Life is full of ebbs and flows. As we mature our resilience helps us to deal with the changes, disruptions, and upsets in our life.
The word “upset” describes an interesting phenomenon in our lives. It refers to a turning over, a dumping out, of something held or maintained. Upsets are usually unexpected. When we are resilient, however, we are able to bounce back from them and move on with our lives.
Resilience is something learned—something we gain through practice, trial and error, and a series of upsets over a lifetime. It is not something given all at once. It is also not something that we just employ once when needed as an automatic fix. Resilience and patience go hand in hand and they are always practiced and learned over time.
When I began teaching at Temple University in the mid 1990s I was embarking on a second career—the first one being my ordination and work in the Episcopal Church. I was still a priest active in the church, often working on Sundays but I was looking to exercise different talents. When I began work there I knew my job was uncertain. The position was not a tenure-track position. There was a promise that the job would turn into one, but the university began to downsize and that never happened. I was given reassurances during my first year that all would be well next year. And the same the year after that—but then it wasn’t. The tenure line was never opened and I found myself in a place I never really expected to be—even though I knew from the start that nothing was assured and that this was always possible. Now I had to figure out how to bounce back.
I did not work for a few months as I began to search for a new job and then quite out of the blue I received a phone call from a nearby church, six miles from where I lived, for whom I had filled in on a Sunday morning a year before. They wanted me to be their rector. Even with a new job it took me some time before I could shake off the sense of disappointment from the upset to what I had thought was a new career track for me. I found solace in the words of Psalm 37: “Take delight in the Lord, and he shall give you your heart’s desire.”
The word the New Testament uses to describe the resilience I am writing about is most often translated as “endurance” or “perseverance,” which in this context refers to the capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances. This perseverance and endurance is grounded in our trust in the loving mercy of God, who always desires what is best for us.
In the epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul writes: “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father…” (Col. 1: 11-12). Similarly, in the parable of the sower in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says of those whose lives take root in the good soil, that“these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Lk. 8:15). Patient endurance. The two words go hand in hand.
When upset or even disaster strikes someone’s life and they have difficulty dealing with it over time, we often say that their life went “off the rails.” There are of course no rails in life. None of us lives on a track that takes us directly to our destination—whatever that may be. There are always detours, upsets, and dead ends along the way. How we deal with the things that disrupt our lives is a measure of our own resilience.
The way we learn resilience is not by doing everything in our power to avoid upsets but by facing them head on and doing everything we can not to give up or despair (for too long) but to bounce back. No matter how strong or determined we are, bouncing back often takes time. When we have a community of people who support us, bouncing back is made easier, even when it is a daunting task for us.
Life has its ebbs and flows. Our trust in God, the support of those who love and care for us, and our own resilience help us through the best and the worst of times.