victim. survivor. thriver.

kathyescobar healing, jesus is cool, spiritual formation, the refuge 11 Comments


i know i say this all the time, but this past week goes down in recent history as one of the wackiest in a while.  living in real community is not, capital IS NOT a picnic.   it’s a beautiful gift, and i wouldn’t trade it for anything, but sometimes life in the low places is just plain old hard.   coming on the heels of a lovely holy week and celebration of easter, i was reminded yet again that life–real life, the kind that Jesus brings–is a crazy mixture of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, pain and joy, fear and courage.

i  taught this year at our easter celebration, which was fun for me mainly just because i love hope, resurrection, new life, the wild & crazy easter story.  and those of you who preach/teach/facilitate/lead know that when you are working on what to share, you always get extra busted, convicted, stirred, moved, rocked, strengthened, irritated, or frustrated in some way, shape or form.   yep, that’s what happened with me.  earlier last week i came across a quick email newsletter from the clergy leadership institute about the three angles on the easter story.  here’s my take on it:

if we stopped with good friday, it’s a victim story.  Jesus wrongly accused, arrested, killed unjustly.

if we stopped with holy saturday, it’s a survivor story.  Jesus is dead, gone. the disciples need to move on and accept that their hopes were dashed and figure out how to survive.

but resurrection sunday is a thriver story.  an infusion of new life and hope emerges out of death, darkness, and lost hope.   it’s an overcoming story–not the kind of overcoming where everything is smooth & easy and all falls into place (we all know how rough the road post-resurrection was for Jesus’ followers).  but a life of faith and hope and peace in the midst of the trouble.

this metaphor has all kinds of implications for us as individuals, as teams/groups/families, as  communities. (important note: i am not speaking to people who don’t understand the ravages of real life, who don’t understand or respect their own pain or the pain and others. i’m talking to the majority of you who read this blog who understand that real life, real faith, is harder than we expected.  happy clappy’s can abuse this metaphor).

  • victim.  i think in this crazy genesis 3 world it is most easy to live as a victim.  life didn’t quite go the way we had hoped.  some of us are real abuse victims, hurt by the hands of others.  others have failed marriages, kids gone awry, wounding by churches, lost faith, lost love, lost hope.  the list of injustices is long.  i’m not saying that each of these pains doesn’t have some victim-ness to it, i just think it’s really easy to get stuck here.  i know from my own personal experience, especially when it comes to church wackiness.
  • survivor. i also think a vast majority of us emerge from life-as-victim and move into survival mode.  this is the place i most easily live.  i pride myself on being a survivor, pulling myself up by my bootstraps despite the obstacles and figuring it out.   it’s a controlled, eeking-out-whatever-good-we-can kind of existence.  sure, there’s hope here and there and lots of pride that “at least i’m not back there anymore” but the essence of survivor mode is really just staying alive, making it through the day, gutting it out, doing the best we can with what we’re left with.  spiritually,  survivors don’t really count on God for much; hope and expectations are kept pretty low so we’re not disappointed again.
  • thriver.  thriving?  really?  my reaction to the word was shared by many in our community.  it is a scary word, mainly because of all the misinterpretations of it in the christian world that has pumped so many of us with false theology about what life and spirituality is really supposed to look like, feel like.  my first reactions to the word “thrive” are that it somehow means strong, put-together, all-good-no-bad, happy-clappy.   but the more i reflected on it, i love the word because it implies being planted in solid ground, nurtured, tended to, able to grow into what it’s supposed to grow into.

in the victim.survivor.thriver email i received, i loved this line:  “Jesus didn’t say ‘i come to bring you less death.’  no, he came that we’d have life.  and to me, life means a little more hope, more peace, more freedom, more joy, more beauty, more justice, more healing, more sacrifice in the midst of a hard, harsh world that we live in. Jesus didn’t promise an easy road; in fact, he told us that following him would be a rough ride.  and it would require going down, not up.   but that his ways lead to life, not death.  to hope, not despair.

i don’t think God wants us to stay stuck as victims or just survivors.  it’s not that either of those are bad or that he’s not present with us in both of those places of our experiences. i just find it hard to believe that’s the big idea.  the last thing i’d want for my kids or my friends is that they’d be stuck being hopeless victims or tired struggling survivors.

but hope is dangerous.  and thriving requires it.

i think we can thrive despite our circumstances, despite all the wacky ways life, faith, relationships messed with us.  i have seen it up close and personal.  people in the world’s crappiest situations filled with a crazy weird hope that is present in the midst of the pain and suffering they live with each and every day.   thriving doesn’t look like a nice house, a great marriage, healthy kids, cars with gas and insurance, food in the cupboards, and cable tv.  that’s just the wacky american-dream-that’s-become-christian-success.   i think thriving means living from a loved place.  a solid place.  a-yes-my-life-is-harder-and-weirder-than-i-want-it-to-be-but-i-still-have-hope place.  a beatitudes as a pathway to peace place.

i have been thinking about this cycle from all kinds of angles this week, and as the refuge celebrates its 4 year birthday this weekend i can see how we are shifting as a community, too.  believe me, we started as victims.  we were bloodied, beaten, barely-breathing when we started as a way to show that big-bad-church-that-hurt-us that they couldn’t take away our dreams.  we really showed them, ha! (trust me, when it comes to numbers, we’re good at church shrinkage & they’re good at church growth).   then, we’ve spent the past couple of years shifting from victims to survivors.  we pride ourselves on our ability to survive despite the obstacles.  to make-things-happen-with-basically-nothing.  to keep our expectations low so we’re not disappointed.  but, like all survivors, we are tired and really self-reliant. we’re always used to scraping, begging, clawing our way along.  it’s not all bad.  hey, survivors have a lot of amazing qualities.

but, this easter i was reminded what resurrection looks like, how out of death and darkness hope and new life can emerge.  how hope, despite its dangers, is worth leaning into.  how in order to thrive,  we as the refuge (and me, personally)  need to lean into possibility and hope instead of default to blaming & surviving.   yeah, a gentle breeze swept in this easter, reminding me God wants to nurture me, nurture us, in ways i/we might have been resistant to because it’s easier to be a victim or a survivor.   to be firmly planted in good, solid soil that will sustain the elements, so we can be strong enough, humble enough to live, is indeed dangerous.  but beautiful.  and i think the big idea.

so here’s my hope for me, for us, for you–that if you identify more with the victim story or the survivor story–individually, corporately, or anything in between–that we consider together the possibility of entering a new chapter of the story that embraces what it might mean to thrive.

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a few additional thoughts:

this picture was taken by the lovely jenny herrick from our lent station night; it was from the “darkness” station, where people shared what they hoped would emerge from the darkness over this season.  they sprouted over the past 40 days & we used them at easter.

i have a post up at communitas collective this week called it’s about the people, people.  feel free to share any comments there.

if you can pull it off, join us at the transFORM east coast gathering april 29th-may 2nd in DC.  i am really excited for the conversations and dreams that will emerge from there.  let me know if you are going so we can connect!