For more than 7 years, he was held captive, tortured routinely, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again. James Stockdale was the highest-ranking United States military office held captive in Hanoi, North Vietnam

How did he end up here?

Stockdale was on a mission, during the Vietnamese war when his jet was shot down in North Vietnam. He ejected safely, only to land in a small village, where he was captured and severely beaten. He was then taken as a Prisoner of War.

He was finally released, on February 12, 1973 (Interestingly, my birthday is on February 12th) and when he went back home, he was in a surprisingly good psychological state despite all he had been through.

Bleak Survival

“Who didn’t make it out?” he was asked.

“That’s easy,” He said, “The optimists. They were the ones who always said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ Christmas would come and it would go. And there would be another Christmas. And they died of a broken heart.”

“This is what I learned from those years in the prison camp, where all those constraints just were oppressive. You must never ever confuse, on the one hand, the need for absolute, unwavering faith that you can prevail despite those constraints with, on the other hand, the need for the discipline to begin by confronting the brutal facts, whatever they are. We’re not getting out of here by Christmas.”

The Stockdale Paradox

Jim Collins explains Stockdale’s story in his book, Good to Great, and he comes up with this principle, which he explains, is about having an unwavering faith and hope in the outcome of your situation and that you will overcome, while at the same time having the courage and discipline to confront the brutal facts and truths of reality.

This is what Jim Collins coined as the Stockdale Paradox. A firm grasp of both hope in the future and a grasp of reality.

Preparing for the Worst.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33 (NIV)

Before James Stockdale and the Vietnam war, Jesus had already brought this out perfectly. He gives to the disciples the brutal truths of what the future holds and at the same time the hope they have in the promises of God. He presents to them the reality of the troubles they will face in the world, but also the hope they have in Him having defeated the world.

This is the same call to us today…and every day, to confront the brutal truths of reality but holding on to hope.

“A person who fears GOD deals responsibly with all of reality…not just a piece of it.” -ECCLESIASTES 7:18(MSG)

Confronting the truth of reality is what awakens us to the power of God at work in the most subtle of ways in our lives. God wants us to see him in reality, not just as a metaphor because God exists in reality. And the moment we begin to deal responsibly with reality rather than just ignore it, we will be open to experiencing his power at work in our lives.

So, whatever your situation is, face up to it responsibly. Confront the brutal facts and truths that reality has to offer while holding on to the unwavering foundation of hope, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Take the necessary step, make a choice because we know how this story ends.

What separates people is not the presence or absence of difficulties, but how they deal with the inevitable difficulties of life. -Jim Collins