Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Embrace Fragility to Become Antifragile

Written by: on December 11, 2023

“Some people just shouldn’t have kids.” This was something that I overheard in a conversation last year about how IVF(in-vitro fertilization) babies frequently end up in the NICU(neonatal intensive care unit). Their argument was simple, parents who “artificially” conceived were more likely to have fragile babies. By fragile, it was implied that these babies could not tolerate the shock of transferring from the womb to the outside world. As I sit here in the NICU, head on a swivel for any beeps from my daughter’s myriad of monitors, I both think back on this comment and reflect on my own beginning.

I was born with a hole in my heart. More specifically, I had multiple holes, the biggest and most concerning one was in the muscular wall between two of the four chambers in my heart. In medical terminology, I had a ventricular septal defect, more commonly known by its abbreviation, VSD. It was detected after birth when my parents noticed that I was getting bluer with each passing week due to my heart’s lack of ability to pump blood through my body effectively. At 6 months old, I required open heart surgery to repair the VSD, along with other smaller holes they discovered. Without taking great caution in those first few months and without medical intervention, there is no doubt I would not have survived. I was a fragile baby.

It was with this understanding of fragility that I approached Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder. In it he defines antifragility as “things that benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors, and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”[1] Taleb makes sure to emphasize that resilience and robustness are different. Being resilient or robust can help to resist the shock, with the goal being that no change occurs.[2] Additionally, Taleb postulates that fragility and antifragility are opposite sides of a sliding scale. When there’s more upside from shocks, you tip toward being antifragile, with more downside, you tip toward fragility.[3] Ultimately, the author argues that many different systems of life could benefit from welcoming shocks to become more antifragile.

So how do we become antifragile? Perhaps contrary to Taleb’s sliding scale theory, I think the most meaningful way we become antifragile is in recognizing and embracing how fragile we are. As especially fragile as I was, and Noa currently is, fragility seems inherent in all humans, at least physically. The author of James seems to understand this concept, writing: “…yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that…”[4] The author implies that while we are fragile, the Lord is not. It is God who controls our fates.

Perhaps the greatest example of being antifragile while embracing fragility is in Jesus’s resurrection after he suffered and died on the cross. In the ultimate embrace of his fragile physical existence, he allowed himself to be silently led into suffering and death.[5] In doing so, however, he was able to conquer death.[6]

Paul then tells us in Romans 5, that through faith in Jesus, we too share in that victory over death and have hope in the glory of God. That hope allows us to face trials, tribulations, and what Taleb might call shocks, and come out with more endurance, character, and hope. So while our human existence is fraught with unexpected occurrences and unpredictability, we can benefit from them through a steadfast faith in Christ.

Understanding our fragile nature is important as it ultimately points us to the only one who is truly antifragile and can help us do all things.[7]

I’ll leave you with the first few lines of Beatitudes, which I have been thinking of these last 14 days in the hospital.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”


[1] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 2012), 17.

[2] Ibid, 17

[3] Ibid, 18

[4] Ja 1:14-15

[5] Isa 53

[6] 1 Cor 15:56-57

[7] Philippians 4:13

About the Author

Caleb Lu

6 responses to “Embrace Fragility to Become Antifragile”

  1. mm Daron George says:


    Praying for you my guy. I’ve been there in the NICU with my middle daughter. Question for you, reflecting on your personal experience with fragility, both in your own early life and now with your daughter Noa in the NICU, how do you reconcile the concept of antifragility with the inherent vulnerability of human life, especially in its earliest stages?

  2. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    It is evident your roots are growing deeper in the things of God from this experience. The Lord is carving a new block of understanding and compassion in you. Perhaps this is part of the process of becoming antifragile – even in the midst of having little control over medical instruments – His strength is knitting all things together for the good.

    Today, I thought about the last dinner in Oxford when I shared with you the video of my grandson running. He was in the Nic unit due to low birth weight and a few other complications for over a week during COVID-19. His dad, my son, who is now 6’5″, also in the video, was 3lbs. 4oz. was in the Nic unit for 10 days. Like you, I’m hesitant to show pictures of my family (grandbaby) but now I think, for some reason, you were meant to see that video.

    No question for you, just ruminations. I pray you will all be home way before Christmas.

  3. Caleb – You are already a wonderful father to your precious daughter. And you’re absolutely right–on this side of heaven, everything will eventually fade away. Christ and His love are the antifragility we need. Praying for all of you to be home together soon.

  4. Caleb, You are amazing and I love how you drew on your own story, your own experiences to begin to understand the depth of this book and the concept of how we as humans are fragile and can face this fragility and maybe even become antifragile. Lifting you prayer!

  5. Kristy Newport says:

    so so good.
    You wrote this so well. I felt the fragility of it all.
    I love this.
    “Understanding our fragile nature is important as it ultimately points us to the only one who is truly antifragile and can help us do all things.”

    Father, Thank you for turning Caleb to the beatitudes to gain hope and perspective as he waits for Noa to get out of the NICU. I ask that you would give Caleb and his wife strength and perseverance at this time. I am sure they would love to be home for Christmas. May I ask for this Lord? Thank you for their sweet daughter. Thank you for your hand on her little body. May she grow to give you praises. Much like her daddy Caleb. Amen

  6. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful reflection on Taleb. You point out the tension and scandal of following Jesus – to be antifragile is to embrace our own fragility. It is a paradoxical strength that I think Taleb misses. But I do think he is right to observe that we grow stronger through the difficulty we face.
    You are in a difficult moment. I’ve been there with my own daughter. The days in the hospital wear you thin as you endure the endless beeps, interruptions, lack of sleep and constant stress. All you look forward to is going home. We are all with you and Nora. I know you are surely surrounded with countless people.
    We jokingly say, that my youngest daughter who has spend lots of days in the hospital, is the “most likely McSwain to succeed” because she has learned strength, perseverance and recovery from the earliest moments of life. She just isn’t rattled by the usual things that other children are. She has a deep maturity that was earned.
    You, as parents, and Nora will be stronger because of the journey you are on together. It doesn’t make it easier but I’m grateful that our faith reminds us that when we are weak, we are strong.

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