Susan Ager of Knight Ridder Newspapers recently noted: "The next nine months will be as critical for Elizabeth Smart's survival as the last nine." How's that? She's just been rescued from a terrible ordeal, fortunate to be alive. All she has to do now is rest, recuperate and re-acclimate to her former life-right? There may be more to it than that. As a result of experiencing a lifestyle drastically different than what she was accustomed to, "She will (now) have to decide who she is." Why? Isn't she the same child she was before her abduction? Hardly. Despite a nation's concern, her family's love and her parent's attempt to make it all go away; that's impossible.
Elizabeth went from being a shy, sheltered, gifted child of 14 to a homeless, vagabond woman of 15. When asked to describe his daughter after nine months of captivity, her father replied, "She's really a young woman now." She learned to make decisions - of survival - most 14 year old girls don't and shouldn't have to make. She learned the necessity of compromise (even if at knifepoint and other forms of "persuasion"), so crucial to survival of any kind. She had presented to her the differences in people and their world views, their definition of success, a confusing array of hopes, dreams and possibilities - even if done so by one on the brink of madness. Seeing the world from a different vantage point than was her custom, she was forced to come to terms with the reality of her world as it was at that moment. That's something many never learn. Facing reality, accepting it for what it is while striving to do our best and improving it if we can, are ingredients not only for survival but for the possibility of thriving; even in less-than-perfect circumstances. The real question is: What will the long term consequences of her captivity be? Will she be able to adapt again?
As Miss Ager noted, "What befell her in the past nine months didn't kill her. If she lets it, it can make her stronger, but she will never be the girl she was." She may very well be asking the same questions she asked during the first few days of her abduction and confinement. Where am I? Who am I? Is this just a dream? What is - will be reality for Elizabeth Smart?
Many believe the past doesn't matter; they just live in the moment, right now. But without our past there is no now; the decisions made, options chosen and things done in the past ushering in our present. Our present is a consequence of our past, as will be our future. Even as we rise above the bad things in life we are molded and changed; and overcoming difficulties, while not dictating our future at least contributes to who we will become.
We don't really know, nor is it any of our business, what indignities she may have suffered. Miss Ager continued, "Nor will we know what she might have learned about human nature, about subsistence, about making do, about keeping faith, about people who live by fate or choice on the other side of comfort and ease." Many girls from good families rarely learn lessons like those. And so Elizabeth Smart may well have been blessed (beyond merely surviving); she was certainly challenged. Her subsequent life will be a response to these questions far better than any interviews she might grant.
Don't misconstrue that as questioning the awfulness of her ordeal. But maybe as a result of this she will have learned compassion for others difficulties, understanding of decisions made under duress, sympathy for people forced into choices they'd rather not have; to develop strength of character, which is so rare today. (Certainly any difficulty arising in life now would pale in comparison to what she's already experienced.) And faith, in a God who lives, a God who provides, a God who guides - even if through experiences we don't fully understand, which don't always match our expectations. For God's opportunity is often manifested as a result of our extremity. His miraculous working in our lives usually happening as a result of adversity; not because he doesn't want to otherwise, but because we don't often look to him otherwise. A new sense of self is more often achieved through difficulty as we seek him and his will over our own, again not often done voluntarily.
I don't know if Elizabeth Smart ever considered Matthew 6:33 in her struggle. But the very essence of survival in its simplest form is summed up there as obedience to and trust in God. "...seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, (being assured that)...all these things (food, clothing, shelter - security) will be given to you as well."
Elizabeth needs time, space and understanding. She needs love, from her family, the community at large and certainly God. She has his; I hope and sometimes doubt that she will receive it from the rest of us. Speculation will arise, stories told, rumors shared - gossip both lured and rampant. Let's remember Christ's injunction to, "...not judge, or you too will be judged." Matthew 7:1, which is not referring to discernments of right and wrong but to the critically negative, unforgiving finger-pointing we all are so prone to.
Miss Ager concluded by saying, "I can hardly wait to see what she makes of herself." I would amend that to - what God can make of her through this. There will be awkward questions and moments of adjustment, but that can be said of us all. However, there is assurance in the promise that, "...in all things God works for the good of those who love him,..." Romans 8:28 He can. He will- if we seek him and allow him to do so.
That choice is ours to make daily, seeking and following, thriving in the most unlikely of circumstances - or finding aid elsewhere and failing in the best of circumstances. Therefore, "...choose you this day whom you will serve..." (Joshua 24:5), and let the Lord guide your coming months.
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