What does resilience look like? Alex Costanzo walks us through what she’s learnt over the years about having a faith that doesn’t waver in the difficult places of life.
Hey, cornerstone, greetings from the Costanza residents, sending blessings. It’s always a privilege to share with you. One of the first things that people notice about me when they meet me in person is my white cane. That’s because I was born legally blind and slowly lost my vision over time. I have no vision today. People ask me often what it’s like to do life without sight? How you pick out your clothes? How do you cook without hurting yourself? How did you raise three boys? Of course, what they’re really asking is how did you keep them alive? The answer to all of these questions is very carefully and with a lot of prayers. But the thing about disabilities is that you become adaptable, you develop a new normal, and you learn to do things in a different way and you get pretty good at it.
In fact, I’ve developed a few blind superpowers over the years. For example, I’m a really good eavesdropper because my hearing is heightened since I rely on it so much. I’ve also developed a pretty good memory much to my husband’s chagrin. He doesn’t even really try to argue with me anymore. He just says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re right. You win.” Now here’s an interesting one. I’m really good at finding things in the house. Someone will say, I can’t find the mustard in the fridge. I’ll open the fridge, feel around a little and pull it right out. Look with your hands. Not with your eyes, I’ll say. Once my husband lost our Roomba, you know, those robot vacuum cleaners. Well, he noticed that it didn’t make it back to its docking station. He and the boys tore the house apart looking for it. They searched under the furniture and in every corner to no avail. Then they turned on each other.
Michael accused one of our sons of hiding it from him as a practical joke. He kept demanding, “Okay, jokes over, give it back.” Bruno finally convinced them that he didn’t have it. So then they turned on Rocco, our oldest son who had been loading up his drum kit on his way to a gig. Maybe he took it by mistake. This actually seemed somewhat plausible. Maybe he had his headphones on and just zoned out and threw the Roomba into his car. Rocco assured them that he had not taken a vacuum cleaner to his punk rock concert. Their final conclusion and I used to regard my family as reasonable human beings, was that the Roomba ran away from home. Maybe it slipped out and made a run for it when the garage door was open.
Well, the Roomba did not run away from home. The Roomba was wedged under a bed obscured by some storage bins. Guess who found it? Me, the blind girl, the only one in our family without any sight. In my family’s defense, they did get deep under that bed with a flashlight. But I used my handy-dandy white cane to feel around, under that bed, and lo and behold, there it was. Why am I telling you the story of the runaway Roomba? I don’t really know, but it’s a good story. I hope it made you laugh because it’s good to laugh in the middle of a pandemic. The Roomba story is a fun example of how I’ve learned to adapt despite my disability, how I’ve developed resilience over the years, which is what I want to talk about today. 2020 will go down in my book, not just as a year of the pandemic, but as a season of immense suffering for my friends. Since January, not one, not two, but five of my friends have been fighting cancer. Another five of us in a close friend group have lost a parent.
All this on top of everything else going on right now. We need our faith to be resilient more than ever. What is resilience? Resilience is the quality of being able to adapt to stressful life changes and crises. The ability to bounce back from hardship and suffering. The idea of bouncing back reminds me of something from my childhood. I’m probably showing my age here, but back in the 70s, there were these toys called Weebles. They were these egg-shaped figures painted like little people and were bottom-heavy so that if you tilted one over and let go, it would wobble back and forth, but it wouldn’t actually fall over. The advertising slogan, you would see these commercials on TV would say “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.”
Now I think these toys are a really good representation of how followers of Christ are uniquely equipped to be resilient. They demonstrate sort of the physics of resilient faith. You see, we might wobble when we suffer the blows of life, but our center of gravity is Jesus. The truth of God’s word. We can bounce back from suffering because Christ bounced back from the grave, which to me is the ultimate feat of resilience. Maybe bouncing back is not the best word to describe that process of recovering from the force of those blows, because it can be painful and hard, but what makes all the difference is that the same power that resurrected Christ from the grave lives inside of us and gives us the strength to overcome. The Apostle Paul describes this in the book of Second Corinthians.
