What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. ~Thomas Merton

Long before Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about it or Kelly Clarkson sang about it, folks held tightly to the theory of the school of hard knocks. I think we often do this in an attempt to make sense out of pain and suffering.

It’s peculiar, though, isn’t it? The school of hard knocks is the playground where the bully wins. What doesn’t kill us makes us something, but I don’t think it makes us stronger. It’s more likely to make us: angry, resentful, unforgiving, fearful, hard…

Sometimes I think we confuse hard with strong.

If we get stronger, it’s most likely despite, not because of the hardship. What doesn’t kill us in fact often makes us weaker but our Father, in His grace, promises to be strong in our weakness.

It’s not what almost kills us that makes us stronger. It’s love and compassion and tender care that enables us to fight the good fight because these gifts nurture and strengthen us, expanding our capacity to learn to love and lean when pain and grief and loss come along again.

I believe that Merton is right: Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. It’s our job to keep a careful eye on the winged seeds.

Author: Debbie

A former counselor and public speaker, I'm grateful for many, many things - God's grace most of all!

49 thoughts on “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger”

    1. Mel –
      I doubt if any of us really “gets it” – not really.
      Grace is so far removed from almost all of our life experience that it is truly a mind bender.
      What I do know, my sweet friend, is that I committed myself to this blog just over a year ago and over these months of reading and writing about grace, grace has begun to rewrite me.
      I’m fascinated to read about your taste of it!
      Much love and Happy Birthday (just saw you comment so I’m writing on the 23rd!)

      1. I am committed to writing about grace … but I am SLOW ;-). Maybe Grace is what we think of “it”. I know “it’s” a good thing, and that i’ve been given a lot of it … and i used to say it when i was a kid. Different animals all around!

        I loved your birthday wish on my “wall”. Dogs are very kissable, as are good friends! xx

  1. Debbie, you just get wiser and wiser and more generous with your knowledge and love ALL THE TIME! Do you have some sort of electrical cord that plugs you into wisdom and Grace? You are an angel. I’ve known it forEVER.

    Hard knocks made me afraid, kept me hidden and alone. Accepting grace is riskier … takes guts, but makes us stronger. No one should be alone, suffering and afraid.

    1. Mel, oh Honey, if you really new me I’m pretty sure the halo would fade! 😉
      “Accepting grace is riskier … takes guts, but makes us stronger.”
      Wow! Now that is profound, my friend!
      You are SO right.
      Maybe I’ll write a post on that someday: Grace Takes Guts.
      Or better yet, maybe you’ll write one! 😀

      1. Food for thought! Do i know what Grace is exactly? I wish i knew it in my heart … as you do!

        Debbie, I feel i understand grace when you write about it: I feel it … but when i write about it, it feels like something “fleeting”. I’m a newbie to grace … but perhaps that’s a good topic to write about.

        My continuing journey into grace and sharing it. THANKs for the topic idea. I need a break from grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! LOVE YOU muchly, mel

  2. The examples of ‘What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’ that come to mind regarding my own life are: alcoholism, family dysfunction, social bullying, persecution for my faith…

    I am stronger now than when I was suffering through them. Taking those and working through the part of the adage that says ‘makes me stronger’… nope.

    I have to agree with you. I’m now stronger because God gave me the grace to accept His gifts of wisdom and love and support. Those came from a myriad of sources. He gave and I received–eventually. The suffering in the interim was me trying to solve everything on my own, apart from what was given and I was refusing.

    “It’s love and compassion and tender care that enables us to fight the good fight because these gifts nurture and strengthen us, expanding our capacity to learn to love and lean when pain and grief and loss come along again.”

    I think this post begs for a follow-up. It’s too good for just two minutes! I’m still pondering all the wisdom here. Thanks for kick starting my brain!

    1. “I’m now stronger because God gave me the grace to accept His gifts of wisdom and love and support. Those came from a myriad of sources. He gave and I received–eventually.”
      This is so true for me, too, Heidi!
      He gives and I receive – usually. When I don’t there are weed seeds that start to flourish and grow. Keep an eye on me, OK?

  3. This is a very thoughtful post Deb! It is the God who goes with us through the valley of the shadow of death that makes us stronger. There is something about the manifestation of His grace in combination with the pain of those “valley of shadow” times that improves us. Wow I am going away to meditate on this thing because it’s big! Thank you!

