Resilience: A Hallmark of Christian Character
Resilience is the quality of being able to adapt to stressful life changes and “bouncing back” from hardship. Resilience is a response to tragedy, crisis, or other life-altering changes that allows us to move on despite the loss. Showing resilience does not mean that a person is unaffected or uncaring about the life change. Resilience is the human heart’s ability to suffer greatly and grow from it. We see examples of national resilience, such as the United States showed after the events of September 11, 2001. We observe personal resilience every day in people who suffer handicaps, deaths of loved ones, and other losses. When people refuse to give up on themselves and the world, even after misfortune, they are being resilient.
One virtue which is much needed today is resilience: the ability to bounce back. It’s a vital trait when events have, in various ways and to varying degrees, knocked over or crushed so many people. Now, as we glimpse – faintly and far away – the light at the end of the tunnel and with it the ending of this dreadful period, we are all beginning to raise questions about the future. Of course, resilience is a virtue that’s not just for a crisis, it’s for life. Resilient people triumph over disease, disappointment and deceit and a thousand other things. They are the stuff of legends, the focus of films and the heroes of life. It’s not just individuals who need resilience. Countries, organisations and cultures all need the ability to bounce back.
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. As I strive to live an integrated life, I recognise 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.
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” (Vs 3-5). 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 Counsellor 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.
Paul showed great resilience after his life-altering encounter with Jesus (Acts 9). When he was transformed from religious Pharisee to radical Christian, many were not happy with his message. He was beaten, stoned, criticised, jailed, and nearly killed many times (2 Corinthians 11:24–27). One incident especially shows Paul’s exceptional resilience. In Lystra in Asia Minor, he was stoned, dragged out of town, and left for dead, but, when his enemies left, Paul simply got up and went back into the city (Acts 14:19–20). His missionary endeavours continued unabated. Godly resilience enables us to be undeterred from our mission, regardless of the opposition.
In the Old Testament, Job demonstrated great resilience, and God honoured him for it. After losing everything, Job was in great agony of soul and body, yet he refused to curse the Lord or give up: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22). Later, when the suffering intensified, Job’s wife counselled him to “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9), but Job would not even consider such a thing. Despite his suffering, Job knew that God was in control, and that knowledge helped him maintain resilience instead of giving in to defeat. His faith resulted in resiliency.
The believer in Jesus Christ is upheld by God’s power and so is naturally resilient. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9).
Christians keep bouncing back. The key to resiliency is faith in the Lord: “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (Psalm 37:23–24).
One enemy of resilience is the incorrect assumption that we know how things will end. When a situation seems out of control or does not appear to be headed in the right direction, we tend to write “The End” over the story. We think we know the final result, so, instead of exercising resilience, we give up or take matters into our own hands.
Proverbs 3:5–6 is a good passage to cling to whenever we can see only disaster ahead: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him,and he shall direct your paths.”
Choosing to trust in the Lord rather than rely on what we understand is the best way to stay resilient.
God is not only in favour of resilience, he has personal experience of its value. After all, what better example of resilience is there than Jesus breaking gloriously free of the seemingly unbreakable chains of death? Let’s let that biggest of all bounce-backs inspire and encourage us all.
Becoming Resilient: How to Move Through Suffering and Come Back Stronger - Donna Gibbs
Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus-Shaped Life - Sheridan Voysey