Facing Adversity — It’s How You Respond That Matters
Have you ever been watching television or listening to the radio when the normal programming is interrupted by a test of the Emergency Broadcast System? One minute you’re listening to music or watching a show, and then suddenly you hear a loud, annoying noise for 30 or 60 seconds.
I used to hate those tests because they always seemed to come at the worst time — right when I didn’t want the show or song to be interrupted. And since there was never any advance warning the test was coming, there was no way I could avoid it. The station just broke in with the message, “This is a test … this is only a test.”
Life’s trials and setbacks are often like that. They come with no warning … just an announcement: “This is a test.”
I have been in the fire service for close to 40 years, and I’ve seen a lot of things that can challenge you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. You don’t get much advance warning when the doctor comes back with bad lab results. There’s never enough notice when your department’s budget is cut and you’re going to be let go. Of course, things like that aren’t actually tests. They’re real life.
Life’s setbacks show up at the most inopportune times. We can’t schedule adversity, but we can certainly choose how we react when it finds us.
My Own Personal Adversity
Just over seven months ago, my father passed away. Along with my mom’s passing several years ago, this was one of the toughest trials I’ve faced during my lifetime. Just when I was feeling like I was getting back to some semblance of normalcy, I’m now facing a retrial. On Dec. 2, 2022, my brother passed away unexpectedly.
As I was still processing what had just happened, I was shocked and a little disappointed by some other people’s reactions to my grief. Frankly, I was amazed at what I heard coming out of these people’s mouths. It can be both perplexing and questionable what people say. Their words left me angered and insulted, to say the least. Doesn’t anyone have compassion anymore?
Where to Turn for Peace?
Like many of you, my first instinct when something terrible and unexpected happens in my life is to turn to my faith — not to question it, but to help put things into perspective. Throughout the scriptures, we’re reminded that trials are an inevitable reality in life. After we removed my brother from life support, I thumbed through my Bible and happened upon this verse from the Epistle of James: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).
Pure joy? It took a moment for the full impact of that passage to make it through to my grieving heart. Notice the Bible does not say if you encounter trials, but when. Hardship is a simple fact of life, and inescapable.
Hardship by Design
As I struggled to make some sense of my loss, I found myself listening to a sermon by Dr. Tony Evans in which he spoke at length about trials. As he got to the meat of his message, I dropped what I was doing and began to take notes. Here’s my take-away: According to Dr. Evans, every one of our trials is “custom made” just for us — specially designed by God. They are ours and intended for no one else. The main purpose of these customized trials is to help us grow as family members, as members of society, and as human beings.
As I considered this, it dawned on me that the people around me weren’t being intentionally insensitive; they just weren’t experiencing what I was going through just then. Though they tried to relate to what I was feeling, this was my trial and not theirs. They might not understand until a year from now, or even 10 years in the future. We can never avoid trials; they are part of life. They are what makes us grow.
One of Dr. Evans’ best examples was that of a mother’s pain during childbirth. Though it’s one of the most painful experiences a person could face, it’s faced with joy because the result is a brand-new life. Like giving birth to a baby, trials help us become reborn. They’re the unfortunate requirement if we are to grow in compassion and understanding.
Why Do We Try to Avoid Trials?
If it were up to me, I would never voluntarily sign up to go through adversity. Practically nobody would. Instead, we would make it a top priority to avoid them completely. It’s important to remember, though, that good times don’t last forever. And neither do the bad times.
Yes, there will be times when it seems like you are progressing in life and everything is great. There will also be times that challenge us, when we may feel we are not progressing at all. But it’s during those times of hardship when we must not quit, for in quitting we stop growing. If we stop growing, how can we be tested, and if we remain untested, how can we realize our fullest potential?
Maturity means accepting that trials come to try us, to refine us. As the Bible tells us, “I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them….” (Zechariah 13:9).
How to Prepare for Adversity
The best way to prepare for the adversity that will inevitably come is to decide right now that quitting isn’t an option. If you’re a praying person, it’s never good to “pray away” your trials. Instead, pray for the endurance to overcome them. Some take the same test over and over because they never quite finish. They quit. There’s no growth or development if you don’t persevere and endure the test until your change comes.
Problems are tests. We want to run from them, but avoiding trials is the same as avoiding progress. You have to deal with them and persevere to the other side. Just like my tests are my tests (with my name on them), your tests are yours alone.
How we look at tests is how we pass and go through them. When you run into a trial, be joyful! Say, “Yes, this is hard, but I feel good and know this is good for me. That there will be growth and rebirth in the end!”
Those of us who work in public safety see trauma all too regularly. Sometimes it’s our own, and sometimes it belongs to someone else. We talk a lot about post-traumatic stress and the disorder that can follow (PTSD) but we don’t often acknowledge post-traumatic growth. As Dr. Richard Tedeschi, one of the psychologists who coined that term, puts it, “People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life.”
To me, that’s just a fancy way of saying what James wrote later in his epistle: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those that love Him” (James 1:12). This is the promise that is getting me through my current trials. It also happens to be the quote I chose for my father’s headstone.
Yes, trials and tribulations are indeed God’s will for His children. Like my dad, my brother faced many trials. This is not a test; it’s real life. Like my brother, like me and everyone who ever lives, you will face trials. We cannot escape them, but we can choose how we face them!
About Sam DiGiovanna
SAM DIGIOVANNA is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as fire chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, California. DiGiovanna also serves as a senior consultant for Lexipol, supporting the Cordico wellness solution. Cordico provides access to critical mental health information and resources to help those on the front lines best take care of themselves and ensure they are best prepared to serve others. Cordico was acquired by Lexipol in 2020.