Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On Surviving

First, the Quote of the Day:

Emily: Today it's exactly one year that I got sick.
Me: Wow, you've really accomplished something.
Emily: I feel like I've accomplished nothing.
Me: You survived. That's a lot.
Emily: And what's the alternative to surviving?

Ok, dear readers, I want to hear you on this: is surviving something an accomplishment or not? And why or why not? And does it make a difference if you had a choice, like giving birth?*

*[to clarify--each time I got pregnant I chose to engage in behavior that I knew very well could get me into such a state, often even hoping it would, even though I knew this would lead to the suffering of pregnancy and giving birth. While I still feel like a survivor, having been through it 5 times, I see this as somewhat different from something that comes on you out of the blue, like West Nile Fever or cancer or getting hit by a drunk driver]

I'm with the Apostle James here--"Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy."
Or in the KJV which sounds cooler:
Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy."

I think "enduring" here can include surviving even if you don't have a choice. Like John McCain and his five years as a POW. I think he paid his dues with that horrible experience and even though I don't endorse many things he's done since and maybe his people overuse this as an excuse for every mistake he's made, I have to hand it to him for being a survivor and going through something very few of us ever have or will.
[No political comments now pleeeeeeeeeeeeease.]

So. Is surviving an accomplishment?


  1. This question has all sorts of existential themes. I think especially of the existentialist Viktor Frankl who was a psychiatrist and Holocaust prisoner. He concluded that "even in the most absurd, painful and dehumanized situation, life has potential meaning and that therefore even suffering is meaningful." "To maintain his own feeling of being worthy of his sufferings in the dismal conditions, he would frequently march outside and deliver a lecture to an imaginary audience about "Psychotherapeutic Experiences in a Concentration Camp", believing that by fully experiencing the suffering objectively, he would thereby end it." (Wikipedia)
    I think Frankl understood at least part of the truth--that it is possible to find meaning in suffering. But I don't think he understood what a precious offering to God it is when saints suffer. That's what seems to me to imbue suffering with meaning.
    Albert Camus, another existentialist, said there is only one philosophical problem--the problem of suicide (often the result of concluding that life is meaningless). Suicide is the unthinkable alternative to surviving.
    In that sense, every day that a person chooses to do the next right thing, to choose life, even when life is very hard, is an accomplishment that God notices.

  2. Absolutely! My comments won't sound as deep as the one before but to endure any hard situation is to survive. And coming through it with a good attitude is an accomplishment as well.
    Dorcas, I just discovered your blog and am reading all the past ones. It's taking me awhile but I am enjoying your fresh yet Mennonite look at different situations. ie- altar calls, living in Lancaster Co. etc. What a howl! I've been quoting you to my family and they roll their eyes.

  3. Does surviving mean simply existing--you are still breathing? Or does surviving mean, going on with life in spite of obstacles--in Emily's case--illness? I think Emily is a survivor who has chosen to go on with life in spite of the obstacles thrown at her. Hats off to her!!

  4. Surviving is an accomplishment simply by choosing to stay in a difficult situation, (vs. what? suicide?)but surviving difficulty with a soft, more sympathetic heart toward ourselves and others is an incredible accomplishment.
    I've been encouraged recently by the realization that Jesus did not especially find joy or beauty in the moment of the cross, but "despised the shame" and "for the joy set before Him" endured.

  5. Of course survival means something. Surviving anything has it's lessons, therefore you gain something from it. Ask a cancer surviver if it means something. Your daughter should feel that she has accomplished much.

  6. I don't know if JUST surviving counts, but surviving with a good attitude definetely counts. A friend of mine recently quoted in her blog:
    "Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
    though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
    though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
    yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

    The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to go on the heights."

    Habakkuk 3:17-19 NIV

    When I went through my first miscarriage and the depression that followed, I read in Job, "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him." (other translations have "trust" or "serve" or "love"). At what point do we quit believing God loves us? When our children die? When we go hungry? When disease ravages our bodies? Or do we hold to this belief that no matter what happens to us, God loves us?

    I had to learn that even though I don't understand my pain or why I have to endure pain or loss, and even though God is silent when I ask "Why?", He IS still God and He IS still good. These are the hard areas of faith.

    An old professor of mine used to say that there is no right answer to a wrong question. The question "Does just surviving count?" if by "surviving" you are talking about clinging to physical life, is not a good question. Did her Faith survive? That is a better question.

    Did it? Then YES, it counts!!! It counts a lot. Because if you can go through struggles that you don't understand and still KNOW that God is Good, then you have won a HUGE battle.

  7. I think survival can only be appreciated through the lens of time and wisdom and proximity to the Lord. Ten years ago when I was in a horrible marriage and severely depressed I actually hated myself all the more for not having "the guts" to end my life...the intervening years have brought even more struggles but I finally really turned my life over to Jesus and now, although arguably my life is even harder as a single mom of three, the depression meds are gone and I go to bed each night with a "Thank you for this day" on my lips that is sincere. Looking back I can understand so much better how all I've gone through was used by a loving God to teach me total dependence on him, sympathy for others, and strength to face even more if need be. My struggles have become my strongest witness to others. My struggles were accompanied by a long list of miracles that showed me how much God really loved ME.

    I wouldn't change a thing now, even if I could. It's hard to explain.

    I would highly recommend the novel "The Shack" for an in depth exploration of why God allows suffering in our lives.

  8. This may or may not mean anything to you in your situation, but just in case, here goes:
    While my mom was battling cancer, a friend gave her a Streams In The Desert book. She was able to read through it several times before Jesus took her Home and your post reminded me of the August 16th devotional which she wrote "How true - how very true!" beside. The end of it goes like this:
    Must life be considered a failure for someone compelled to stand still, forced into inaction and required to watch the great, roaring tides of life from shore? No - victory is then to be won by standing still and quietly waiting. Yet this is a thousand times harder to do than in the past, when you rushed headlong into the busyness of life. It requires much more courage to stand and wait and still not lose heart or lose hope, to submit to the will of God, to give up opportunities for work and leave honors to others, and to be quiet, confident, and rejoicing while the busy multitude goes happily along their way. The greatest life is: "after you have done everything, to stand" (Eph. 6:13). By J.R. Miller
    Many blessings to you and yours.

  9. "And does it make a difference if you had a choice, like giving birth?" Could you explain this further...I'm not sure what you mean. I'm thinking that all eight times that I gave birth I never felt more imprisoned! It was something I had to go through with. I couldn't back out of the process. I had no choice.

  10. Thank you, lavenderlous for asking that question! I was wondering too, but figured I must just be missing something!

  11. Lou and Ribbit--I added a bit of clarification. Hope it helps. You have a good point though, that once you're in it, there's no getting out of it. The inevitability of birth was overwhelming and almost terrifying for me the last few weeks of my pregnancies.

  12. YES surviving is an accomplishment. In my own life it has been nothing but the Grace of God that has made surviving these last two years possible O and a little stubborn will power to=)

  13. Emily has done more than survive in the last year, she has become a gracious lady who i am happy not only to call my friend, but also to say i have learned from. She has definitely accomplished much.

  14. As someone who has dealt with chronic illness, I would say that yes, surviving definitely counts!

  15. As a 8 1/2 months pregnany Mama ready for #4, I say, "Yes! Survival IS an accomplishment!" Love your blog.