Most of us have areas of life in which we need to grow. We need more patience. We want greater self-discipline. We long to strengthen our families, contribute to our friends, and make a difference.

Then come the setbacks. She doesn't get the educational opportunities she had dreamed of and sought. He is seriously hurt in a car wreck. A business fails. There is a chronic illness. Some terrible personal tragedy strikes.

Believe it or not, growth and setbacks seem to be related. All sorts of studies point to it. Most people who survive great personal trauma aren't destroyed by it. They survive. They learn. They develop still-closer personal relationships. They grow from their experience.

Most of us know the term post-traumatic stress, but some experts in the field of mental health are now using the term post-traumatic growth. They point to people who emerge from severe life crises feeling enlarged rather than diminished. They speak of spiritual development, stronger personal relationships, greater personal strength, deeper appreciation of life, and clarity about priorities.

"We're talking about a positive change that comes about as a result of the struggle with something very difficult," Dr. Lawrence Calhoun of the University of North Carolina said. "It's not just some automatic outcome of a bad thing." To be sure, some people bring a fuller sense of security in life to a trauma. They have a better support system. They had already learned to rely more on God than self.

God made body, mind, and spirit to be marvelously resilient.
I know people who illustrate this phenomenon. A woman who survived a painful divorce from a cruelly abusive man is doing well in a career she never planned to have and caring for two children who have been protected from what she once had to endure. A man who wasn't supposed to survive widespread cancer seems perfectly healthy seven years after his diagnosis. A woman who didn't think she could survive her husband's death is happily married to a man who felt equally devastated at the loss of his wife two years earlier.

God made body, mind, and spirit to be marvelously resilient. Injury or illness, divorce or bankruptcy, relocation or cherished person's death — each has the capacity to crush or dignify, disorient forever or reorient to the people and things that matter most. Since God gave us the capacity to overcome, we are more likely to do so by consciously seeking him than by fleeing in our confusion.

Tragedy spares no one. God gives grace not only to survive, but also to grow.