My father-in-law, a very wise man, once pointed out some ancient persimmon trees along an old wagon road near his boyhood home. “See how those trees are scarred along their bases? It’s from the logs bumping against them as they were dragged to the sawmills.”
He paused for effect. “In spite of the abuse they received, they produced the biggest and sweetest persimmons in Catahoula Parish. That scraping caused them to make better fruit.
I immediately thought of adversity. No one wants the scars and bruises of difficulties in life, but they shape and strengthen our lives.
Here’s another tree story on adversity: my son Clint, a professional forester, relates that when pine trees are under stress, due to weather or conditions, they’ll speed up their cone and seed production, nurtured by nature to leave behind a high progeny in case they don’t survive.
A third story of resilience found in nature comes from the vegetable garden. In the Deep South, okra is a common crop, and its pods go into many of our best Cajun dishes. Being a member of the cotton family, we wait to plant okra until April’s warmer weather.
If tended and the pods are cut regularly, a tall okra plant will produce until the first frost in November or beyond.
However, during the dog days of August, okra pod production will slow. That’s when the country women would bring out their brooms. They’d thrash the tall stalks back and forth. The adversity of the beating resulted in a spurt of renewed production.
These stories from nature relate to our spiritual and emotional lives.
None of us like adversity, but we need it to grow to the person God meant for us to be.
Aldous Huxley said it well, “Don’t tell me about the difficulties a man experiences; tell me what kind of man he becomes through these experiences.”
So, if God is allowing the broom of adversity (There’s some deep theology there.) to thrash you, allow it (and Him) to shape your life to be a better person.
Not a bitter one.
The human spirit and corresponding attitudes are amazing to observe. It comes down to this: Life will make you either hard or tough.
You become either bitter . . . or better.
I often illustrate this better versus bitter analogy with a piece of leather, a brick, and a hammer. I place the piece of leather on top of the brick. Taking the hammer, I strike them. The brick cracks into pieces, while the leather strip may show the hammer’s imprint, but it will not break or crack.
That’s because bricks are hard, but leather is tough. However, this story is not about the hardness of a brick, toughness of leather, or the pain of the hammer blow. This is a story about somebody. Objects don’t move us—but people do.
What happens to us—it’s called circumstances—will make us either hard or tough. These are the hammer blows. It doesn’t matter whether the blows are self-induced or due to chance or fate. They may be due to family circumstances, what we call rotten luck, a cancer diagnosis, or a hurricane.
In fact, the sources of life’s hammer blows are limitless.
These blows come to all of us. No one is immune.
Some people will become tougher when the hammer falls. They take the blows, their lives showing the imprints of the hammer, but they are supple and flexible. They come out of this experience tougher and still whole.
Under the same circumstances, others, like the brick, crack and crumble under the same blows. That is because like the brick, they have become hard.
Sadly, hardness does not ensure toughness. There are hard-to-miss traits that exemplify hardness in life: bitterness, unforgiveness, an attitude of apathy toward the needs and pain of others, or a selfish callousness that strives to isolate oneself from the world. Add to this list the telltale symptom of cynicism toward others, God, and spiritual things.
Under the hammer blows of life—who we are, as well as what we really believe—will always be revealed.
Here’s a good question: How do you recognize a tough heart? The short letter below is my best example of a tough heart. It’s from my aptly named friend: Joy Tanner:
2005 was a tumultuous year of storms for Jack and me; the fiery fatal plane crash in which our daughter lost her life; the people with whom we spent twenty years in Cameron Parish who lost it all because of Hurricane Rita; the news that our deceased daughter’s only child is going to Iraq; my husband Jack’s Lou Gehrig’s disease.
In spite of the great losses, we’ve become better instead of bitter. It’s a peace that comes from the inside, from inside the heart where the mold cannot grow.
And the water cannot flood.
And the hurricane-force winds cannot reach.
And the flames of the plane crash cannot burn up.
Amen and amen,
Her letter reveals the heart of a brave and tough woman who has not allowed her spirit to become hard.
Her name—Joy—says it all.
Joy—unlike happiness—comes from inside and cannot be taken away by situations, storms, even tragedies. Joy Tanner was hammered repeatedly in 2005, but she came out of it better, not bitter. Tough, not hard.
Tough as leather, more useful and usable for God—as well as to others.
Tough, but not hard.
May the same be said of each of you.
- The examples of the persimmon trees, okra plants, and stressed trees come from nature. Can you think of any other ways nature teaches us about resilience?
- What is the difference between being tough and hard? Which one is to be desired?
- How do you define bitterness? How are unforgiveness and bitterness related? How do they differ?