Monday, February 06, 2006

Resilient People

Al Siebert has spent nearly 30 years trying to figure out why some people go through hardships and come out withered up people while others endure those same hardships and actually come out better than they were before. He has studied POWs, kidnapping victims and hostages. He finds what we all know is true: some people go through those terrible times and never recover; others go through the same terrible times and not only live to tell about it but end up turning it all to their advantage. Some people remain victims for the rest of their lives; others see themselves as survivors.

He labels the second category of people: Resilient.

From studying resilient people, Siebert has noticed several common traits among them. Daniel exhibits a number of those traits in Daniel 1. It might help you to read through the chapter before we go on. It's short. I'll wait.


Okay, Daniel does a number of things that reveal how resilient he is. First, he determines to live out his core values without compromise. In other words, resilient people are people of integrity. They do not allow others to determine their behavior. They avoid victimization and control what is in their power to control.

When Daniel decides not to defile himself with the king's food (Daniel 1:8-10), he makes that decision on his own. That verse is an interesting turning point in the story. Up until that point, the Babylonians had made all the decisions. They had decided where Daniel would live, what he would do and what his name would be. But Daniel makes a decision to control what is in his power to control -- even if all he can control is what goes in and comes out of his mouth.

Next, he figures out how the system works. Daniel goes to the guy in charge and tells him what he wants to do (that's another trait -- the ability to express yourself openly and honestly). The guy in charge likes Daniel (another trait is the ability to read other people) and tells him that he's afraid of what the King might do if Daniel goes through with the plan and doesn't look as good as the others.

Daniel basically says, "Well, he didn't say 'yes' but he didn't say 'no' either." So, he goes to the guy who is second in command and works out a plan (vv. 11-14). Another one of those traits of resilient people is the ability to adapt quickly.

Also notice that while Daniel is clearly the leader, he's not doing this alone. He's got four buddies going through all of this with him. Resilient people will go to ridiculous lengths to live in healthy community with others. Julius Segal has documented some of the ways POWs learned to communicate with each other to keep morale up during the most horrible conditions. It's striking to me that when it's forbidden, people will move heaven and earth to gain even a glimpse of community; but when it's encouraged, we expect it to just happen on its own.

We live in Babylon, and in Babylon we will not survive without deep relationships.

The final trait we see in Daniel is his optimistic outlook. He expects his plan to work (vv. 12-13). The whole chapter gives us a good reason to share his optimistic outlook. If you look at vv. 2, 9 and 17, you'll see what I'm talking about. Who's active through this whole chapter? God is working the way he so often works -- in hidden and unseen ways. God delivered them into the hands of their enemies to begin with (v. 2). God caused the official to show Daniel favor and sympathy (v. 9). Eventually, God gave Daniel and his friends knowledge and understanding (v. 17).

Optimism only makes sense if God is at work -- even in difficult times.

God calls us to do more than endure; God calls us to be resilient. He doesn't just want us to hold on and grit our teeth until we die. He wants us to grow through our hardships and know that something good can come out of something bad.

What if Christians lived like that? What if Christians demonstrated more resiliency?

What if we decided to stop acting like victims and determine our boundaries and behavior for ourselves?

What if we decided to stop having superficial relationships and determined to live in authentic and healthy ways with others?

What if we decided to stop being so panicky and lived out of a sense of vital optimism?

What if we lived as if there really is a God who is always at work -- perhaps hidden from our view -- but steadily moving forward with his plan to build a people who are rightly related to him and rightly relating to each other?

That's a group I want to be part of.