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God. Not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” See, we might wobble, but we don’t fall down. This is my prayer and exhortation for all of you today. I want it to be your go-to anthem of resilience when you’re feeling beaten down. Say it out loud, meditate on it, memorize it, let it give you strength and peace. In the rest of our time together, I want to further explore aspects of resilient faith. The first one, let’s just get it out there, is that resilient faith accepts suffering. It accepts suffering. Many falsehoods pre-made our culture and our thinking. One of them is that we can avoid suffering. We spend so much time and energy trying to control things, trying to avoid pain, but we can’t. We can’t.
We live in a broken world. We will experience hardship, adversity, and loss. In order to be resilient, we have to first have the right expectations. Even Jesus told us that we would have many troubles in this world, but here’s a truth that can help center us. Suffering is not the greatest evil. Sin is. Sin is the greatest evil because it can eternally separate us from God. Remember Jesus suffered. He came to Earth and He suffered on the cross because He understood that defeating sin was worth suffering for. Suffering was a necessary evil in order for Him to complete His mission to redeem us. When Christ was calling his disciples, he would say follow me, but then he would do this kind of a curious thing and give them some time to change their minds. I think it’s because he understood that his disciples would need to have grit. He knew he was headed for the cross and that his death was not what his disciples were expecting. They thought he was going to be a political hero.
He knew they would feel blindsided, confused, and devastated. He knew that even after he rose triumphantly from the grave, all of his disciples, other than John would be martyred for their faith. Thousands of Christians in the early church were tortured, beaten, and executed, which still happens today in some parts of the world. You see the biblical norm for Christians is resilience. It’s resilience. So when we decide to follow Jesus, we’ve got to be ready to be all in. The Book of John says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Let’s look at this word, ‘receive’ in this verse a little more closely. In the original Greek, it’s not a passive concept of ‘receive,’ like the way we receive a gift on our birthday. It doesn’t mean we simply accept something that’s handed to us. It has much more of an active connotation. It means to embrace and never let go. It’s like we rip that gift out of our friend’s hand and hold it tight to our chest forever.
Again, there’s this notion of grit. I’m going to grab onto you Lord and follow you no matter what. Most of us do not have to risk our lives to follow Jesus today. But the invitation from Jesus still calls for a significant life pivot. We are God’s children. It’s like we’re returning to our rightful family. He changes our identity, our perspectives. I have a friend. If you ask him what he does, he’ll say I’m a minister of Jesus Christ cleverly disguised as a chiropractor. I just love that. The thing is, he’s a very successful chiropractor, but I don’t think he’d be any less content if he weren’t successful. Jesus changes our priorities and our values, doesn’t he? He redefines our needs and our wants. Certain things just don’t seem as important anymore. Optimizing our wealth, comfort, and pleasure is no longer our primary goal.
Here’s another falsehood, that life is all about achieving, accumulating, and maximizing personal gain. Numerous scientific studies have shown that material things, wealth, power, do not guarantee happiness. There’s nothing wrong with earthly success in and of itself. But our primary purpose as Christs’ followers, as the children of God, isn’t to maximize pleasure or even to minimize pain. But to maximize God’s glory, to know Jesus and to make Him known to others, to love Him with everything we’ve got, to put the needs of others before ours, even if it costs us something.
So here’s my next idea. Resilient faith aims to maximize God’s glory rather than personal gain. If our life mission is defined by giving glory to the Lord and not by our own achievements and pleasure, then our joy and contentment are no longer tied to our achievements and pleasure. We are less affected by the ups and downs of life. Suffering loses its power to discourage and overwhelm us. At the end of Second Corinthians, chapter four, Paul gives us even more insight into where earthly troubles fit into the big picture. “Therefore, we do not lose heart though outwardly we are wasting away yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” He makes some interesting contrast here. He gives us a perspective on an absolute scale. He says that our troubles are light and momentary compared to the eternal glory of the Lord. In other translations, he calls our troubles a light affliction.
