How do I develop resilience?

For the last year Rite and I have experienced difficulties on every ministry trip we have made, with challenges like fires, earthquakes, cyclones, missed connections, floods, and cars breaking down. Let me share one experience.  We had planned a trip to Canberra for a leadership development course.  We were waiting for our flight and the announcement was made that due to fires, the flight was cancelled.  I called our contact and said ‘sorry there’s no flight from Melbourne.’  He encouraged us to check out the buses but when we got there, they were all booked up.  Another phone call, and the suggestion was to hire a car.  We travelled back into Melbourne to find out all cars were booked out.  Another call to our contact and the suggestion was to fly to Sydney and hire a car from there!  This last option did work.  The quality that our host was demonstrating was resilience – there was no way, we weren’t going to be there to run this course!  Of course, we had to agree with all the plans too and we rolled into Canberra in the early hours but we made it!

Over the current pandemic, everywhere we look, we have seen sickness, loss of loved ones, economic problems, financial instability or bankruptcy, unemployment, depression, frustration, and endless viewpoints on what we should do and shouldn’t do and what politicians should have done and shouldn’t have done!  Then add to that tragic events of riots, shootings, racial tension and natural disasters.  You have probably had your own stories of trials and tribulations over the last season. What have we needed to get through these traumatic events? I believe the word is ‘resilience.’

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from adversity, change, loss, and risk and work through very challenging life experiences. Resilience is not a trampoline, where you’re down one moment and up the next. It’s more like climbing a mountain without a trail map. It takes time, strength, and help from people around you, and you’ll likely experience setbacks along the way. But eventually you reach the top and look back at how far you’ve come. Being resilient does not mean that people don’t experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering but you find the strength to press through.

The early church knew all about the need for resilience – James writes in chapter 1 verse 12: Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

David knew his need of resilience with all the challenges surrounding his family, his government and the nation of Israel. He prays in Psalm 119:28, My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.

Habakkuk paints a picture that we understand in Hab 3:17-18 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

There are so many verses encouraging us to not fear, to know God is with us, to be strong and stand secure in our knowledge that He is our God. Yet we struggle with pessimistic thoughts, a sense of failure, not knowing what to do and a frustration of not being able to do what we have always done! 

There are different types of resilience and I think we have been challenged in many of these through the pandemic. We all need:

  • Resilience in our minds – to keep positive and grateful for the things we can thank God for. It means to be ready to think creatively, ‘out of the box’, to be ready for new opportunities that we can involve ourselves in and to keep our minds active and not move into a slump of ‘oh no’ type thinking.  
  • Resilience in our emotions and this is perhaps the most difficult for many of us. It’s the ability to be emotionally stable when we are faced with disappointments and doubts, sadness and hurt or fear and shame.  How important to respond in these situations and not to react.
  • Resilience in our bodies – to keep moving and exercising to deal with the stress we pick up from living.  To strengthen our muscles and release those positive endorphins that release pleasure into our bodies.  In these times, we need to capitalise on bringing positiveness to our bodies and whole being.

Psychologists have discovered that human resilience, the capacity to persevere, is like an emotional muscle.  I believe we build stronger resilience through pursuing certain ‘exercises’ and for me, it’s particularly these five:  focused retreats, showing gratitude, compassionate giving, exhibiting a strong sense of meaningful purpose and authentic relationships.

Focused Retreats: Some have had the opportunity of having more time with God over this year with lockdown, for others it’s been more stressful.  If we are going to be strong in spirit, we need to have extended times with God.  The 15 minute devotion doesn’t do it.  The hour doesn’t do it – you need enough time to pray and ponder and read and reflect.  Time to move beyond your immediate prayer list and focusing on all the ministry and family issues. Which means you need a whole morning or a day if you can manage it.  We need this kind of processing time with the Lord to bring us to that place of peace, rest and reassurance. It was on retreat that I heard from God about a process to move back to Canada, to set up an online course for leadership development and gaining new insights into some theological issues.

Showing Gratitude: I love the quote in Winnie the Pooh, ‘Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.’ Gratitude is that emotion that relates to our ability to feel and express thankfulness and appreciation.  I have personally recognised my own need for starting the day with thanksgiving to bring positivity, optimism and appreciation into my heart.  I have made this a spiritual discipline for myself over the last ten years and it has been so helpful to think of what there is to be thankful for even in the darkest of seasons. It started out as an exercise but then moved into a worshipful gratitude that has become a foundational value for me.

There are literally hundreds of research studies that have been undertaken with overwhelming results on how good it is for us to maintain gratitude as a habit. Things like:

  • Our brain releases serotonin and dopamine (the happy chemicals) when we express or receive gratitude.
  • Even when controlling for personality, a high level of gratitude has a strong positive impact on psychological wellbeing, self-esteem and in overcoming depression.
  • Gratitude reduces envy, facilitates positive emotions and make us more resilient
  • Those who are grateful are less materialistic and enjoy great life satisfaction

Compassionate Giving (altruism):  When we reach out to bless someone, we are blessed too. Romans 12:10 says, ‘Be devoted to tenderly loving your fellow believers as members of one family.  Try to outdo yourselves in respect and honour of one another.

We have had an open home since getting married 41 years ago.  We have loved creating a place of welcome and going the extra mile to make the setting and environment as beautiful as possible, in order to bless (and ‘spoil’) people.  Many over this pandemic have been able to serve their communities with food distribution and be available especially to the elderly.  With the cancellation of our LDC, I spent hundreds of hours setting up an online course in order to bless as many people in their leadership as possible. Opportunities abound to reach out to serve and help those around us.

Meaningful Purpose: It’s good to know that if we are still breathing, the Lord has something important for each of us to do. Jesus, in Luke 4, declares his purpose, ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free and that the time of the Lord’s favour has come.’

Having meaningful purpose brings hope into our hearts – hope that our lives matter, that we can do something positive and make a difference in the world. Do you know what God has anointed you to do?  When you do, it gives you a godly drivenness, an inner motivation and zeal that expresses itself like Paul, who said, ‘woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel.’  You need markers in your calendar for your purpose – things that will keep you motivated and moving on in your calling. If you don’t have that clear meaningful purpose yet, just connect yourself to someone who is doing something worthwhile and help them make a difference.  Often, it’s having meaningful purpose that gives us energy for all the other things that need to be done, that aren’t so fulfilling.

Authentic Relationships: These four areas of focused retreats, showing gratitude, compassionate giving and meaningful purpose are all key to building our resilience but for the most part, unless we are in isolation in prison, we need people too.  People who understand us, who we can be real with, honest with and who accept us ‘warts and all!’

Who are the people you can talk to on a regular basis that help you just by listening and giving emotional support.  These people are worth their weight in gold – they are precious and help build resilience.  The problem is they don’t grow on trees!  They don’t just appear.  You need to reach out, search out, develop and nurture these kinds of relationships. So, if you don’t have them, start praying and pursuing them now.  

This pandemic and the consequences are going to continue for some time yet and so the need for us to be resilient and for us to reach out to help others be resilient is fulfilling the second commandment – love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Until next month


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