Identity crisis. Global food crisis. Marriage crisis. Refugee crisis. Midlife crisis. There are a multitude of events and realities that can take place which fit the definition of a crisis. According to dictionary.com,a crisis is "a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point."
A turning point. A crisis is a turning point. I generally think of a crisis as something inherently negative, but that isn't actually the case. Historically, my reflex is to turn away from them. And then run away from them. As far and as fast as possible. My wise friend Shelley expressed an alternative slant on the topic during our early morning walk last weekend. She shared the following quote: "Never waste a crisis."
I later searched for the origin of this quote and came up without a clear consensus. It has been attributed to Winston Churchill, M. F. Weiner, and Rahm Emmanuel. The quote likely goes back even farther in history and reflects deep, lasting truths about the true nature of crisis.
A crisis can change the trajectory of a life, a community, a country, or even a whole planet. For worse OR for better. The idea of never wasting a crisis is rooted in the depth of their transformative nature. To waste a crisis is to waste an opportunity to make a shift, to miss out on a chance to reshape a trend, a pattern, or a behavior.
Don't get me wrong. It isn't all rainbows, sprinkles, and unicorns. A crisis is often a terrible, painful, awful, raw thing — and in the midst of it, a crisis can feel like anything other than an opportunity. A solution is rarely obvious at the outset.
But within the uncertainty and challenge of a crisis generally rests at least a tiny kernel of possibility. That kernel is the part we don't want to waste. If we can find a way to carefully harvest it, that kernel is pure potentiality. It is a ticket toward otherwise impossible realities that couldn't occur without the crisis at hand.
The Bible is full of examples of transformative crises — scenarios that initially appear terrible but become life-giving. In the Old Testament, a fellow named Jonah runs away from God and ends up getting swallowed whole by a giant fish. Some would call that a pretty significant crisis.
But through that swallowing and the events which followed, Jonah ends up regurgitated and prayerful — expressing words of trust in chapter 2 of his biblical book's namesake. By the end of the book, Jonah's life isn't perfect and neither is his attitude, but he has certainly learned a few things. That's the way it often is with a crisis. Our lives don't end up perfect, but we learn.
Jesus' death is another powerful example of the altogether transformative potential of a crisis. His untimely demise was a profound crisis for his followers. The situation seemed hopeless. The emotional landscape for everyone who knew him appeared dry and desolate. But in that crisis remained a kernel of possibility, and that little kernel led to an empty tomb and a resurrected Jesus. That little kernel reshaped the world.
"Never waste a crisis." I'm holding on tight to these words. They remind me that a crisis — no matter how big, hairy, or scary — is an opportunity, not an inevitable disaster.