A lesson on resilience
Written by: Natalie Yeo (Photo by: Marcus Goh)
What do you do when the devil makes multiple attempts to overthrow you? How do you respond when he wears you out by trying to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10) the very things you hold dear?
Such an incident recently happened, which caused me to helplessly send an “SOS” to the Holy Spirit. I was desperate for His intervention and assurance. As I was falling asleep one late evening, I heard an unabashed, unfamiliar voice say:
“You will have cancer.”
“You will never have children.”
Despite being certain it was not the voice of God, chills pulsated through my physical heart and almost immediately, the impact of these statements catapulted me into an hour of distraught, fear, and sleeplessness. Tears and prayer swiftly followed.
I’ve never been one to worry about my health, but on the same day, I had experienced frustration with the sudden occurrence of a rather severe and dreadful viral infection.
The topic of children was the nail in the coffin — it really hurt. Anyone who knows me would be able to testify that I’ve desired to be a mother since I was a child. Having been a deep longing for most of my life, life without children seemed to be incomplete. I imagined never having the privilege of carrying a child for nine months, or investing into the life of my own child… and I lost it.
My fear and tears consumed me all evening and left me questioning: Are these statements true? Why did this voice attack me? Why am I so fearful, as if these statements might possibly be true? I had to resist the voice that had driven me into a corner causing me to believe that these were prophecies.
Since that very moment, November became the most trying month of 2018 — not because I went through loss or devastation, but because my personal life consistently came under attack as I pursued full-time pastoral work in my home church. There have been numerous times that I found myself struggling to fight off anxiety-causing daggers that appeared swiftly and unannounced.
As I made attempts to recover from this incident, I’ve come to learn first-hand the concept of resilience (in character and spirit), as opposed to simply “getting through life.” It would have been easier for me to spiral into a pit of unbelief in God, and allowed the lies to influence or determine my attitude and posture at and towards work.
However, holding the lives that are under my pastoral care in mind, I was moved to exercise resilience in order to steward their lives well. A leader cannot allow his/her personal circumstance to define the way he/she leads them.
Resilience is a vital element of life. It is an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change — to bounce back and to keep going. Resilience is the ability to withstand shaking or testing without losing faith and hope in God.
In coming before the Lord in the midst of my pain, He taught me this:
Resilience, in the eyes of God, begins on your knees.
Unlike what the world defines resilience to be — aggressive grit; fighting back to prove strength, merely ignoring hardship and moving on — God’s starting point is vastly different. In a dog-eat-dog world, resilience seems to advocate the idea of individuality and self-dependence and ever reminds me of the phrase: “Out-do yourself.” In Singapore, we are encouraged to 活到老, 学到老 (continue learning even until old age) so that we avoid becoming obsolete in society. It is a constant fight to keep your head above water.
However, from God’s perspective, resilience begins from a position and posture of surrender. It’s not in doing more or fighting back, but learning to come to a place of submission unto Him and His sovereign reign over our lives.
More than a week after the incident, I, again, brought the struggle before the Lord, and He gently whispered:
“Surrender is sometimes painful, and that’s okay.”
My immediate reaction was, “THAT’S OKAY?! How is that okay? With all the heartache and tears… I don’t understand how that’s okay.” Yet, in the next moment, I understood Jesus’ understanding and relational heart as the song “Lead Me to the Cross” came on shuffle, playing in the background, and the lyrics read:
“You were as I, tempted and tried, human.”
Hebrews 4:15-16 (ESV) rings true as it says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
In re-understanding the humanity of Jesus, I am reminded that He, too, was subjected to surrendering to God the Father. In laid down surrender, Jesus took on ultimate pain and suffering for us, and that knowledge led me right out of the dark pit of self-pity.
I became keenly aware that as a response to my struggle, God was issuing an invitation to surrender my physical health and fertility to Him, knowing and trusting that while my human eye cannot see what goes on within my body, He is sovereign and has an eye for detail — He never misses a thing.
I recall telling the Lord in desperation, “I want November to end, now.” And as the month finally draws to a close, I’ve learnt that surrender is not merely a single decision, but a continuous daily decision. Surrender requires dying to your own wishes, hopes and control to how a given situation could or should turn out. While it sounds daunting and difficult most of the time, I am grateful that it is at the foot of the cross where my heart truly finds rest and assurance, recognising that my life is not my own. It is with Christ, and by His empowerment that I know I can keep living a resilient life for His glory.
Do you, too, hear the Lord inviting you to allow Him to build resilience in you through being on your knees before Him?
To leaders, and those serving in multiple and varying capacities in both the marketplace and local churches, the Lord had you on His heart when He led me to write this article. Many of us attempt good balancing acts as we manage our academics, workloads, and ministries, but not all of us are succeeding. Some of us might be struggling within and painfully trudging on, rather than soldiering on in the Lord.
Regardless of what you are going through, remember that Paul exhorted us that when Jesus comes back again, we will be changed and raised with Him because “…thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” 1 Corinthians 15:57 (NKJV). No matter the lie, or fear that might be crippling you today, know that you can stand in resilience, knowing your God has won the victory!
Paul then closes the chapter by encouraging us in, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (v. 58). While it might be challenging to take on the attitude of being steadfast and immovable daily, what assurance it brings to know that all that we do for the Lord will never be in vain when we learn what it means to give Him the glory!
May we never boast in an earthly resilience, but daily learn to rely on God through submission and surrender because only then, in the face of evil, we can look fear, anxiety, weariness and sickness and confidently say, “I am not afraid, and I will not be shaken.”