My pastor, Tom, grew up in Philadelphia – a city divided by several rivers.
In high school, Tom and his friends decided to walk out over the water on an ‘abandoned’ railroad bridge to jump into the river. They scaled the bridge, and climbed beneath the tracks. All his friends jumped but Tom was having problems letting go because of his fear of heights.
After twenty minutes of hesitation, Tom started to consider climbing back up and walking off the tracks when he heard the unmistakable sound of a train coming around the bend… The track wasn’t abandoned after all!
Tom immediately let go and jumped – the threat of facing an oncoming train inspired his courage to act.
“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” – Horace
Perhaps unsurprisingly, adversity works the same way in everyday life. In other words, sometimes adversity is the one thing that can catalyze action where nothing else can. There are four reasons why:
- Adversity Limits Your Options – Sometimes we have difficulty making a decision because we have too many options. We suffer from ‘analysis paralysis.’ However, adversity can really help! When adversity rears its head, some courses of action quickly lose their appeal, or even their viability. Thus, adversity can effectively narrow the field of considerations and help us make a decision.
- Adversity Forces Your Hand – Adversity can also bring you to a point where your options are not only limited, but you actually have to make a choice. As the story above describes, Tom no longer had to decide whether to jump or not – he had to get off the tracks or risk death! What’s amazing is how often these dramatic situations arise. We can all think of people we know who resisted budgeting all the way to bankruptcy, or healthy eating all the way to heart disease.
- Adversity Clarifies Your Priorities – When you do have to make a hard choice, adversity forces you to make a definitive qualitative assessment of your priorities. Oftentimes, this involves weighing difficult tradeoffs and discomfort that you would not otherwise embrace voluntarily. I experienced this during my first year of law school and it led to life-changing insight.
- Adversity Inspires Your Action – Finally, adversity routinely engenders an emotional state that acts as a catalyst to overcome the inertia of inaction and drive you forward. Accordingly, it has been said that there are only two motivators in life – fear and reward. In the story above, it was fear – Tom’s fear of getting run over by the oncoming train was greater than his fear of heights. As a result, Tom jumped.
“…in this world, you will have trouble…” John 16:33a (NIV)
Adversity is a fact of life. It’s hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely bad. Ideally, we would each make all the right decisions and act without the need for the kind of ‘push’ that adversity can provide. However, if we fail to do so or life just gets in the way, this is one aspect of adversity we can all learn to appreciate!
“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” – William Arthur Ward, American Optimist and Author (Click to Tweet)
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