Tom and I are in Canada visiting our good friends Tom and Kim Balke, photographed here in a WaterWheels chair that can float and make it possible to get in the water. It is made available by the City of Surrey for people with disabilities. Some of you may remember that about three years ago Kim had a heart transplant and has struggled with health issues ever since. This WaterWheels chair seemed like a fitting symbol of the resilience that she and her husband Tom and their son Jared who are both caregivers for her, show. The WaterWheels chair is amazing and so is their resilience. Observing them encouraged me to re-evaluate my own resilience. I began by re-read ing an interesting article in Scientific American Mind entitled Ready for Anything about enhancing your resilience. The article suggests that anyone can become more resilient with the right strategies. Some of the strategies they talk about reduce stress. Others help you grow from the experience. Strategies they recommend include: rethinking adversity with a positive emphasis so that you adopt a supportive but realistic outlook; encouraging optimism, becoming as physically fit as possible, accepting challenges as opportunities, maintaining a close and supportive social network, and observing and imitating resilient role models.
What makes it possible for some of us to thrive while others succumb to the pressure? How come some of us bounce back with resilience when others become withdrawn and isolated? Sustaining life when the going gets tough is often a challenge, and when we think about the daunting problems of the world in which we live it is no wonder that some of us get disheartened. However there are ways to build resilience that all of us can benefit from.
- Take intentional stress breaks. The key to resilience is to try hard in small bursts then take a break. Try really hard, then stop, recover, and try again. After a stressful life event – loss of a job, or a loved one, involvement in a natural disaster like a hurricane or the recent Maui wildfires, or just the completion of a demanding work project, we need to take time for our bodies, spirits and souls to recover. Working hard burns energy. Stopping for a quiet pause during the day or week – pausing to pray, breathing exercises, planning activities you know relax and make you feel refreshed, all help. As you know I am a strong advocate for retreats, which refocus and renew us and can transform all of us into super resilient people. Interestingly recent research suggests that exercise is more effective when we go all out for a few minutes then relax our pace for another few. Our minds too are built for short energetic bursts followed by relaxing pauses.
- Rewrite your story or the story of the stressful event so that your struggles become growth opportunities. See stress as a way to fuel better performance. When I did research on plastic and its horrible impact on the environment, I was initially depressed. But when I prayerfully considered the challenge and viewed this as an opportunity to learn and change my behaviour, my attitude changed and I bounced back. In a natural disaster focusing on the incredible response of caring people across the nation and sometimes around the world can dramatically increase resilience.
- Practice Optimism. Thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people really does help. When we replace “I don’t think I will ever get over this.” with “This was challenging but I have learnt a lot” we transform defeat into resilient success.
- Help others and express gratitude. Studies show that people are more resilient when they have strong support networks of friends and family to help them cope with a crisis. You get an even bigger resilience boost by giving support. When we reach out and help others, we create meaning and purpose that helps push us through adversity. No wonder Paul tells us to “consider the needs of others as more important than our own (Philippians 2:4)
- Make it into a game. Make mundane tasks in the midst of painful experiences into a game with stakes, challenges and rewards. Celebrate and take joy in small wins. This doesn’t mean we belittle the magnitude of a crisis but it does often lighten our mood and that of those around us.
- Remember your comebacks. There is something incredibly inspiring about recounting the challenges we have already faced and overcome. Sharing these stories with others can build resilience not only in us but in them as well. No wonder God told the Israelites to remember and recount their stories of escape from slavery, endurance in the desert and entry into the promised land. They were a resilient people who overcame incredible obstacles time and time again.
- Increase physical activity. Going for a long walk boosts our happiness and our resilience.It also raises our spirits and brings joy to our souls. No wonder people often feel close to God when walking through a forest or on the beach.
- Push yourself outside your comfort zones. Taking on new challenges and keeping your brain fresh, sharp and inquisitive makes us flexible and resilient, more open to new ideas and the optimistic outlook that we need to keep us going.
- Maintain regular spiritual practices. This has been the key to my spiritual resilience. I know that many today are afraid of regular practices because they can become stale and legalistic, but if we don’t have these regular disciplines then our spiritual life soon dries up. In my book Godspace I talked about the need for regular routines and rituals, practices that enhance our lives without overwhelming us. I suggest that we need four types of practices – those that intentionally deepen our relationship to God, those that move us towards wholeness and maturity, those that empower us to see beyond our own needs to the hurting world of which we are a part, and those that draw us into the rest and celebration of God’s kingdom. I still think that these are all important and intentionally thinking about the purpose of our spiritual practices is one way to keep them fresh and alive and the keep us resilient.
- Discerning as a Group. As I said above, social networks and relationships are very importance for developing resilience. I think that we need to incorporate these in our planning for the future too. When Tom and I ran Mustard Seed Associates, we used a group discernment process that really strengthened not just our relationships but our spiritual lives too. Involving others in spiritual discernment or as counsellors and mentors are other excellent ways of strengthening our lives.
What Is Your Response
Prayerfully consider your own approach to life. What practices provide spiritual resilience for your life? What could you do to increase your resilience and ability to bounce back when you face challenges and obstacles?
Join Christine for all three virtual retreats to build on what you learn from lesson to lesson, learning practices and patterns that increase the gratitude, joy, balance, and creativity in your life. Register for three seasonal spirituality retreats. September 2, October 14, and December 9.
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