To me, a light affliction is maybe a cold that lasts a couple of days. I think if someone labeled my blindness as a light affliction, I would think that he has no idea what he’s talking about. Paul has certainly known suffering. Stonings, beatings, imprisonment, shipwrecks, betrayal, hunger, sleep deprivation, earthquake, and yes, even blindness. He was eventually executed by Nero. If anyone walked the talk for Jesus, it was Paul. He urges me to consider my suffering, which seems trivial compared to his, with an eternal view. It’s hard to fathom eternity, isn’t it?
Consider the night sky. Our life on earth is like one little pinpoint of light out of the billions of stars up there, or like one tiny grain of sand on a vast beach. It makes my brain hurt a little bit, but I think it’s healthy to ponder eternity with our Lord. Maybe we don’t put enough weight on what’s to come. Do you know who’s really good about thinking about heaven? Little kids. Little kids are great at imagining what heaven’s going to be like. I remember once we were going around the dinner table sharing about what our house would look like in heaven. Our son Bruno went on and on and on in great detail about what his crazy lux mansion would be like. When it was our youngest son’s turn, he said, “I’m just going to move in with Bruno.”
We don’t know that much about heaven and the enemy would have us believe that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Jesus said that he’s preparing a place for us. How awesome is that? Paul is reminding us that the best is yet to come. Verse 18. “So we fix our eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen since what is seen is temporary. But what is unseen is eternal.” Paul is saying, don’t focus too much on your current circumstances. Don’t give them the power to bog you down or to send you off course. Lift your eyes to something bigger and greater. Fix your eyes on God, fix your eyes on the things of God. This last verse is especially meaningful to me because I have physical sight. It’s like Paul saying to me, ‘don’t worry about it, Alex. You’re not missing out on anything.’
In fact, sometimes I think I actually have a bit of an advantage over you sighted folks because maybe it’s another blind superpower. Maybe I’m a little less distracted by earthly things because I can’t see. Maybe it’s a little easier for me to focus on the unseen things of God, which brings me to my next idea about resilient faith. It organizes and centers life around Jesus. I was thinking about some of the resilient people in my life that I admire the most. People like my father, mentors from my youth, some of my close friends, and these people, just have this deep calm, even in the middle of chaos. They have a way of calming others and maybe personality has something to do with it. I think it’s much more than that. They are so intentional about following Christ that they have arranged their lives and priorities around it. Not just their time and resources, but also their thoughts, attitudes, and mind share.
I put together a list of behaviors and attitudes that they all have in common. So here’s my stab at the seven habits of highly resilient Christ-followers. I’m just going to go through these pretty quickly.
First, they keep a daily appointment with God. They pray, they listen for the Lord and they read God’s word every day. It’s just hardwired into their routine. This makes total sense to me. If you want to know someone, you have to spend time with them. The depth of a relationship is a direct function of the quantity and quality of time spent. So the better you know the Lord and his character, the easier it is to trust him during difficult times.
Number two, they are laser-focused on not sinning rather than not suffering. They understand that the Lord hates sin. So they constantly do a heart check. It’s kind of like doing spiritual cardio. They ask the Lord to search their hearts and to reveal anything that needs correction or confession. They refuse to let sin come between them and the Lord.
Number three, rather than complaining, they are curious about what God is teaching them. They seem to always want to grow in the Lord. Even during hardship, they don’t ask why is this happening? But rather, what is the Lord teaching me through this situation?
Number four, they practice fasting. Fasting is when we abstain from food or media and put that time aside to hear from the Lord, especially if we’re seeking guidance on a specific issue in our life. Fasting also builds self-discipline because we’re deliberately sacrificing something that we normally enjoy. Many people in the Bible practice fasting, including Jesus.
Number five, they invest in Christ-centered relationships. Relationships with other believers are a priority. Maybe they’re in a Bible study or a small group. They disciple and mentor others. They are always ready to share their faith story with those who don’t know Christ. They serve others without expecting anything back.
