Frankl notes that, despite the horror of these camps, man must not allow himself to be defined by his tormentors but choose to maintain his dignity and self-respect; he must make good positive constructive choices as best he can. He must have a reason to live; he must see beyond where he is now. Those who lost faith in the future would not last… it was a great mistake to put a time limit on when it would all be over. More died around Christmas and New Year than any other time, probably because they had set these deadlines for it to all be over, and when it wasn’t, they lost all hope.
Are you as tired as I am of all the trite phrases applied to what has become an economic meltdown for a lot of businesses and personal finances? “We’re all in this together,” “This too shall pass,” “Everything will be okay.” These may give solace to those whose economic life hasn’t been affected by the shutdown, but such phrases can be insulting to those who have lost jobs, whose businesses are closed or close to being ruined, and who have experienced the sickness and death of this virus.
So what is the answer? It isn’t found in an unrealistic optimism that believes everything will be okay. It isn’t found in expecting the government or someone else to come and bail us out of a bad situation. It is found, however, in developing the right mindset for this occasion, and it will take work and grit if we are going to beat this pandemic. We can do it, by the grace of God, and I have good evidence to give us confidence going forward.
In his bestselling book on business, Good To Great – Why Some Companies Make The Leap And Others Don’t, Jim Collins tells the story of Admiral Jim Stockdale, who, during the Vietnam War, was the highest ranking officer in the prisoner of war camp, “Hanoi Hilton.” Stockdale and many others experienced extraordinary torture. During his imprisonment, he never lost faith that he would eventually be freed, but that is only half of what got him through. The other thing he did was to confront the brutal facts of his circumstances and never give up addressing them as best he could. Those who didn’t make it out he describes as being unrealistically optimistic; thinking that imprisonment would be over by Christmas or New Year or Easter, their repeated deadlines being unmet, they lost heart and gave up. Stockdale believed each prisoner needed faith that he would survive, but he had to confront the brutal facts of the situation; he wasn’t going home by Christmas.
Collins’ analysis of Stockdale reminded me of another bestseller, Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl. Frankl’s book describes what it was like in the Nazi prison camps and elaborates on what he observed and learned for survival. Frankl notes that, despite the horror of these camps, man must not allow himself to be defined by his tormentors but choose to maintain his dignity and self-respect; he must make good positive constructive choices as best he can. He must have a reason to live; he must see beyond where he is now. Those who lost faith in the future would not last; and, like Stockdale, it was a great mistake to put a time limit on when it would all be over. More died around Christmas and New Year than any other time, probably because they had set these deadlines for it to all be over, and when it wasn’t, they lost all hope.
The last thing I want to imply is that what Stockdale, Frankl, and others like them experienced is anything like what we are going through now; it isn’t. Their experience was far worse; but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from what they experienced and have taught us.
How can we, as Christians, put some of this together? I can’t speak for you and your circumstances, but I see five resolutions and actions to take.
- I must be future oriented. I must resolve that I am going to see this through with God’s help, no matter how long it takes us to come back. God calls us to live future oriented lives trusting Him.
- I must not set a date as to when everything is to be good again. I am in it for the long haul, however long it takes. God knows best when things should be “better.”
- I must define my “why” for seeing this through. Maybe it’s the life a person had before, plus an economic safety net that prevents what’s happening to us now. Maybe –it’s enjoying family, fulfilling dreams that are now on hold, or being all I can be to honor Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord, or a combination of these. I must define and keep my God honoring “why” before me.
- I must face the brutal facts of our current reality and make good choices suited to my circumstances. Maybe there will be sacrifices, giving up some things for a while, cutting back on spending, adding an extra job, learning new skills, etc. There must be adjustment to the present, because that is how things are, now.
- I must take action; I must do the activities that will get me to where I want to go. Having goals without taking action is a daydream; it ends in disappointment and frustration. Reasonable goals aren’t futile; the problem arises when one fails to do the activities that will eventually accomplish the goal. For now, a goal might be survival; later, it becomes stability. I must create a plan, with action steps and activities to get me to where I want to be. Sure, I will pray, but God also calls us to act in light of our circumstances, and do the things we need to do, whether we feel like it or not.
Will this solve all problems and concerns? No way. Will this be easy? No, it’s a lot easier to plan than it is to execute. Is this a perfect prescription to answer every obstacle? No, but it’s far better than sitting around repeating to ourselves, “We’re all in this together.” Others have gone through far worse events than most of us have, and they have left a record of what they learned; and from this we can find wisdom to go forward. God help us.
K.W. “Pete” Hurst is a retired minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He is an Associate Broker in real estate living in Yorktown, Virginia. This article is used with permission.