“Be alert. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
“Achievement builds character. People striving, being knocked down and coming back . . .this is what builds character . . .. In Romans, Paul says that adversity brings on endurance, endurance brings on character, and character brings on hope.”—Tom Landry
Recently, I was talking with my students about the “scaffolding” they bring to the stories they read. We were discussing a short story, “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, that the students had just read. As is often the case with students upon reading this story for the first time, there was great confusion. In their mind, the word, “Lottery” has a positive connotation. What’s not to love about winning money? However, in Jackson’s story, the students soon come to realize that the word, “lottery,” doesn’t necessarily mean winning money.
After explaining the notion of scaffolding to my students, as it pertains to reading and writing, I attempted to invite them to see how each person brings to a story their own unique reading and life experiences. If, for example, they had never before heard the word, lottery, used as a negative, then the brain is left to scramble-around trying to make connections of understanding to from their prior experiences to other parts of the story.
Leading the discussion further, I probed their minds for examples.
“Have you ever read a story and been reminded of a similar situation, or a similar character, or a similar setting?”
Heads nodded around the room, and sidebar discussions ensued.
“At the end of “The Lottery”, it reminded me of the premise of The Hunger Games books and movies.”
“Yeah, well, that woman’s youngest son made be think about my brother in kindergarten.”
“Oh, yeah. Totally. That women who was stoned made me think of that story in the Bible about the woman about to be stoned, and Jesus saves her. . .”
It occurred to me later, as I was in a conversation with my brother, Scott, how this same notion of scaffolding is true for life. With each new situation, experience, and/or person we encounter, we bring our own life experiences—even baggage– and make certain assumptions about what will occur. More often than not, these assumptions are often wrong, or at the very least, off-target; and, if we truly pay attention and maintain an open mind, our scaffolding—our understanding—shifts and even expands. However, if we avoid new situations, new people, new skills, and/or avoid trying new things, then our scaffolding, like those attached to work sites, remain fixed and rigid.
I am reminded of the scaffolding along the multi-storied federal building in Huntington, WV, the town in which I work. Several years ago it was renovated for security purposes. Local traffic along 5th Ave and 8th streets was often altered due to the ever-changing scaffolding. With each phase of the renovation, the shape of the scaffolding and the space it filled varied, changed, and, at times, grew. It rarely stayed one shape or one level for long. The same is true for us when we try new things, meet new people, or dive into new experiences. Nonetheless, this does not occur without some risk for negative experiences.
The scaffolding used today in construction looks and is made differently than when high-rise buildings were first built. Accidents, falls, and tragically, even deaths, informed engineers on how to design stronger, safer, more durable, and more reliable scaffolding. The same is true for life.
Does heartbreak hurt? Does injury create pain? Do failures, break-ups, accidents and so forth create misery and/or heart ache? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yet, it is these very events that teach us the lessons we need in order to grow stronger, more durable, and perhaps even, more dependable, creating greater empathy/understanding, and perhaps even. increase one’s capacity for love.
A month, or so ago, a friend sent me a devotional-style story that focused on Tom Landry, arguably one of the most successful professional football coaches. As I read the story, it talked of Landry’s experience with adversity. It described the way in which Landry was treated when he first arrived at Dallas, and the team was not winning. He was much maligned, vilified, and disparaged for his team’s lackluster performance. However, when his team began to experience success, Landry became the hero in this same public’s eye.
The author’s lesson was that Landry was the same person. He had not changed. Landry had courageously stood firm in his convictions and loved his work, regardless of what others said or thought. While I wholeheartedly agree with that take away, I also think the author skipped another point: adversity increases personal perseverance, which increases one’s character. Landry knew this; and though the author of the devotional story did not state this, I later read an interview in which Landry made this very point to a reporter.
The tendency of human beings, including me, is to resist change, resist pain, and discomfort as well as avoid challenges. And yet, no matter how much we resist and avoid these negative experiences, life still has a way of forcing us to experience these. Heartache, physical and emotional pain, as well as loss, are all a valid, and important, parts of life. Without them, not only do we lack opportunities to increase our stamina/perseverance, but we lack understanding, empathy, and compassion. Like those first attempts at high-rise construction scaffolding, we are weak, inflexible, and lack strength. When Landry and his players experienced loss, criticism, and failures, they grew stronger as individuals and as a team. It was from those negative life experiences, that they grew as individuals and as a collective. The same is true for all of us.
We do not have to be a professional football coach to experience adversity, criticism, and challenges. These are all part of the human experience. However, we can have faith that if we remain strong in our convictions, act with courage in the face of difficulties, work and interact with others with great love/passion for what is right, our ability (endurance) to withstand difficulties strengthens–expanding our character and increasing our hope. After all, isn’t hope one of the biggest driving forces throughout history as well as through our own personal story, your personal scaffolding? As the old Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
Whatever you are going through, Dear Reader, don’t quit. Don’t. Quit.
Students from St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, grades 6-8, recently at an end-of-the-year neon-themed dance. With each new experience, including this dance, students are developing their scaffolding, understanding, of life.