Even as children, most of us had at least one adult who warned us, “Life is not fair, and life is not easy.” Yet, I think most of us still struggle to meet unfair or difficult moments without some sense of indignation. There is a lot that is hard, and there is a lot that is unfair.
This is where the concept of resilience can inform us and provide insight into the kind of healing we need. Resilience, often defined as the ability to bounce back from adversity, is a dynamic interplay of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral processes (Masten). As a pastor, I must add one more process to this list. There is a spiritual process as well. So what are the practical steps for that, both from the teachings of scripture and the practical lessons of modern psychology?
First, begin with a teachable mind-
“Let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill” (Proverbs 1:5, NRSV).
As psychologist Carol Dweck suggests, adopting a growth mindset that “the hand we are dealt is just the starting point of development” can be a game-changer” (Dweck). Be ready and understand that challenging moments and chapters of life filled with adversity will come, but these are starting point moments, not ending points. You will not be surprised by adversity by training your mind that these are part of life and an opportunity to grow. Your mind will be geared toward finding growth opportunities instead of orienting itself toward negative-self talk.
Maintain a strong and supportive community around you. You do not have to tackle the difficulties and injustices of the world alone. Gather for yourself wise and caring friends who can encourage you and whom you can encourage as well. In Galatians, we find this wisdom from Paul,
“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV).
Or another way of receiving this wisdom: “Just as a tree draws strength from its roots, your resilience thrives on a solid support network” (Uchino, 2004).
Adopt resilience principles before you need them, and find words that you are ready to use when adversity strikes. Here are a few to have on hand (Warren):
- As much as I hate this, I can survive it.
- Even though I was the victim in that situation, I will not let it define me or ruin my future.
- I won’t always be happy with how things play out. But it's part of the journey.
- I am feeling a strong emotion, so I’m going to take a moment before I respond or make any big decisions.
- I may be struggling, but I can find a way to be thankful for the good things in my life.
Include language of your faith in your resilience principles and your arsenal of resilient words. This is part of putting your faith into action beyond Sunday mornings. But I urge you not to do this in a way that trivializes your experience or blames God (or any other worldly actor) for causing your suffering. For instance, in the middle of trouble, I might say,
- This is tough, but I know that God is with me and will not abandon me.
- In Jesus, God knows the nature of suffering and has never shied away from traveling with people through their pain.
- I know that God loves me and desires good things for me.
- God knows the truth of my situation and will always listen to me when I pray.
All of these assurances are based on scripture and are based on the promises of God, in Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. I can feel good about these words of comfort. These do not assign evil or harm to God and do not presume to know God’s will or plan. However, be wary of using these problematic phrases:
- I do not say “This is all part of God’s plan.”
- I do not say “I am being punished because I deserve this.”
- I do not say “Everything happens for a reason.”
These are not rooted in the message of the Gospel and assume to know God’s intentions and inflate our own problems to be of cosmic urgency that we suffer. If you would like to further study problematic and popular sayings like these, I highly suggest checking out Adam Hamilton’s Half Truths book and book study.
The world is a bumpy ride sometimes. It is wise to prepare ourselves for difficult times and also to adopt mindsets that help us navigate obstacles so that we do not get stuck. Developing our resilience is like developing any other skill; it takes diligence, practice, and dedication to its principles. It also is an act of faith- that God did not create us to be controlled by the world's difficulties. We are meant for grace and healing so that we can be ready to be agents of grace and healing for the world around us, too.