By: Stephanie Roofner, MA, LPCA
Resilience is important for living a meaningful life. Well, yes of course, you’re thinking, that seems fairly obvious. But what really is resilience? Is it just something that some fortunate people have, or can anyone become more resilient? And ultimately, what does the Bible have to say about being resilient?
If someone had asked me a couple months ago what is resilience is, I would have said it is some peoples’ ability to endure and rise above life’s troubles with a positive and hopeful attitude. I would have also told you that my own tendencies to see the glass as half empty would not qualify me for resilience and that it is more a quality of the few and the heroic.
Although new to me, the concept of resilience has been studied since the 1970s, specifically by one contemporary and impactful social researcher by the name of Dr. Brené Brown. She speaks and writes extensively on this topic and I would highly recommend looking into for learning more about resilience on a secular level. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection she defines resilience as the ability to overcome adversity and lists several of the major “protective factors” that research shows to make people resilient. These include having good problem solving skills, seeking help, believing in one’s ability to cope, and perhaps most importantly, being connected to and supported by others such as family and friends. Dr. Brown adds to these the practice of spirituality, compassion, courage, and the ability to be vulnerable, which is to understand and embrace one’s pain in the face of society’s messages of not being enough. According to her, the ability to be vulnerable and to have compassion for others’ vulnerability is a key element of being resilient and living a meaningful life, what she calls wholehearted living. These abilities may be more natural for some, but they can certainly be learned and cultivated.
Learning from Others
I know that as I grow older and grow in my faith I learn to be more resilient and I learn from those who are more resilient than me. One particular person comes to mind when I think of resilience in Scripture and his well-known teaching about overcoming adversity. In fact, Paul talks about rejoicing in hardship in Romans 5 because “suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (verses 3-5, NIV). This passage is full of resilience: first, in the fact that there is an end result and a purpose for suffering. Second, because God loves us and is guiding the process of our spiritual maturing and finally, because that love is manifested by the presence of the Holy Spirit and Counselor who is walking with us through that process. Further in Romans (8:18) Paul talks about the hope of heaven that keeps us enduring through the difficulties of this life, knowing that one day they will be over and much better is to come. For Paul resilience is knowing God’s love for him as well as the hope of spending eternity with God.
As I strive to live an integrated life, I recognize that I too must focus my thoughts on God’s love for me and His promise of glory one day, but this is not something that I have to do alone. God meant for us to live in community, connected to one another, drawing strength and encouragement from the Body of Christ. This can only be done when I am vulnerable enough to reach out and share my suffering with others and when those around me are courageous enough to reach back and show compassion and vice versa. Ultimately my resilience is built on my connectedness to Christ who gives me purpose and meaning and who is the greatest protective factor of my resilience, in spite of my own human and maladaptive tendencies.