Pressure. It has a way of bringing out the best, or maybe the worst, in people. Most of us look and behave quite differently when we’re cramming for a final exam that’s a mere five minute away than when we’re taking a nap on a Sunday afternoon. You’re probably more comfortable when you’re at Starbucks with an old roommate than when you’re trying to muster the courage to ask a classmate to artist series. Everyone reacts to pressure differently, depending on his or her character.
When I recently played the role of the English Lord Arlington in a production of Joan of Arc, I found it useful to explore the motivations and backstory of the character I’d been asked to play.
In the play, Joan of Arc and the French defeat the English and severely humiliate them in open battle. But most importantly, Joan’s victories are directly responsible for the death of Arlington’s friend and compatriot, John Talbot.
Arlington initially responds to Talbot’s death with sadness, but then resorts to deep bitterness and hatred for Joan and the French. When things went wrong, his reaction was that of hate, anger and blaming others. Arlington eventually gains his revenge on Joan, condemning her to death by fire.
Lord Arlington is a fictional example of the absolute worst way to react when things go wrong, or when you lose someone or something you care for dearly. To find a positive example of how to respond to loss and defeat, we can shift our focus to the Netherlands in 1940.
Holland and all of Europe were falling to the Nazi regime, and the ten Boom family in Haarlem found themselves under the iron fist of Hitler’s rule. When they were caught harboring Jews, Corrie ten Boom and her family were deported to concentration camps in Germany, where they suffered incredible hardship and persecution.
But Corrie ten Boom didn’t react to such overwhelming loss and discouragement with anger and hate. In her autobiography The Hiding Place, she tells of her faith in God even in the midst of total misery. After the war, she often quoted the last words of her sister Betsie: “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.”
What do you do when things go wrong? How do you react when you lose someone or something very dear to you? Arlington’s response of anger and blame made him a bitter, hateful character, while Corrie ten Boom’s decision to trust in God, even when her circumstances made no sense, gave her thousands of opportunities to show God’s love to others.
Things will go wrong. You may not do as well on a test as you hoped, or not get a job you were setting your hopes on, or not be able to work problems out in a relationship. God has promised us that He will take care of things on His end; it’s up to us to stop worrying about ours.