A friend recently told me she was experiencing a crisis in her life. She didn’t share specifics, and I didn’t want to pry. But ever since, I’ve been wondering what compels us to use that word. I keep asking myself, “What constitutes a crisis?”
We all see our circumstances through our own subjective lenses. We also respond to our circumstances subjectively. Therefore, a crisis means different things to different people.
Given the same exact set of external circumstances, each person will perceive them, and respond to them, differently. One person might careen headlong into a full blown crisis. Another might experience a mild disruption. Yet another may be completely unaffected.
Just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is crisis. We cannot define it by circumstances alone. While it is true circumstances play a role in any crisis, they are not the causative factor.
So, then, what is? What is happening in our psyche when it takes in the reality of a particular situation and designates it as a crisis?
Identifying a Crisis
Merriam-Webster offers two definitions of crisis that are helpful to consider. They are: “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome” and “a situation that has reached a critical phase.”
The essence of both these definitions is one of something happening, or about to happen, that we absolutely never wanted to happen. This is a good start to understanding what constitutes a crisis, but in my mind it is incomplete. In order for an unwelcome event to be elevated to a crisis, we must respond to it as a situation we perceive as so difficult to navigate we have no idea how we are going to get through it.
Looking back over my life, the events I experienced as crises were not the most unwelcome events. They were the events I responded to with the most fear, confusion and powerlessness. What made them crises was not the significance of the circumstances, but my state of mind.
When I lived in fear, trying to orchestrate outcomes I desperately desired, the crises were many. All kinds of things happened that I never wanted to happen, and they all threw me for a loop. Derailed and despondent, I’d crumple to the ground in despair.
After my tears made a big enough puddle on the kitchen floor, I’d launch a boat on my sea of regrets. Sailing along in my misery, I’d go over every possible thing I could have (or should have) done differently. Every crisis became an open invitation to ask myriad what if’s and if only’s that drove me to the brink of insanity.
Staying Sane in a Crisis
Luckily, it was just to the brink. Somehow, some way, I fought to stay sane in the midst of my insane response to very difficult circumstances. It took a while, but I finally learned how to stop regretting the past. What set me free was hearing—and then embracing—the truth that we are not in control of the outcome.
Now, as my fear of an unknown future is replaced more and more by faith in an all-knowing God, I experience fewer and fewer crises. And when I do experience them, I no longer see them as negative. I still allow myself to cry and be undone, but I don’t wallow in regret.
Instead, I look for the learning. I see that a crisis is God’s way of revealing to me something I am holding too tightly. Many times, it is an idol – something I’ve been clinging to that God wants to wrestle from my grip.
It’s never pleasant, but after I ride through the storm of my emotions, I can look back and see it was for my good. In fact, every crisis I’ve experienced has ushered in a new level of understanding, a new healing, a new deliverance.
A New Definition of Crisis
Now that I’ve wrestled through what constitutes a crisis, let me offer my own newly enlightened definition. I don’t know if Merriam or Webster would agree, but here’s what works for me:
A crisis is an unwelcome event that if embraced in trust has the potential to usher in a new level of wellness. If resisted in fear, however, it has the potential to usher one into the depths of despair.
Remember . . . unwelcome events cannot be avoided, and trying to control the outcome will only make you crazy. So relax. Go with the flow of whatever happens.
And when you DO experience a crisis, let go of your fear and all attachments to outcomes. Open your hands and open your heart. Reach upward in faith and receive a brave new learning!
For a humorous take on this topic, read about my mid-life crisis here.