In our first months overseas and living in Austria, before I had any formal German lessons, my neighbor lent me several thirty-three-and-a-third little phonograph records of German-language fairy tales. I was familiar with the stories in English, and as I was listening (usually while ironing), I would jot down words, look them up in a lexicon, and finally piece the story together. It was fun, and I learned fairy tale vocabulary before I learned practical, household words (such as “ironing”).
One story that stood out—and I can almost call back the reader’s voice to this day—was “Der Standhafte Zinnsoldat,” or “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.” [i]
Though the story itself was charming—and who wouldn’t be charmed by a one-legged toy soldier falling in love with a paper ballerina pirouetting, also on one leg—it was actually the word “steadfast” that caught my attention.
Even without a lexicon, the English counterpart to the German, made up of two words, seems straightforward: “steady” and “fast”—giving the idea of “firmly fixed,” as well as “not subject to change.”
Steadfast. What a lovely word, but one I don’t hear used much.
When we look around us or even within ourselves, how much can we count on that is steadfast? People change, relationships change, circumstances change: our status, our buying power, our health—our own minds change.
Is anything steadfast? Firmly fixed?
Steadfast in a changeable, changing world where long-held ideas, beliefs, and meanings are being discarded; steadfast where life can be abruptly upset by a phone call or a visit to the doctor; steadfast in the joylessness of humdrum routine with no brighter prospects for tomorrow; steadfast when fear clutches, when cynicism and self-doubt arise with repeated failure or crushing disappointment.
It’s hard to remain steadfast when the ground is shifting.
My husband and I live in a two-hundred-year-old, two-story house made of brick. As with many early houses of its kind, steel rods run horizontally through the house. We can’t see the rods, but their presence is marked by decorative iron anchor plates on the façade. They’re a comforting presence, those rods. They mean that when the ground settles and the foundation shifts (which it’s doing all the time), when the heat and humidity of Ohio summers or the freeze-and-thaw of Ohio winters cause fluctuations imperceivable to us, the brick walls will not bulge or buckle, resulting in collapse. The house will be held steady. Steadfast.
How do we keep our emotional house from buckling and our nerves from collapsing?
We need a steel rod for the soul.
Andrea Bocelli, renowned for his operatic voice, became blind at age twelve and has lived with his blindness since. Yet he is able to say, “…never forget that there’s no such thing as happenstance…The secret is never to lose faith, to have confidence in God’s plan for us, revealed in the signs with which He shows us the way.”[ii]
That’s a steel rod.
Two Dutch sisters, Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, in a concentration camp during World War II, stripped and starving, were able to encourage each other, “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.” Betsie went to her death with calmness and peace.[iii]
That’s a steel rod.
Joni Eareckson Tada became a quadriplegic at age seventeen through a diving accident. Since 1967, she has lived in a wheelchair, not able to use her arms or legs. Yet Joni can say, “Everything that happens is uniquely ordained by God."[iv]
That’s a steel rod.
I have needed, and continue to need, that steel rod.
Nothing so seemingly tragic as the examples above has entered my life. But I have had to face possible widowhood when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I have had the fear of losing my unborn baby when I ended up in the hospital with severe bleeding. I have been driven on snowy, windswept roads in Siberia with no visibility and in a bus on narrow Albanian mountaintops with no guard rails. I have disappointments and open questions.
Is there any situation in life that we don’t need a place where we can say, “My soul is steadfast”?
There is a “steel rod” that runs through the Bible from beginning to end, and it is that the character of God is steadfast. His purposes do not change. I can count on His purposes for me to be steadfast, even when my circumstances buckle and shift. Does this mean I am never shaken, never feel at a loss, never tremble at news or on a snow-blinded road in Siberia? No. But it means that I come back, again and again to that word He gives me—gives us: “…in Him all things hold together.”[v]
That’s a steel rod for the soul.
[i] Actually Danish in origin, “Den Standhaftige Tinsoldat,” by Hans Christian Anderson. [ii] Andrea Bocelli, from the movie “The Music of Silence.” [iii] Their story is found in the book The Hiding Place. Corrie survived and has told the story. [iv] Her story is found in the book Joni. [v] In the New Testament, Colossians 1:3, attributed to Jesus Christ.