Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Strange Sources of Strength

I cannot tell you how many times in more than sixty years of ministry that I have watched with amazement as some person lived triumphantly through a tragedy that I thought would crush them. The strength to endure an overwhelming event is almost always a mystery. We do not know what we can survive until the time for survival is upon us.

A few years ago a young man was trapped in a rock slide. His arm was under a boulder, and he knew that he would die if he did not free himself. He amputated his arm with a small knife! Could you do that? I do not think I could, but who knows what one is able to do when the only thing left to do is the unthinkable?!

There is a mysterious source of strength that flows into our lives when we are forced to push ourselves beyond our limit and then trust some source beyond ourselves to take us the rest of the way. There is something transforming about surviving with dominion an adversity that is larger than life, larger than our view of ourselves.

Perhaps a psychological caveat is in order here, a warning of sorts. There are people who put themselves in risky situations over and over and then stand aside and become bystanders at their own rescue. People who need to be rescued over and over are usually skilled manipulators who exploit the good will of the unsuspecting. Such people need help, but they don't need to be rescued from their immediate untenable situation. Be careful about rescuing people who have to be rescued over and over. You can easily become an enabler who encourages and facilittes an unhealthy pattern of behavior in a neurotic person. And in the process, you waste your valuable time and energy in a no-win situation.

Several years ago a friend and colleague, Dr. Brian Bauknight, wrote of an interesting experience in his early life, which put me in mind of what sometimes happen to us all when strength to cope comes from beyond the usual resources.

Brian owned a 1959 model Volkswagen. It was a strange little car which had no gas gauge. He would fill the tank and drive until it was empty, keeping an eye on the odometer to remember how many miles he had driven since he had last filled his gas tank. There was a neat little device of which I had never heard. On the floor near the pedals was a small lever. If he drove too far without a refill, and the car began to sputter as it ran out of fuel, he would reach down with his foot, kick that little lever about 90 degrees, and an extra gallon of gasoline would immediately flow into the tank. It was a neat little device for people who tended to push the margin between fill-ups.

When we encounter a tragedy that overwhelms us, and we have given all we have to give, remember the little lever in life that puts you in touch with that extra gallon of strength. We all have it. In good times it goes unnoticed, but when we are at the end of our rope, and cannot go on, there it is.

The extra of gallon of strength comes in strange ways. Sometimes it is a friend who shows up at the right time and place to pick us up. It may be a fresh surge of strength or wisdom from within. Sometimes it is distinctly divine. Sometimes we have no idea of the source from which it comes.

Do not question it, just use it. And, thank God for it.