What doesn't kill you...


Remember back all those years ago when Marcia Hines was a judge on Australian Idol? Every time a contestant had a bad night or was eliminated, she'd flash that brilliant smile and say, "Ya know, honey? What doesn't kill ya, makes you stronger!"

And we'd all nod our heads. Absolutely, Marcia. You said it, lady. 

Because it's obvious, right? If you fall down, when you get up, you'll be a better person for it. You'll have learned, you'll be tougher and you'll have more experience.

The problem is that sometimes you can't get up.

Sometimes, when you've fallen for the thousandth time and failed and tripped and been hurt and beaten and squashed and dismembered and dismantled, and you're bleeding and you're cracked and you're oozing pus and fluids and you have PTSD, you can hardly keep your eyes open and your lungs working let alone get up, stand up and string a sentence together.

And then someone comes along, and they mean well, but they don't really understand what's going on and they want to make you feel better so they say:

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

And then they smile. Because they do actually mean it. And they walk away, thinking they've helped. But it hasn't helped. Instead, all you can think about are the people who fall and who *do* get up again and how much worse and how much more of a failure you are than them.

'What doesn't kill you...' is one of those phrases we pull out when times are tough. There are a bunch of them. 'It's all for the best.' 'It was meant to be.' 'It's all good.'  'God knows what he's doing.' 

They all have some truth behind them of course. We're not such stupid beings that we choose to comfort ourselves with complete fiction. But they're not all appropriate in every single situation. And most of them are cliches, pat answers and trite statements that we use to shut down real, soul-healing conversations with a hurting person.

I grew up in a country where 60 per cent of the population lives on under $2 a day and 22 per cent live under $1 a day,  Everywhere I looked I saw people whose faces had lines of hopelessness etched deep. Poverty grinds people down. It's almost impossible to escape. 'What doesn't kill' people living in those conditions makes them fatalistic, hardened and often lacking any initiative.

I know people who live every day with chronic illnesses, depression and pain that won't go away. 'What doesn't kill' them can make them financially dependent, unemployed and low in energy. Their relationships suffer. Their thinking changes. People around them treat them differently.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

What this *really* means is this: by having to overcome some difficulties, we build resilience.

We start it from a young age with our children. The five year old who falls off her bike and skins her knee will come in crying. "Mummy, mummy, it hurts! The bike did it!' And of course, we say, rightly, "Oh sweetie. I love you. Here's a bandaid. These things happen. It's not the bike's fault. Do you want to have another ride? I'll come with you this time."

With the right words and the right support, we allow our children to suffer - just a little bit - so that they can think better thoughts about their setbacks and find ways to overcome their problems. 

What we sometimes forget is that we've spent five years already protecting that child from the many, many ways she could have been seriously hurt. We've taken scissors and knives out of her hands. We've plugged up electrical outlets with safety devices. We've put barriers against stairwells and then taught her how to go up and down without falling and cracking her skull. 

Learning real resilience (which is different from developing a hard outer shell) goes hand in hand with physical, mental and emotional support, protection and teaching from people who love you. 

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

We say this, or versions of it, a lot in church. 'Embrace your trials.' 'God is using your suffering to teach you.' And for people who aren't suffering much, or who are suffering a little bit, but who already have a lot of resilience in storage, it can be a good thing to hear.

But for people who have used up all their mental and emotional and physical energy, or who have never had that loving support and protection to begin with, or who have faced defeat and tragedy after defeat and tragedy, it can feel like mocking. 

When they hear it, they are five years old again, lying in a pool of their own blood on the concrete, a broken bike sprawled alongside, being yelled at by an angry parent. "Get up! Stop making a fuss! There's nothing wrong with you. You're supposed to get back on the bike like the other kids. And enjoy it! I paid a lot for that bike and now you've ruined it."

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger...

...until it shames you because even despite having plans and intentions and hopes and dreams, and faith in someone who is greater than you, you're still broke, still having panic attacks, still suffering in an abusive relationship. You're still not strong. You're just broken, but you're pretending you're not, or you're hiding how broken you are and hoping no one will notice.

Let's not say it any more.

Instead, let's say this:

God loves you. I love you. Here's a hug. How can I help?

Because it's not trials and suffering and problems and the things that nearly kill you that make you stronger. It's the supporting words and the loving actions and the listening ears and the home delivered meals and the body of Christ that steps in to support you that do that.

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