Human beings are remarkable in many ways. We have an unparalleled ability to learn. As individuals and societies, our creativity and capacity for love reflect that of our Creator. God also gave human beings an astounding aptitude for adaptation. We are among the most successful of species because we can adjust to circumstances of all kinds. We have permanent settlements nearly everywhere on the planet. We have learned to modify our environment or our behavior so that we can survive in withering heat and relentless cold, on wind-ravaged islands where nothing will grow, and in forests, plains and wetlands. We have found ways to thrive eating all manner of foods, discovering what is edible through trial and error.
Adaptation is often a response to stress. When we push ourselves with exercise, our bodies adapt to the new demands. Three flights of stairs become easy and that 10-pound bag of groceries feels lighter. At altitudes where the air is thin, people have evolved over time to have more oxygen-carrying red blood cells and barrel-chests with greater lung capacity. The wise gardener reduces the water she gives her established tomatoes, knowing they produce flowers when stressed or threatened in a rush to perpetuate themselves before potentially dying. The blooms and subsequent fruits will be more abundant and sweeter after some stress.
God made us able to adapt to emotional, mental and spiritual stress, too. St. Paul learned to be satisfied in times of plenty and times of need. Jesus instructed the disciples to preach and heal, but if the people in a particular town would not accept them, He told them to move on. St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Calcutta (Mother Theresa) both experienced the “dark night” of spiritual dryness and found ways to deal with that stress that have blessed countless people.
Our Good Lord knows that this year has been nothing if not stressful! But an awareness of the power of adaptation can help us approach the challenges we face with more confidence and peace. When you feel anxious, fearful or tempted to despair, don’t forget that you can adapt – WE can adapt – to troubles and stressors in a way that produces an abundance of rich fruit. The current difficulties we’re confronting are opportunities to exercise our God-given adaptability. So, even though you can’t see a friendly smile hidden behind a mask, you can look to the person’s eyes instead and see the smile there. You might not be able to go to Mass in person, but by researching spiritual resources online, you can find new communities and events that broaden your horizons. If you are out of work, you can use some of the extra time to pray with a friend, connect with God on a long, slow walk through the park, or sit in solidarity with oppressed people. Stay flexible, be nimble and adapt, and remember—we were made for this!