We All Have a Frontline
This is the third post in a series Resilience as Practice for Kingdom Dwellers. Click here to view all posts in the series.
1 Peter 5:9 Be sober of spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But withstand him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your fellow believers who are in the world.
2 Timothy 2:3 Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
Right is right even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong even if everybody does it.
— GK Chesterton
When things get hard, ask yourself, ‘What can I take responsibility for?’
— James Stockdale, fighter pilot and POW survivor
Wendell Berry’s Fidelity is a true missive for our time, well worth reading. In the story, Burley Coulter is a much loved eccentric man-of-the-woods who is getting old and frail in a close-knit farming community. Eventually, feeling they should do something, the people who love Burley take him to see a doctor, and he ends up in hospital. As they visit him, attached to tubes and machines and under bright lights, they realize that they have unwittingly betrayed and abandoned him.
Soon after, Danny Branch gets up in the night, and tells his wife, Lyda, to say that he said something about going to Indiana. Danny Branch is Burley’s out-of-wedlock son, a man-of-the-woods like his father, and Lyda knows Danny’s errand – to go get Burley.
When a police detective arrives at the Branch farm after Burley Coulter’s disappearance from the hospital and questions Lyda, the conversation unfolds as follows:
“Hmmm … Well,” the detective said. “When did Mr Branch leave?”
“I couldn’t say.”
“You don’t know, or you don’t remember?”
“I can’t say that I do.”
“Mrs. Branch, I have the distinct feeling that you are playing a little game with me. I think your husband has Mr. Coulter with him in Indiana – or wherever he is – and I think you know he does, and you’re protecting him. Your husband, I would like to remind you, may be in very serious trouble with the law, and unless you cooperate you may be, too.”
Lyda looked straight at him. Her eyes were an intense, surprising blue. … And the detective saw her then: a big woman, good-looking for her age … and possessed of great physical strength, but her eyes, now that he looked at her, were what impressed him most. They were eyes not at all in the habit of concealment, but they certainly were in the habit of withstanding. They withstood him. They made him feel like explaining that he was only doing his duty.
I am inspired by Lyda’s response. I believe that, as people of Faith, we will increasingly need to find the Lydas within, so that we may withstand with resilience in the world .
As Jordan Peterson said, and James Stockdale embodied powerfully for years as a POW in Vietnam:
Your life becomes meaningful in precise proportion to the depths of responsibility you’re willing to shoulder. You might object, ‘Why should I shoulder all that burden? It is nothing but sacrifice, hardship and trouble’. But what makes you so sure that you don’t want something heavy to carry? … It is the antidote to the suffering and malevolence of life.
As we take ownership of the charge to embody Christ in the world, our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against evil and darkness itself. The truth is, we are living in enemy territory. We are the resistance as we withstand darkness in the world, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places that stand behind it (Eph 6). We are on the side of angels. We serve a greater kingdom.
It is not unexpected then, that there will be times come when we will have to go against the grain. As one of Burley’s oldest friends, a lawyer, said to the police detective in response to his complaints that the community was withstanding him in his efforts to serve the law,
“But, my dear boy, you don’t eat or drink the law, or sit in the shade of it or warm yourself by it, or wear it, or have your being in it. The law exists only to serve.”
“Why, all the many things that are above it.
A lot of modern freedom is in actuality rooted in fear. It is not so much a commitment to the rules of law, as a timidity before responsibility. The Gospel agenda in the world is neither conservative, nor is it liberal; it is transformational, and as a result, sooner or later, it will be counter-cultural. Our allegiance as Kingdom people asks of us not only courage to obey to the rules, but also courage to do what is right. This kind of courage might translate for us, at times, into some arduous, uncomfortable, counter-cultural living.
The resilient withstand with clarity.
Rosa Parks said that she has, “learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” Withstanding is bolstered by clarity. “We tend to think we lack motivation, when what we lack is clarity” (James Clear). It is clarity that sustains motivation. Without clarity, it is too easy to take the easy road.
Kingdom dwellers are uniquely privileged to be in a position of clarity. The Gospel provides us with clarity about who we are and what our mission is in the world. It gives us clarity about what is true, noble, and worthy of praise. It also gives us clarity about what is worth fighting for and suffering and dying for. Clarity, ultimately, about, “doing the right thing”, as James Stockdale said, “even if it means dying like a dog when there is no one to see you do it.”
This kind of clarity increases when we are Word soaked, unplugged, and committed to truth-living.
Word-soaked Everything becomes clearer when we are soaked in the living Word of God, day after faithful day. Our spiritual sight increases. We learn to wield the sword of the Spirit with fidelity. We grow in our ability to respond to the world with nuanced wisdom and robust godliness.
Unplugged Clarity follows us as we take time to unplug from the digital world, and root ourselves in reality. We are better able to hear ourselves and God in the quiet. There is joy to be found in the sacred ordinary when we give it our presence and attention – don’t miss it. Perspective clears with physical work, with sweat, and in the great outdoors.
Truth-living Clarity expands as we cultivate truth-living in our communities. When we consistently weed out the lies of self-pity, blame, and unfaith we tell ourselves, we learn to speak truth – to ourselves first. From there, a humble practice of speaking what we really believe out into the world provides potent feedback. It clarifies who we really are and what really holds true, that we might commit deeply to “live not by lies” (Solzhenitsyn) in our every sphere.
As we practice transformational living, we grow in resilience. We take up our part in the resistance. Each one of us has a contribution to make. It is true that we do not, and should not, all have the same line in the sand. It is God who assigns us our burdens to carry in life. Each assignment is holy before the Lord.
When things get hard, ask yourself where your responsibility lies, and take it up in faith. Put on your armour, and stand firm (Eph 6).
The resilience we practice in this way, calls forth resilience in others.
We can live loud without making a noise.
Next we will turn to Tears, which will be followed by the Serious Business of Joy in a further post.