit that critical stage too. A good foundation and faith that he could survive was key but it wasn’t all. While in captivity he did not wallow in the thought or the likelihood that he may die. He always believed he would live. But after his rescue he went through an entirely different kind of threat. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was bitter and angry and suffered emotionally and mentally from his memories. He descended into alcoholism and violence and was close to ruining his marriage and life because of how he was dealing with the aftermath of what had happened to him. It was at this critical stage when he crossed paths with Billy Graham and experienced forgiveness from God. The experience was so powerful for him that he was able to forgive his captors and all who had wronged him which in turn freed him from the alcoholism, violence, and nightmares that had been plaguing his life. Amazing.
Forgiveness is the final ingredient. Because even if we survive the plane crash, the abuse, the divorce; how do we leave it behind and not let the bad thing that happened to us define us? Speaking of divorce in particular for a moment, I have had to deal with this forgiveness issue. I was wronged by the one person I thought I could trust. I was also wronged by a woman who I loathe at the moment who encouraged my husband to leave me. He now has made this woman a part of my children’s lives and wants to start bringing her to their concerts where I would have to sit there with them. And I am struggling. I don’t want that hurt to define me.
When I am with Martin it is easier. I know I have someone who loves me. If I had him by my side, I could maybe deal with it. I don’t know why that makes a difference. But it does. I no longer feel like trash that has been thrown out because he has shown me that I am lovable to a man. I have also survived on my own and shown myself I am worthy. I take care of my home alone and I manage to parent my children with love and discipline. My son’s status last night on Facebook said, “I love my life.” I take partial credit for that attitude he has.
But there are times when someone says something, or something comes up and it hits me in the chest. Hate. Bitterness. Unforgiveness. I wish I could be like Louis and let it all go at once. But perhaps these things aren’t directly relateable. For him, his suffering was definitely in his past. I have to see my children integrated into my ex’s new life. It is painful each time he takes them away for the weekend. Each time, I have to actively choose forgiveness so that I don’t wallow in bitterness. And it is tough.
When I see my ex which is not all that often. I see a man who has gained a lot of weight. Who struggles with smoking, doesn’t get enough sleep, does not exercise and eats horribly. I am told by my children that while he seems happy to be with his girlfriend in that they seem to get along just fine, their relationship is plagued with issues. My children don’t like her and her children don’t like him. Her children rule her roost so much so that it aggravates my ex who came from a very disciplined home. He has also lost two jobs in two years. One because he did not heed the warnings of his company to end the inappropriate relationship with this woman whom he managed as her boss. The second because he was not seen to be a valuable asset. He is struggling financially living in an inexpensive home owned by his father out in the middle of nowhere causing him to get up early and stay up late because of a hellish commute. He is not able to do a lot of fun things with his own children because money is so tight. He is behind on his alimony and child support payments. He has lost the admiration and respect he had from his own children and struggles to keep that relationship close. Now that my son has a job it will become even more strained because he will not have as much time to see his father.
It has not been an easy road for him. He goes to church when the kids are around sometimes but mostly he has abandoned adherence to the values and principles he was raised on. I fear for him that he has hit his critical stage and given up on himself. In his case he did not rest on his foundation when the trials came he abandoned them. When he could have done something to save his life as he knew it he told me “he couldn’t see it” and did not have faith. And now perhaps he is not able to forgive himself for what he did and is suffering the consequence of his actions. Perhaps God is trying to get his attention through the trials. All I know is I would not want to trade places with him.
So why then do I find it so difficult to forgive him and this woman? I am so much better off. Better off than him, better off without him. Better off physically with the weight I have lost and the running I do and better eating. Better off emotionally with two kids who love and respect me and a man who also loves and respects me. Better off circumstantially with a beautiful home to live in, money in savings to draw from when things get tight, and a job I love.
I’m almost there.
I have the foundation. I kept the faith. Now I only have to continue to forgive. I have to do this for me. So I don’t become a prisoner of my own hate. So I can truly be free from my past. And while I know I have a choice in the matter sometimes I don’t feel like I do. Because when I chose to have children I gave up the right to screw up my own life. I am the most important person to my children. They look to me for now as their filter for how they make sense of the world around them. I know they are growing up and that influence will diminish quickly as the years progress. But for now I have an obligation to show them how to do this right. And lets face it…I AM a survivor. So I will choose to forgive again today, tomorrow, and the next day.
(sorry for the long post…I was overdue and have been super busy with no time to write! I hope it was okay!)