Your Choice

Posted by on Jan 18, 2012 in Uncategorized | 10 comments

It’s true that hard times can lead to personal growth but it’s not always true. What I mean is, there is a relationship between pain and growth but the relationship does not necessarily work both ways. Adversity is required for maturity but maturity is not always the consequence of adversity.

This reality was recently brought home to me in a very powerful way. My parents are a potent example of overcomers who have become stronger and more effective because of the trauma they encountered in their lives. Both my father and my mother know the suffering of war and trauma in a very personal way. In the aftermath of the II World War, my father at age 13, was transported from Poland to Siberia (a 30 day trip) in a boxcar that was filled to standing-room-only with displaced war refugees. Surviving the trip was a miracle in itself because food and water were not provided during the excruciating trip. Upon arrival in Sibera he was put to work in a brick factory while suffering from malnutrition and frigid temperatures in the harsh climate.

This became his life for 3 years. If making bricks during the night-shift was not enough, at one point he was assigned the task of transporting cart-loads of dead bodies and burying them in mass graves. Most of us could not even conceive of such hardship.

How did this affect him? Well, I remember that he was always tender in his relationship with His God. I remember that his faith in God seemed to be the most important thing in his life. I remember that he prayed and believed God in every circumstance. How many times did he comfort my dire concerns with the words, “You’ll see – it will be OK. God will help you.”….and he was right.

I never detected any bitterness towards those who had imposed these hardships on him. “It was war-time”, he would say. “War does terrible things. I don’t blame the people.” If you could meet my dad you would see that he is at peace with himself and with His God.

A few months ago, I had the privilege of travelling to Tallin, Estonia where I met some remarkable women from that part of the world. One day over lunch, I bonded with a young woman whose heritage sounded remarkably similar to mine, except for some major differences in the outcome. Without going into a major political and historical detail, it turns out that many people in that part of world know someone who was shipped to Siberia at the same time that my father was. This young woman shared that her father had also been taken to Siberia as a prisoner of war at the age of 7. She spoke of the great fear that he felt and the trauma of disembarking the train only to have rocks thrown at him by the locals who had been politically brainwashed into hating and fearing his nationality. This seven-year-old spent his first night trembling in fear for his life in the Siberian woods.

My new friend’s dad had never overcome the trauma and to this day is greatly affected by it. She shared that her father is a major alcoholic who has spent most of his life drinking away his memories while taking out his anger about past experiences on his family. She shared that her conversion to faith in Christ had so enraged him that she had been severely beaten by him to the point where the authorities were called in to rescue her. It occurred to me that this poor man was still hiding and trembling in the woods, so to speak. She shared how her faith had challenged her to reach out to him in his pain establishing a relatively stable relationship with him.

It wasn’t until later that day, that it occurred to me that while our fathers had experienced similar events, there were significantly different outcomes. As I thought about that I realized that the difference was a choice that was made in each man’s life. It was a choice as to how to respond to the challenges that came to their lives. One tapped into a strong faith in a good God of redemption while the other allowed fear and rage to take hold. One forgave while the other held on to bitterness. One passed on a legacy of tenderness in the midst of trial while the other imposed fear and intimidation on those closest to him.

I ask myself, “What makes the difference?” The only answer I can come up with is choice. Somewhere along the way a decision is made; that is, an intentional decision to face the trial and to maximize it’s growth potential. Otherwise, the default is to avoid and deteriorate. When adversity comes pain follows. The natural, unconscious inclination is to avoid pain. Avoidance can take several forms like running, hiding, lashing back, or displacing blame to name a few. Unfortunately these coping mechanisms keep us stuck and immature. In order to let trials strengthen us, a conscious decision has to be made which overrides the natural inclination to avoid, instead facing the issue courageously. We definitely need God’s help but our heart must give Him permission to do that work, in spite of the pain.

Jesus referred to the phenomenon of growth under duress. Using fruit as an example, He highlighted the relationship between the health of the vine and pruning process. “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more.” (John 15, The Msg)

I don’t necessarily like this reality. I would rather that God would periodically put us under some cosmic anesthetic and do his work on us: repairing, enlarging, removing what doesn’t fit or repairing what has been damaged. Then we could wake up and hit the ground running without memory of what just occurred to make us feel better and function more effectively. Unfortunately, this is not the way it works. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that without effort on our part, we would atrophy and become more and more dependent rather than partners with Him in impacting the world.

How well we learn, or how much we grow from adversity has very much to do with a choice we make in the wake of the obstacles that come our way. In the aftermath, we will one day be surprised to realize that somewhere, somehow, inexplicably, we grew, we learned. We are forever changed. Upon realization we are grateful. Although we would never choose to walk through the trial, we are also eternally grateful for the outcome. When difficult things come your way. No matter what happens. Choose to live, choose to let go, choose to forgive, choose to move on, choose to learn…… and you will certainly bear good fruit.

Thanks Dad, for being a great example of that.

10 Comments

  1. Wow, what a great article but most of all, it has allowed me to see another part of your wonderful father. I am grateful for the wisdom in making good choices, you have named so many. God indeed is good.
    Thanks for sharing your heart, thanks to your dad for sharing his life with us.

    Joyce

  2. Gabriele,
    Thank you for sharing about the trials of your father. He is surely a Godly husband and father.
    Our mighty God is truly able to bring us through unimaginable hardships, when we lean and
    trust in Him. He brings us through to bear good fruit, and to pass on to our children a picture of
    a life that chooses Him, no matter what, and the difference that choice makes.

    Melodie

  3. Your insights ring so true. I have seen similar examples. A favorite author of mine writes, “We make the choice, then the choice makes us.” It’s so true!

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