In fact, number six, they help others even when they’re suffering. Now, this one seems a little counterintuitive because shouldn’t you just take care of yourself and let others help you when you hit a rough patch. It’s true that there will be seasons when we need to rest, but there’s something about helping others in the midst of your pain that unlocks a new perspective and hope. Proverbs 11:25 tells us, “Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
Last but not least, they practice gratitude. A grateful heart is a resilient heart. Resilient faith grows over time. It’s a process, but it takes intentionality. I’ll put it this way. The vector that builds resilience is one that always moves toward Jesus, closer and closer to him, regardless of our circumstances and especially when we’re suffering. Because our knee-jerk reaction might be to move away from the Lord, to turn around, and completely go in the other direction. Maybe we’re angry, or we just don’t understand what he’s doing. In that wobble, well that’s when we’re vulnerable. Resilient is not the same thing as impervious. It doesn’t mean we don’t feel the pain or have doubts. Sometimes we begin to lose hope. We question if God really is good all the time, or maybe we feel like he’s abandoned us, he doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers.
Here’s another lie. God has forgotten about me. Not true, not true. Remember that weird orange sky day from the wildfires. My son, Julio, greeted me that morning by saying, “It’s really dark out mom.” And I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s the sunset district. It’s always dark and foggy out here. “No mom, you don’t understand. “It was dark as night’ that day. We could not see the sun. It was like it forgot to rise.” It was there all right, just like any other day, we just couldn’t see it or feel it. God does not promise to protect us from suffering, but he does promise his presence through the suffering. Like the Sun, he is always there and he’s always paying attention to what we’re going through. Look at this beautiful verse in Psalms. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
Process this with me for a moment. The creator of the universe has his eye on you. He knows when you’re sad and suffering, he sees every tear you shed. The Bible also tells us that if we confess our sins, God will forgive and forget. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” I find this crossroad of truth, this mysterious aspect of God’s character to be astounding. He forgives and forgets all of our sins against him, and yet remembers all of our sorrows. Why? Because he loves us. He loves us and he loves each of us in this crazy extraordinary personal way.
Once I was coming to out of surgery in the recovery room. A nurse asked me on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever felt, how would you rate your pain? I’m sure many of you have been asked this question before at the hospital. Well, I felt like my entire torso was on fire and I told the nurse I’m experiencing a nine. She had a response I wasn’t expecting. She said to me, “Huh? I don’t think that’s right. It shouldn’t be a nine. Are you sure it’s a nine?” I think I would have punched her in the face if I could have. How would she know what my nine should feel like? It’s my pain scale. It’s a relative question by design. I was feeling a nine. Darn it.
When we suffer, whether it’s a two or a nine on our pain scale, the Lord is not like this insensitive nurse. By the way, I think she’s just about the only nurse I’ve ever met who wasn’t kind to me. I’ll chalk it up to bad training. I’ve had some amazing nurses over the years and they are really the unsung heroes of healthcare. But when we suffer, God doesn’t put our pain on an absolute scale. He doesn’t say, oh, suck it up, Alex, you are definitely not a nine. What you’re going through is more like a three. It’s not like you’re hanging on a cross or anything. No, no. He never minimizes our suffering. He is the God of compassion. He suffers when we suffer. He meets each of us where we are. He says, hey, I’ve been there. I know how you feel.
Jesus can fully empathize with us because of all he suffered when he was on earth. What an amazing God we worship. In the grand scheme of eternity, our troubles are like a light and momentary affliction. Yet Jesus says, I’m not here to rate your pain. I understand your pain. I’m here to be with you and to give you the strength to get through the pain. We lost Michael’s mom just about a year ago to brain cancer. She was diagnosed and gone within just two months. It was totally unexpected. Our family is still grieving today. Well, a few weeks ago, Michael’s dad, Vince, received a stage four cancer diagnosis of his own and has begun treatment with not a great prognosis. Wow. More cancer. And so quickly on the heels of my mother-in-law’s passing. This is round number three for him. Our family is certainly no stranger to cancer. I was teasing him. “You know Papa, it’s not a contest.” And that made him chuckle. As I said, it’s good to laugh.
