I first picked up the book, ‘A Resilient Life’ by Gordon MacDonald when I was just turning 40. That was a very long time ago! Even so I still remember the profound impact it had on me then (and still continues to have). At the time I was entering into mid-life with all the associated questioning and self-doubt as to what had I achieved or, perhaps more accurately, not achieved in my life. It seemed to me so many others had done so much more, were further along the road of their calling and generally more sorted out (a dangerous thing to think!). Maybe you could call it the typical Midlife – Crisis or Chrysalis that is the subject of a previous blog post.

SamuelWanjiruMacdonald had a beautifully simple analogy that drew me into his book. Imagine the marathon runner, he says. He runs that race –  all 26 miles and 365 yards (or 42.2 kilometres if you prefer). It is long; it is gruelling; it is tough. But if the runner paces themselves correctly then they aim to finish the race with a sprint. They don’t just hobble across the finish line – no they aim to end with a final flourish, celebrating the end in a way that brings a climax to all they have done to come so far.

Macdonald defined ‘the way of resilience’ in someone as “going through adversity, coming out stronger so they are now an inspiration to others, getting better as time goes by.” 

For someone getting older that is enormously attractive!

Resilience matters more and more because:

In that context, the imperatives of the book deeply challenged me:

  • You can move ahead no matter what.
  • Finish what you start.
  • Persevere in adversity.
  • Push yourself to your potential.

So life is more of a marathon than a sprint. Quoting Macdonald:

“It makes little difference how fast you can run the 100 metres when the race is 400 metres long. Life is not a sprint; it is a distance run, and it demands the kind of conditioning that enables people to go the distance.”

Of course we can be called to leave the race at any point. None of us knows when that might be (on 17 March 2014 I was painfully reminded of that). But if I focus on what I have control of, then I too need to pace myself for the long haul. And here was the clincher for me. The marathon runner aims to end the race with a sprint. After all those miles of running , he aims to have enough reserve that he can end with a final burst of energy.

MacDonald reflected on how many of the characters God used in the Old Testament tended to be either very young or very old. For the men and women later on in life, they were in their 60s, 70s and 80s. The point he made has encouraged me for years and excites me about the future. We should be pacing our lives for the long haul such that our most fruitful and productive years are in our later years – in our 60s, 70s and 80s!

In a world that celebrates youth and looks with nostalgia on the past that is powerfully subversive. Tie that in combination with a favourite quote of mine from Tim Keller:

In Christ, our bad things can turn out for good, our good things can never be lost and the best is yet to come!

Rather than slowing down into retirement my best years are in front of me. In some mysterious and wonderful way He is creating a tapestry from the good, the bad and the ugly of my life. (For more on this see Podcast #012 On Turning 50!)

So what does it take to develop resilience? According to Macdonald, the resilient manifest 5 character qualities:

They are committed to finishing strong.
They run inspired by a big-picture view of life.
They run free of the weight of the past.
They run confidently, trained to go the distance,
They run in the company of a “happy few”.

For more on resilience see Podcast #013: How To Grow In Resilience.

For more on Gordon Macdonald see Podcast #018: Spiritual Maturity.