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Growing Through Adversity

Magna Parks-Porterfield


Do you have trials and adversity in your life? If you are still a living, moving being, you are probably answering this question with a resounding “Yes!” Can I get a little “personal” and share some of my challenging experiences with you? In 1995, my brother, who was a physician, went missing. And this occurred soon after I cancelled a wedding a month before it was scheduled to occur. Three years later, this same brother was found dead the week before my wedding to a different man. I did marry that person and 13 years later he died suddenly at the age of 49. During the time of my marriage (2007) I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I also lost both of my parents, with my dad being the most recent loss in 2014. In addition to all of these events, I’ve experienced a number of other challenges and disappointments in life.

I am sure each one reading this can also share stories of adversity—some more and some less than others. Jesus told us in His Word that, “in this world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). Why? Well, for one, we are all in the midst of a controversy between good and evil, between God and Satan. However, while in this conflict, God can (if we allow Him) use the difficulties that come our way to help us develop more godly characters. We are actually told this by several Bible authors (see James 1:2, 3, Romans 5:3, and Hebrews 12:11).

This concept of developing character through adversity is now being recognized in the field of psychology. This is exciting to me as a psychologist, because experts and researchers in my field are discovering what God told us in His word thousands of years ago. As it relates to this topic, psychologists have coined a phrase known as “posttraumatic growth,” which is defined as “positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging circumstances.” In a nutshell, when we deal with adversity and trials, it is actually possible for us to grow mentally and emotionally. Please do note the definition given earlier, which says that the growth is “as a result of the struggle.” Growth through adversity doesn’t come easily. We will have to contend with the difficulties that come our way and will often still experience feelings of sadness, pain, hurt, etc. But while we struggle with our adversity and experience these emotions, we can also become better, stronger people.

How do we do this? Well, the research tells us that we must be intentional about developing what is known as resilience, which is defined as “toughness” or the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. This can be done on various levels— emotionally, physically, mentally, socially, and especially spiritually. Some of the things we can do to develop and strengthen resilience (based on research) are as follows:

  1. Stay physically active. It has been proven that those who are physically toughened are able to better withstand stress.
  2.  Change how you view adversity. For example, find meaning in difficult situations, learn from mistakes, view obstacles as challenges.
  3. Manage your emotions. When you feel a negative emotion, do something to help you experience several positive emotions, such as viewing a picture that brings joy, or listen to uplifting music.
  4. Stay connected socially. Do something to reach out to others, such as expressing gratitude through a phone call or a card.
  5. Read and memorize the promises of God in the Word. This will help you trust God more and will give you strength to carry out some of the previously mentioned sources of resilience.

I can personally attest to the fact that growth can occur through adversity. For example, I am now a stronger and somewhat different person (for the better) since one of the major challenges I have faced—the death of my husband. And as I look back at the whole experience, I can see how I, unknowingly at the time, engaged in activities that helped build resilience.

In my own ministry/organization I have received testimonies from others who have felt encouraged and empowered by understanding the concept of growth through adversity. In one case, I received an e-mail from a person in another country who told me that they received “healing” from implementing what they heard in one of my presentations about the concept of posttraumatic growth. Another gentleman called me and told me that after listening to the same talk, he made the decision to start working on building resilience. The knowledge that we can grow from adversity is one that I seek to share with those whom I counsel.

So, I would like to encourage you to ask God to give you whatever you need to become a better, stronger person as you “weather the storms” that come your way. The promises in His Word are sure and you can count on Him to help you grow through adversity!