Bear Up, Don’t Give Up, in the Face of Adversity

Bear Up, Don’t Give Up, in the Face of Adversity April 21, 2024

A black bear (Ursus americanus) sitting; 18 April 2008; Mike Bender/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It is vital that we bear up rather than give up in the face of adversity. How do we go about doing it? No doubt, there are many ways to grow in bearing up. Here are three: cultivating a deep sense of secure attachment with God and others; developing strategies for successful adaptation amid challenges like depression and anxiety; and growing in approaching life by way of creative maladjustment. This post reflects briefly upon all three.

This subject matter is always on my mind, especially since my adult son Christopher’s catastrophic brain injury over three years ago. I even thought about it while reading a children’s book to his daughter Jaylah Thursday afternoon. It is titled, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

This classic children’s story features a family of five and their dog who decide to go on a trek one day in search of a bear. They hardly look the part or appear well-prepared for the hunt. However, anything goes in make-believe.

This little family experiences many challenges along the way, like “a deep, cold river,” “a swirling, whirling snowstorm,” and “a narrow, gloomy cave.” Each time they come upon some imposing obstacle, they chant: “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it.”

My granddaughter Jaylah and I joined in the cross-country venture and added our voices to the chant as we read. It was a lot of fun, even while I thought through the laughter about our real-life challenges as a family that we have endured the past three years. It has been an unfathomable journey through the wilderness on the hunt for meaningful recovery from TBI with Christopher. We have a lot of deep, chilly rivers, swirling, howling snowstorms, and dark, treacherous caves to endure in the effort to get to our destination.

In make-believe children’s stories and unbelievable real-life challenges, there are times when “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it.” In this light, feel free to chant along out loud as you read this post!

How might we prepare for unbelievable challenges and obstacles along the way? We will not be able to go above or below the rivers, snowstorms, and mountainous caves. We will need to go through them. With this point in mind, we need to be properly dressed and fitted, as well as skillfully prepared for the trek. As noted at the outset of this post, such preparations include: cultivating secure attachment in relation to God and community; developing successful adaptation strategies; and growing in creative maladjustment. You will note that I included links in the prior sentence to articles where you can reflect at length on these subjects. Please take the time to consider these important themes.

Only as we experience loving, secure attachment in relation to God and others, are we able to operate in spiritually and emotionally healthy ways. Such secure attachment helps us to adapt successfully and be agile amid the daunting depression and anxiety that inevitably arise in our lives due to tragedies and upheaval. Lastly, secure attachment and successful adaptation mobilize us to be creatively maladjusted so that we do not shut down but move forward proactively. Such creative maladjustment leads us to swim against the emotionally turbulent stream and not drown. We can make something out of nothing, bring good out of evil, and care empathically for others so they, too, will swim rather than sink.

Rather than shut down or turn around, we have kept on going, and will continue to do so as a family. No matter the obstacles, we can say, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it … We’ve got to go through it.” Secure attachment to God in community, successful adaptation with agility, and creative maladjustment are like walking sticks, compasses, and energy bars and drinks. They help us to bear up rather than give up in the face of adversity.

In closing, I wish to share about an elderly man at my son’s care facility. He always asks about Christopher. Yesterday, I took Christopher on a stroll outside in his wheelchair. When we returned to the facility, we met our elderly friend sitting in his wheelchair by the entrance. I positioned Christopher’s wheelchair so that they were facing one another.

This precious, elderly man endures a great many physical and emotional challenges. Such difficulties have kept him for several years now from returning home to his loving wife. But rather than turn inward and fixate on his struggles, he takes a keen interest in Christopher. Case in point. At one point in the conversation yesterday, my friend motioned with his good arm and hand as he gazed at my son who was facing him: “Come on out, Christopher. Whenever you’re ready. No rush. Anytime. We’re waiting for you … I can’t wait (for you to come on out) … You are loved, Christopher. Jesus loves you.” My friend choked back tears as he spoke these precious words.

This elderly man is one of my greatest teachers. He inspires me to pursue secure attachment with God and others. My friend encourages me to pursue successful adaptation to life’s tragedies involving depression and anxiety. This friend of Christopher invites us to pursue creative maladjustment to turn our struggles involving depression and anxiety into opportunities to care empathically for others.

Next time Christopher and I go on a bear hunt, I am going to make sure my elderly friend is going with us. Don’t let the wheelchair and bad hand fool you. He is well-prepared to face the imposing rivers, snowstorms, and caves that await us on the hunt. Like him, we can bear up rather than give up in the face of adversity. In the face of each monumental obstacle, we can chant, “We won’t go over it. We won’t go under it. Oh, yes! We get to go through it.” That’s how to respond to life’s greatest challenges, turning them into adventures in pursuit of momentous growth.

To read the various posts about our family’s unfathomable journey with TBI, please go to this link. Thank you for your prayers and caring thoughts!

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology and Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous works, including More Than Things: A Personalist Ethics for a Throwaway Culture (IVP Academic), as well as a forthcoming book on trauma and resilience (Cascade Books). You can read more about the author here.
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