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As 2020 draws to a close, and we begin to think about the joy of the festive season ahead and celebrating Christmas and the birth of Christ, it is important to reflect on the year that has passed and acknowledge our resilience through these turbulent times.
As we adjusted to the conditions of the lockdowns, many of us tuned into the 1pm update on the latest cases of Covid-19 with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Our life and work habits have been interrupted by lockdowns, loss of freedom, isolation, and reduced availability of resources, to name a few.
While we are not out of the woods yet, we (in New Zealand) are better positioned to experience relative freedom from Covid-19, certainly well ahead of our global neighbours. This has been and is, a time that points to our need for increased resilience.
The struggles of 2020 are very real, some which are linked to Covid (such as employment), housing, extreme weather events, travel restrictions and more.
Resilience describes our ability to survive and/or succeed in difficult situations against the odds. The apostle Paul was aware that he had not achieved everything he wanted to achieve but that he was willing to put past failures and successes behind him to lean into the future, that is, "to press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:17).
Paul is aware that he is operating in less than ideal conditions and that if he kept focusing on that, it would hold him back from achieving the things he was reaching for. Our resilience and perseverance keeps us on course.
Resilience is often described as the ability to bounce back when the unthinkable happens. "Bouncing back" implies that resilient people develop qualities such as adaptability, optimism, endurance, patience, and perseverance to start again. One fallacy worth challenging in this "bounce back" concept is that the point where the "down" and "up" point meets, does not happen simultaneously. Bouncing back is better described as a willingness to "get up again" and maintain forward momentum.
Dr Adam Dodds describes in his book, Resilience: Spiritual Formation for Mind and Heart, that "there is a springiness to resilience, an inner strength that enables us to rebound from the knocks of life" (2020, p.1.). Naomi’s circumstances ( see Leviticus 19:9-10) offers us an excellent example of how she responded to her challenging situations. Instead of being sidelined by them, she used her circumstances to rewrite her future — with God’s help and guidance. Resilience is a key ingredient in acknowledging the troubles we are experiencing, but not letting them win. Paul writes (Corinthians 4:8-9) "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed".
One way we can increase our resilience is by challenging the way we think about the issue we are facing to see it as an opportunity rather than a roadblock. Proverbs 23:7 puts it well: As someone thinks within him or herself, so is he or she. So, if you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right! We act out of what we think.
Additionally, the words we speak can reinforce or sabotage our resilience. The words we say (including the words we hear ourselves saying) and the words that other people say to us influence our resilience. Therefore, maintain honesty and optimism in the words you use.
Other ways to build our resilience are to recognise what strengthens our resilience and more poignantly, what drains it, and plug it. Holding grudges or unforgiveness can reduce our resilience — so be open to forgive others. Taking time for rest and refreshing restores our mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual reserves. Turning the focus away from ourselves to support and bless others unwittingly blesses us and builds up our resilience. Having a big "why" by establishing a strong purpose in life also increases our resilience, summed up in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27: "Therefore, I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."
A resilient life is based on trust and confidence in God. He is with us, and He is for us in the midst of the challenges we face. We also know that God is in it for the long run, and doesn’t give up on us part-way through; Philippians 1:6 bears this out, "Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus". Let’s build our life on a faith foundation, so that we are able to do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
Let’s also find ways to build others’ resilience as we head into this exciting season of celebration, rest, refreshing and renewal.
- Lesley Gill is an Associate Professor at Otago Polytechnic and an Elder at Elim Church.