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Jul8ThuLearning to embrace sisu in times of adversity. July 8, 2021 by Major Doug Binner
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Over the past year, we have all survived a global pandemic. But many of us have also faced health scares and surgeries, the loss of loved ones and family crises. We have gone through major transitions, with new jobs and responsibilities, retirement, the birth of children or grandchildren, and caring for aging parents. We have also experienced loneliness, fear, anxiety, uncertainty and disappointment. And we are still standing.
As we consider all we’ve been through, I’d like to introduce you to a Finnish word: sisu. It has been described as “the word that explains Finland.” Although there is no exact English equivalent, it is a term for going beyond one’s mental or physical capacity, for stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience and hardiness.
In his book, From Finland With Love, Roman Schatz uses an illustration from the First Soviet-Finnish War (also known as the Winter War) of 1939-1940, quoting a report from Time magazine in 1940 to explain sisu: “The Finns have something they call sisu. It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win.
“The Finns translate sisu as ‘the Finnish spirit,’ but it is a much more gutful word than that. Last week, the Finns gave the world a good example of sisu by carrying the war into Russian territory on one front, while on another they withstood merciless attacks by a reinforced Russian Army. In the wilderness that forms most of the Russo-Finnish frontier between Lake Laatokka and the Arctic Ocean, the Finns definitely gained the upper hand.”
Even now, sisu has been described as so essential to the Finnish national character that to be a “real” Finn, you must have it. Sisu is extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity. It’s courage in situations where success is unlikely. It’s taking action against all odds and displaying tenacity and resoluteness. It’s deciding on a course of action, and then sticking with it even when you have repeated failures and setbacks. It’s willpower, persistence and perseverance.
I suggest that sisu is the embodiment of what Paul wrote to the Romans: “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
For those of us who are suffering, dealing with difficult circumstances, facing adversity or transitions, I remind you that God knows, and is walking with you—maybe even carrying you for part of the way.
As we face the challenges and transitions that this summer and fall will bring as we re-emerge after more than a year of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders; as we re-invent ourselves and our ministries in this new season; as we continue to deal with all the stuff that life throws at us, I encourage you to embrace your inner sisu, even if you aren’t Finnish.
Because we know that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” And we need to hold on to that hope like a Finnish veteran! As we embrace our inner sisu, perseverance will finish its work in us, so that we become all that God intends us to be—not lacking anything (see James 1:3-4).
Major Doug Binner is the assistant mission secretary—administrative and area commander liaison at territorial headquarters.
Illustration: Mironov Konstantin/iStock via Getty Images Plus