“Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” James 1:2-4
Often we are told that various experiences in our lives are Hashgacha Protis, divine providence . Nature – the mundane – is the true hashgacha protis. The unending grind of life with its ins and outs, the undulating current of the sea as it sends the water crashing to the shore -only to pull it back once more to its source, the jet stream of the winds as they pass through the endlessly bleak deserts, jagged cliffs and vibrant forests, the crawling of the ant as it pushes a grain of sand up a hill, the path of flight that a single leaf takes as it floats down from its former abode on high in a tree to its new one on the forest flore . . . All of these are hashgacha Protis.
If every facet of our lives is God’s will manifest, how then are we affected by it? Every experience does indeed contribute to the tapestry of our lives -but they need not do so directly. Two people may witness the same event, but step away with very different experiences. What breaks one person, builds the other. One thing I have come out with is this, that my life is not affected by my surrounding, rather my surroundings affect my life.
James 1:2 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. One of the hardest lessons we Christians have to learn is how to be joyful in the midst of pain and suffering. Remember, James tells us to count it all joy when we go through difficult times.
The prophet Zechariah wrote these words of the Lord, “…but a third will be left in the land. I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure, just as gold and silver are refined and purified by fire. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” Zech 13:8-9.
There are moments in life that define us. Most of us have experienced them – moments that made a huge impact and created a shift in our thinking and being. This catalyst for positive change and evolution could be a painful and challenging experience. It is called a ‘crucible experience’ named after the vessels medieval alchemists used while attempting to turn base metals into gold.
Just like Ray Boltz sung, I have journeyed through the long dark night. Out on the open sea by faith alone, sight unknown and yet His eyes were watching me. I have had visions and I even held them in my hands. But I never knew, they would slip right through like they were only grains of sand. I came to call the experiences that have shaped me “crucibles,” The crucible experience for me was a trial and a test, a point of deep self-reflection that forced me to question who I was and what mattered to me. It required me to examine my values, question my assumptions, and hone my judgment. And, invariably, I emerged from the crucible stronger and surer of myself and my purpose—changed in some fundamental way.
Life crucibles can take many forms. Some are violent, life-threatening events. Others are more prosaic episodes of self-doubt. But whatever the crucible’s nature, I am able to create a narrative around it, a story of how I was challenged, met the challenge, and became a better Christian. As I reflect on my story, I find that tell a story of not only how individual person is transformed and shaped but also I pointed to some characteristics that seem common to all people—characteristics that were formed, or at least exposed, in the crucible.
I hit the headlines a decade ago when life became meaningless for me. The hunter became the hunted. But as Galatians 6:1 puts it, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted”, there was a lesson for me in that experience. At the height of my faith and career, the unthinkable happened. The evil one who roams around looking for someone to devour, came face to face with me. In an instant as it were, everything had turned around. It was then that I knew that God is still working on us, to make us what He wants us to be. To know doctrines is one thing, to live them, another. With no one to hold my hand, but receiving blows and stones one after another, I went through the lowest low of my life. The ones I trusted screamed for my blood. The ones I helped from their death beds paid good with evil and sought my life. The bulwarks of the Christian faith abandoned me to my fate. They cried, crucify him, crucify him and release Barabbas for us. That chapter can and lasted and ended. But the moments that I went through have been very transformational in my life. I now look back and say, “The Anchor holds, though the ship is battered, the anchor holds, though the sails are torn. I have fallen on my knees as I faced the raging seas but the anchor holds in spite of the storm. It had have been a painful experience for me, where my integrity and capability were questioned and the Christian image suffered a beating from fellow sojourners on this pilgrimage matching to Zion and focused on unethical entanglements in my life. I went through my divine crucible when these moments came and lasted but I have vaulted back richer due and with experience. I emerged as a transformed person — from the angry young man to Big mature Mr. B.
Each one of us has such an experience and feels like a goalkeeper facing the penalty kick in a football match. No one from the team can help and the gallery is waiting. This is a defining moment and a divine crucible.
“If I had not been in prison, I would not have been able to achieve the most difficult task in my life — changing oneself,” Nelson Mandela, the iconic South African apartheid leader, who spent over a quarter a century in prison, is reported to have said. It is these intense, often traumatic and always unplanned experiences that transform people and become the sources of distinctive personal abilities. These are the defining experiences we call “crucibles.” During my crucible experience I was tried and tested, went through a point of deep self-reflection that forced me to question who I was and what mattered to me. Yes, it required me to examine my values, question my assumptions, and hone my judgment. For me the transformation, new beliefs and a shift in consciousness resulting from the crucible experience is due to adaptive capacity and resilience.
Adaptability and resilience
This, in essence, is the ability to transcend adversity, with all its attendant stresses, and to emerge stronger than before. This is possible when a person allows his or her context to use them and perceive these crucibles in a way that they adapt. Most life challenges are contexts where a a person could unite the team, build a strong sense of purpose and drive transformation.
As a Christian, one of the most important things you can do is to thoughtfully reflect upon your most challenging experiences to understand what they can teach you. Indeed, the ability to routinely learn from “Divine Crucibles” is central to every christian’s development.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back, cope, renew, and revitalise the self and system from a Christian perspective. One of the ways to build resilience is to focus on personal mastery and mindfulness. Many faithful Christians such as David of the Bible, have written a lot after their crucible experiences and tell us a lot about mindfulness, prayer and dependence on God together with personal mastery to build resilience.
So, what is your divine crucible experience? How has it influenced you? Are you building adaptive and resilient christian traits through it?