“Nobody trips over mountains. It is the small pebble that causes you to stumble. Pass all the pebbles in your path and you will find you have crossed the mountain.”
So reads a powerful quote sometimes attributed to the great writer Ralph Waldo Emerson.
How do you handle small pebbles in life? Maybe you’re experiencing a disappointment in life: a relationship that has gone sour, a financial challenge that has left you sinking, or a doctor’s report that is less than ideal. Often, these kinds of setbacks don’t feel like little pebbles, but more like large roadblocks that can keep us stuck in life. Life’s disappointments that keep us stuck can lead to discouragement or depression.
I’ve heard it said that every setback is a setup for a comeback. That sounds inspiring, but for that ideal to be a reality we must learn to live with resilience, the ability to readily recover from adversity. No matter what life throws our way, I believe every person can grow in resilience by choosing to apply these three principles in life.
First, we can choose to live in God’s strength instead of our own. Living in God’s strength requires an understanding of how to access his strength. All throughout Scripture, there are statements that are inspirational but require faith to believe.
For example, the Apostle Paul wrote this statement, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, New Living Translation). While this may make a nice T-shirt or bumper sticker, Paul was not referring to having superhuman powers to accomplish feats of strength. The context of this verse is that he had learned the secret to being content whether he had a lot or a little because his trust wasn’t in his stuff. Whatever came his way, he had strength greater than his own that would help him thrive, not just survive. This same strength is available to all who place their faith in Christ.
The second principle of resilience is that when life knocks us down, we don’t stay down. Again, we can look to Paul as our example of living in God’s strength. He wrote, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We may get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
You might think that because Paul was such a religious man his life was easy, but it was actually the opposite. He was imprisoned, whipped, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked and even spent a whole night adrift on the sea — he faced death again and again. Paul was knocked down and would have had many reasons to stay there. However, he didn’t stay down, and not because he memorized a clever quote, but because he had strength inside that gave him power to withstand adversity.
Finally, the third principle that will help us grow in resilience is choosing to stay focused on the purpose instead of the problem. The next time you face a setback, consider facing it with the same perspective as Paul.
When you face a financial setback, look for the purpose. It may be an opportunity to learn how to be content. When you face a relational setback, look for the purpose. It could be a change that protects you from a future painful experience. When you have to deal with a health challenge that seems hopeless, look for the purpose. It could be an opportunity for growing in hope rather than giving up hope.
The purpose in any situation might just be a setup for you to experience God’s strength, knowing that “those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
In the moment, a setback may seem like a big mountain to climb, but it is simply a small pebble to step around. As you look back you see that each step led you over the mountain. What mountain are you ready to climb?
Matt Mylin is a pastor at Worship Center, a Lancaster church. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.