In Chinese, the character for the concept of “crisis” is a combination of “danger” and “opportunity.” Where there is danger to physical or psychological safety, there is also an opportunity to respond. A crisis requires some sort of response.
Many parts of the world are experiencing major crises these days. Earthquakes and tsunamis, hurricanes and homelessness, famines and genocides, overdoses and suicides, terrorism and school shootings. These events are danger and opportunity on the grandest scale. Beyond the danger of the events themselves, we understand the long-term damage these traumatic experiences inflict on fragile human bodies and souls. But we also see the opportunity for people to come together in new ways to help each other to recover stability. The result often is a stronger sense of community, heroism, and charity.
On a smaller scale, in my general counseling practice, I see danger and opportunity inherent in most of the problems clients bring to me—sudden losses, too much change at once, relationship dysfunction, chronic illnesses, etc. The danger is ongoing mental confusion, chaos, or hopelessness. The opportunity is to learn new ways of understanding and responding to difficulties, and drawing nearer to God.
With couples who have neglected their relationship, often one or the other partner will consciously or unconsciously create a crisis that forces them into therapy. Often it is an extramarital affair, but it also might be an alcohol binge that ends in a DUI, or a secret, devastating financial decision. Whatever the crisis, it is perceived as a danger to the marital bond. The opportunity is to open a previously closed-off, dying family system to outside intervention, and set the couple on a path toward healing and transformation. If they will face the process wisely, they often arrive at a much more satisfying relationship than what existed before the onset of the crisis.
Crises have this potential to teach and transform. We typically experience them as painful disruptions in the normal course of events. We must find some means of coping with and adapting to reality. We instinctively try to resist pain. But as C.S. Lewis so wisely wrote, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” The way we respond to the pain of crisis makes all the difference on how and when we will recover, and how we will respond when the next crisis comes.
And it will come, in one form or another. That’s a fact of life on this planet.
Allow me to present a biblical illustration from the life of David. For some time, David was pursued by King Saul, who wanted to murder him out of jealousy. During this period, David gathered around him a militia of six hundred men who traveled and warred with him. Their hub of operation was the town of Ziklag. One day when David and his men were away from home, an army of Amalekites raided Ziklag, took away all of the women and children, and set the city on fire. When David’s troops returned and saw that their families had been abducted and their property ruined, they blamed David and began talking of stoning him to death.
A good-size crisis, I’d say. The danger is clear, of course. But what is the opportunity?
David could have torn his clothes and frozen in a posture of mourning, because his wives and children were also missing. Or he could have run away from his men and hidden in the wilderness alone. But David the warrior, the man after God’s heart, “found strength in the LORD his God” (1 Sam 30: 6). He inquired of the Lord, who assured him that he had opportunity to go after his enemies and take back what had been stolen. And because the Lord is ever true to his word, this is exactly what happened. The narrator of the story tells us that when David’s men returned from battle, “Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they [the Amalekites] had taken. David brought everything back” (v.19). Beyond this, David took so much plunder from the stores of the Amalekites that he sent lavish gifts to his friends and family and friends back at home in Judah.
David faced the danger courageously and spiritually, took the opportunity the Lord provided, and came out way ahead of where he was when the calamity hit.
I understand that we can’t always respond so well. Sometimes it’s like we’re in crashing surf. We’ve been hit with a powerful wave and tossed under the water, completely disoriented, and just when we find our footing, another wave comes. It seems we can’t stand long enough to catch our breath.
But whether we respond quickly or slowly, we can look for a redemptive gift in whatever crisis we face. There is always opportunity for growth hidden in our pain. If we, like David, find our strength in the Lord, even the worst crisis can be an opportunity to grow in grace, wisdom, and patience.