    1. Pastor J –
      That’s it for me, too!
      It’s the God that goes with me “through the valley of the shadow of death” that makes me stronger. It isn’t the valley of the shadow of death itself.
      How, and with Whom, we walk through the valleys writes the script (plants the seeds) for who emerges on the other side.
      Thank you for adding your insights!

  4. You took the words right out of my mouth! 🙂 I have never agreed with this statement and I am delighted to read your words! Hugs!

    1. Hello Sandy!
      I’m quite the talker, as you know (although a bit less so theses days), so I have to keep a careful eye on groups of words that fall into the category of cliches or catchy sayings or aphorisms.
      I often wonder how much of my thinking is subconsciously affected by things I don’t take the time to think about! 😉

  5. And, to amend an old (Indigenous American, I think) saying, the seed we water is the one that will grow: whether the “angry, resentful, unforgiving, fearful, hard…” or the “love and compassion and tender care”, which Merton would probably include under his “spiritual vitality”.
    A precious gift of grace, as always, dear Debbie. Thank you.

    1. Oh so very true, Ian.
      That’s something I need to be continually aware of – the seeds I water are the ones that will grow!
      It’s always a joy to see you.:D
      I’ve been out of touch but have been keeping your new endeavor in my prayers.

  6. I have not read Niets- Nie- that German, but-

    are the two quotes as opposed as you imply? If I may face the same experiences which did not kill me, and not be hurt as I was, that makes me stronger, but not necessarily harder. When I am hurt it is harder for me to show Love.

    1. Clare –
      I think I was a little didactic here. My intent wasn’t to say that people who go through difficult times (which would include everyone) can’t come out on the other side, stronger.
      I simply meant that it’s how you go through those times and Who you go through them with that determines whether you are stronger or harder or weakened by the experience.
      It’s a bit like the way broken bones heal. Some break in a weak place and heal to be stronger than ever. Some heal, but are never as strong again.
      The problem with the Nietzsche quote is the implication of the change agent.
      Thank you for adding your perspective!

  7. Thank you, gracious one, for helping us really think about something that we just accept. I am praying now, for all those moments that plant something, for Him to watch over them and help them grow something good! God bless you! love – the other deb

    1. Debbie –
      Thank you for drawing us back to the focus – which I may have blurred a little with the Nietzsche quote. I do believe Merton’s focus on the seed of each moment is the reminder I need. Grace and love to you, too!

  8. this is one of those sayings that reminds me of “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” when the truth is that words can do much more damage than the breaking of bones. It’s good to think about these things that we repeat, rather mindlessly, and look at what is true. Well done!

    1. Joss –
      I think I’ve written on Sticks and Stones – but maybe not – maybe I’ve just often thought about how untrue it is.
      There are true words of comfort but they rarely lie in aphorisms.
      Thanks for continuing on with me!

  9. So true! You rightly challenge an aphorism that we tend to accept without thinking just because we’ve heard it said so often. I like Thomas Merton’s thought and your comments much better!

    1. Thank you, Judy.
      The thing about aphorisms is that there usually is a general underlying principle that rings true with our life experiences. That’s why why, from time to time. I thinks it’s a good idea to take a closer look.
      Some sayings become so familiar they begin to just feel like common sense instead of something of just a clever turn of the words. 😀

  10. This one got me weepy, Debbie–thanks for saying what I knew to be true, that unfortunately, I’m harder along with stronger. But God’s workin’ on me–there’s hope!! Thank you, and God bless you BIG–love, sis Caddo

    1. Oh Caddo, sweetie, you have a huge heart!
      I read a quote by Chuck Swindoll years ago along the these lines:
      ‘If you’re going to work with/get along with people, you have to learn to be thick-skinned and tenderhearted.’
      Still working of the skin thing but it’s layers thicker than it used to be!
      BIG love right back at you! 😀

    1. Carla –
      Sorry to be slow saying thank you. I work nights and usually my internet starts our as at least an apparition, but lately it’s been disappearing altogether!

  11. “Sometimes I think we confuse hard with strong.” You better preach, girl! Agree with you totally. You are such an incredible writer and so in touch with great truths. I rarely just “Like” your posts. Usually, it’s “awesome,” “awesomer” and “awesomest”! This one is out of the park, Debbie!

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