Are you thriving or just surviving?


The fighting in Ukraine is a tragic situation involving the lives of so many. It is one for which all Christ-followers in the real world today should be praying. It brings back recollections of times gone by when President Ronald Reagan visited Germany and in a powerful statement challenged, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” And he did. That was the beginning of the end for what has been known as the Iron Curtain, a line of demarcation separating the East from the West. It seems that the current situation in Ukraine is an attempt on the part of Vladimir Putin to reconstruct that curtain in some ways and in some sense.

For years the Iron Curtain (actually, a fence) separated two populations of red deer living in the forests encompassing the border between Germany and what is now the Czech Republic. When government officials began to dismantle the fence in 1989 (around the time the Berlin Wall fell), the physical barrier between those populations was removed. But when wildlife biologists began studying the deer in 2002, they quickly realized that the deer living in Germany were not migrating into the Czech Republic, and the deer living in the Czech Republic were not migrating into Germany. In other words, both populations of deer were still behaving as if the fence remained intact.

One deer in particular has become a microcosm of the entire population. Her name is Ahornia, and her movements in the forests of eastern Germany were tracked for several years by a GPS collar fitted to her neck by biologist Marco Heurich. During the time she wore the collar, Ahornia’s location was tracked more than 11,000 times in Germany, but not a single time in the Czech Republic. She was tracked at the border of the two countries several times, but she never crossed over.

Two elements of Ahornia’s story are particularly noteworthy. First, she was born 18 years after the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the fence that comprised the Iron Curtain. She had no physical memory of the fence’s existence, and yet it still had an impact on her. Second, the land formerly occupied by the fence and its guard towers is now a large and thriving nature preserve. In other words, the land beyond the fence has become a haven, the perfect home for deer like Ahornia and her family, and yet she will not enter.

Marco Heurich and his team of biologists have come up with several explanations for the deer’s strange behavior. Most deer travel across traditional trails, ones that are passed down through generations by modeling and repetition. It’s possible that Ahornia and the other members of her herd simply haven’t ventured beyond the beaten path.

But wildlife filmmaker Tom Synnatzschke, who often works in the area, has a different explanation. According to Synnatzschke, “The wall in the head is still there.” That means, if I understand it correctly, that the deer are not interested in venturing across the imaginary barrier in their mind in order to get to the place where they could actually thrive. They are merely surviving.

Question: Do you have walls in your head? Are there things in your mind and heart which prevent you from “crossing over” into the “land of milk and honey?” If we are honest with ourselves, I suspect many things prevent us from advancing in life, and most of them are not external or physical in nature. Rather, they are barriers that exist in our minds and hearts only.

Frankly, I believe many people think of themselves as merely surviving in a world gone amuck. But God calls us not to survive but to thrive.

In medicine, I understand there is a diagnosis given to newborn infants who, for unknown reasons, fail to gain weight or to grow. When this happens, the letters FTT are placed on the child’s medical chart. Those three letters stand for “failure to thrive.”

Sometimes, the experts suggest, it happens when a parent or caregiver is depressed, and the depression seems to get passed down. Sometimes something seems to be off in an infant’s metabolism for reasons no one can understand, so FTT is one of those mysterious phrases that sounds like an explanation but explains nothing.

Doesn’t that in reality describe the human condition?

Dallas Willard, in his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, writes that although we have tended to think of the word salvation as the forgiveness of sins or the escape from punishment, it actually has a much more robust meaning for the writers of scripture: “The simple and wholly adequate word for salvation in the New Testament is life. I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly. He that hath the Son hath life. Even when we were dead through our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ.”

This is the human condition — FTT.

Thrive is a life word, a word full of shalom. Thriving is what life is intended to be, like a flower stubbornly pushing through a crack in the sidewalk, or a red deer taking advantage of the wealth of vegetation and natural food supply across the border. It is why we pause in wonder at a human being’s first step or first word, and why we ought to wonder at every step and every word. Thriving is what God saw when he made life and saw that it was good. “Thrive” was the first command: be fruitful and multiply.

This leads me to ask: Are you thriving in your life or merely surviving? Are there walls or barriers that seem to keep you from thriving and therefore all you are doing is surviving? God calls you to turn to Him for life in all the fullness of the meaning of that term. He has provided the solution to the question of thriving versus surviving. He is calling you to be a thriver.

God bless…

Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor who now resides in Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].

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