But just a couple of days ago, I found myself in tears again, because my father, his name is John, also received news of cancer, the most aggressive form of lymphoma. We don’t know if he’s physically strong enough for treatment. I’m very close to my dad. He’s my spiritual hero. Dad, if you’re watching, I love you so much. For me, it’s harder to watch a loved one suffer than to suffer myself because I feel so helpless to help them. That’s how Michael and I feel right now. Both of our dads are on the East Coast and we feel so far away. Perhaps you too are facing a season of suffering and you feel helpless also. I want to share a scripture with you that’s really brought me focus and comfort the last few weeks.
Romans 12:12. “Rejoice in hope. Be patient in tribulation. Be constant in prayer.” It’s been like my resilience playbook. I really like this because it’s so practical. It gives me something to do. I know God is in control, but I can do my part. I can rejoice and hope. God calls us to be joyous people. Even in the midst of suffering, we still worship him. We still praise him. We still thank him for all he’s done, for all he’s going to do for us. We don’t let the pain steal our joy. Be patient in tribulation. The Lord will calm our hearts. He will reveal Himself at the right time. We just have to be patient. Sometimes that means getting through one day at a time, sometimes even just one minute at a time. Although the idea of being patient sounds passive, it’s not passive at all. It actually takes courage and effort to wait on the Lord, not give up, fight the lies we hear in our heads, and replace them with the truths of God.
Finally, be constant in prayer. We don’t have to hold it all in people. We can bring it all to the Lord. I have been on my knees and I’ve asked all my spiritual first responders to pray with me. Ask your friends to join you and pray for them as well. Let’s pray for our leaders, our city, and our nation as well. Let’s be resilient people together. Here’s my last idea. Resilient faith chooses to trust the Lord unconditionally, unconditionally. Let’s maintain eye contact with the Lord instead of pulling away. Let’s cling even more to his character, his faithfulness, his love. He loves us unconditionally. Let’s love him back by trusting him unconditionally. Even if there’s a pandemic, even if we lose our job, even if we get a cancer diagnosis, even if it feels like the sky is falling, let’s trust him through that wobble. Slowly but surely that wobble, that shakiness will slow and recede. The Lord will bring us back to center, to stand firm stronger than ever. We will give God all the glory. Amen.
In a moment the band’s going to do a closing song and then PT will close up for us. Just a quick reminder and a thank you for continuing to give faithfully online if you’re able. Blessings to you.
What a powerful reminder that we are to trust the Lord. The idea of placing our concerns into his hands, even when life is hard. I think we’ve just had a chance to hear from Alex share so vulnerably about some of the challenges that she, Michael, and their family are walking through. It’s very important I think loved ones, that we remember that in this time where again, everybody’s yelling, posting things, making judgments, assessments, and we’re all being forced to take sides, that in this particular season and era, there are people hurting all around us. People who need our love and attention and prayer. We can’t do that when we’re all anxious inside. We can’t. I want to encourage you to consider, maybe even during this time, pulling back from some of the social media, there’s very little good that’s going on there right now.
I would actually encourage you to think about maybe having a fast from a lot of the kind of words that are just pouring in, a lot of the news. So much of the news is bad news. I’m not talking about escapism and just burying our heads in the sand. I am saying maybe we need to tone things down. It might be wise for us to pull back and focus on good words, on good news. Fill our hearts and our minds with the promises of the Lord and stay focused on the right things. Maybe that’s more important now than ever. Tone things down, focus on the right things, seek to be a peacemaker, and allow our hearts to be at peace with the Lord because you know what? He’s so good, he’s so God, and he wants us to what? So good and so God, I mean, I really mean that because you know why? You are so loved, and my prayer is a true prayer that he would keep you in your heart and your soul and your mind, yes, and in your body, in all things in Jesus’ name.