There are many things in life that are completely counter-intuitive. That is, the most natural and obvious thing to do is sometimes exactly what you shouldn’t do. I saw a dramatic example of this on Air Crash Investigations where a plane inexplicably nose-dived and crash-landed killing all on board. After examining the flight recorder, the investigators found that the pilots had reacted to the plane’s slight drop in altitude by pulling the plane’s nose up to correct it. But due to an anomaly in weather conditions, the plane didn’t respond as expected and continued to lose altitude. So the pilots pulled back on their control columns even harder to quickly correct the drop in altitude. This action, however, caused the even greater loss of altitude which resulted in the tragedy. Investigators concluded that in such conditions, the pilots should have responded counter-intuitively by pointing the nose down to regain control of the aircraft before attempting to increase its altitude. Another counter-intuitive example came from Dr. Fazale Rana, a biochemist, who presented at Legana several years ago and shared how a dam had been built in South America which flooded a valley and formed several islands. The native wildlife managed to take refuge on these islands but conservationists were concerned that on one of the islands predators also took refuge and would soon wipe out the other animals whom they preyed on. Counter-intuitively though, the island with no predators soon saw its wildlife die out, whereas the island with predators saw its wildlife flourish! Adversity may well be one of the most counter-intuitive factors operating in our world for our good!
WHAT IT MEANS TO FLOURISH
History bears witness that most people do not handle ease, comfort, and times of plenty, very well. Conversely, history bears witness that in times of adversity, heroes emerge who display selfless courage, extraordinary bravery, and ingenious innovation. In times of adversity we look for answers to problems because we must — not merely because we are curious. In times of adversity time becomes more precious and cannot be wasted on frivolous amusements because lives are on the line.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Christian psychologist, Dr. Archibald Hart, and his clinical psychologist daughter, Dr. Sylvia Hart-Frejd, are the co-authors of The Digital Invasion – How Technology Is Shaping You and Your Relationships. They wrote their book before COVID-19 drove us all to go deeper into the online world. While their book deals with the highly addictive nature of the digital world, and the dangers of “spending more time in the virtual world than the real world”, they have some great suggestions for how people can flourish — especially during times of adversity. It’s during such times that we either retreat and become self absorbed, or advance by dealing head on with the challenges that adversity brings. In their book they cite another family member (who is also a psychologist), Catherine Hart Weber, who defines what flourishing looks like-
Dr. Weber goes on to explain flourishing this way: “You flourish when your life has meaning and purpose and you routinely experience emotion virtues such as love, joy, gratitude, peace, and hope. We have meaning when we know we are making a positive impact on the lives of others around us through our work and legacy.” Hart, Dr. Archibald D.. The Digital Invasion (p. 152). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, citing: Catherine Hart Weber, Flourish (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010).
THE COUNTER-INTUITIVE RESULTS OF ADVERSITY
According to Dr. Archibald Hart, Dr. Sylvia Hart, and Dr. Catherine Hart, flourishing occurs when our life has meaning and purpose and we cultivate love, joy, gratitude, peace and hope. This, they argue, happens when we make “a positive impact on the lives of others.” This advice sounds like a paraphrase of something the Apostle Paul (a man very acquainted with adversity) wrote to the Galatians –
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
While adversity can make some people bitter and resentful, it can also make those who rely on God to become better and thankful. I have seen this happen to both kinds of people throughout this COVID19 crisis. Some people have seen opportunities that didn’t exist before and have innovated to take advantage of them. Other people have retreated into self-absorption and have inevitably become melancholic. Here’s five things we can all do to flourish through such adverse time –
Be transparent with God in your prayers. If you’re struggling, pray about your struggles to God.
Ask God to use you to be a blessing to someone else.
“Do the hard thing!” Heroes step up in times of adversity by taking the first step in doing the thing that seems too hard. The second step always looks more obvious and easier after you’ve taken the first step. Remember Isaiah 41:10 and ask God to help you to do the hard thing.
Think ahead and begin sow into your future. Would you like to learn to play an instrument? Buy that instrument, pay for lessons, make time to practise. Do you want to earn a degree? Enrol in your first subject. Do you want to be able to run a marathon? Start by running as far as you can today. Then do it again tomorrow. Then do it again the next day, and so on. Do you want to learn a new language? Take a course and start learning it.
Refer to the person who serves you in the supermarket (or any shop/café/business) by their first name and engage them in courteous conversation. Kindness, consideration, and empathy are core traits of those who flourish.
Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor. Proverbs 21:21
In years to come, you will look back on these times as one of the greatest seasons of your life – despite it being a time of adversity – you remember this season as a time where you flourished.
¶ The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. Psalm 92:12-13