The late Princess Diana told us, in a BBC interview, that in life you have to choose to either sink or to swim. She was talking about survival.
In my own life I have struggled through infertility, depression, panic attacks, and adoptive parenting issues. And I would like to believe I have chosen (still choosing in some cases) to swim through all of these. Survived.
Until now I saw the label of being a survivor as positive. Survivors are fighters, they have courage, and they do not give up. Survivors are forced to overcome fear, and will often encourage others who are striving to survive.
But survivors are often tired, and always on the edge of fighting the next battle. I picture it like being stranded on a life raft in the middle of shark-infested waters. If you are a survivor, you make a fishing line from clothing, and eat what you catch; you collect rainwater for hydration, and whatever other skills you learned from movies. Danger and death are always near and there is no frivolity or plenty.
Obviously I could not have reached where I am without surviving; it’s an essential skill of living, but I have forgotten how to get past surviving and to thrive. I’m not even sure what thriving actually looks like. Two weeks ago I had one of those days where I couldn’t shake the feeling of discouragement. I spent the day reading, praying, and doing my typical Friday house cleaning. The following morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee and watched the sunrise. It was at that time I heard God say, “It’s time to start thriving.”
I read Psalm 36:9. “They feast on the abundance of your house. You give them drink from the river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”
The terms abundance, river of delights, and fountain of life are not words of a mere survivor, these are the terms of a thriver.
Not too far from my home there is prayer garden at the gateway of a mountain preserve. A group of nuns care for this desert garden filled with meandering dirt paths that follow the various stages in the life of Christ. Benches are nestled in the shade of mesquite trees, and the paths are lined with desert vegetation.
In the desert, life is about surviving. The cacti here have thick waxy skin to prevent water loss and to retain water during the dry season and they are covered in sharp spines to keep predators away.
One of the trees that grow in this desert is a completely green tree called the Palo Verde. Every time I look at these unique plants I think of the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz because it’s that same funky green color that she was. This tree has tiny leaves that won’t be burned in the intense sunlight and heat and the green trunk and branches are full of chlorophyll to assist in photosynthesis. The common characteristics of plants surviving in the desert is their sparseness from lack of life giving water and nutrients like you would find in a lush forest.
At the end of the pathway in the prayer garden there is a fountain. This fountain has 7 drinking stations to represent different characteristics of God. Goodness, comfort, grace, faithfulness, Patience, and Mercy. The last time I was at the garden it was a warmer day. When I came to the fountain I sat and listened to the water. The fountain with its abundant fresh water struck me as frivolous. I watched birds perch on the cement ledge for refreshment. The sound of splashing water was noisy, blocking out cars driving nearby. I splashed my hands in the cool water. The contrast was striking between the spindly sparse leaves of the surviving desert and this frivolous fountain. The fountain still sat in the same desert environment but it was thriving. What would that look like in my life?
I will not live a life absent from hardship and strife but I want a life like a frivolous fountain in the middle of the desert.
I’m on a journey now to discover what it means to not just be a survivor but to be a thriver. And I’m starting here: Psalm 36:9 is about abundance but it begins before that in verse 7 and continues to 9.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.
My starting line for thriving is more trust in the God who never stops loving me and the God who is the fountain of life. I will not live a life absent from hardship and strife but I want a life like a frivolous fountain in the middle of the desert.
Tina D. Stephens
Author of The Common Hours