What comes to your mind when you read this passage? For me, it is the word, resilience. Resilience is the ability of people to bounce back from adverse experiences and move on in their lives. Resilience is having a mental fortitude that enables us to exercise grit, endurance and perseverance in the face of adversities. These qualities are essential for living an emotionally and spiritually healthy life.
Adversity, failure, pressure and tragedy are part and parcel of life. We cannot avoid them. At some stages of our lives, we all experience the death of a loved one, loss of a job, business failure, broken relationship, serious illness and other emotionally traumatic events.
Different people respond differently to all these trials. Some people are vanquished by them. Some are so badly affected that they are unable to pick themselves up. As a result, they live the rest of their lives in misery.
In recent years, statistics show an increasing number of young people succumbing to depression. When help is not forthcoming, some of them become suicidal. Various reasons have been offered – academic pressure, bullying, abuse, low self-esteem, peer problem, etcetera. However, there is a deeper root problem. I believe the underlying problem is a lack of resilience.
On the other hand, there are those who seem to be unfazed by their ordeals. Not that they do not feel the painful impact of their loss and failure, but they seem to possess a remarkable ability to cope. They do not merely survive; they thrive.
What makes the difference? Resilience.
We can argue about this, but I do not think that resilience is an inborn trait. Even if nature has something to do with it, nurture definitely plays a much bigger role in developing resilience. Our upbringing and environment have a massive impact on the development of our resilience. Few people would argue that people from less privileged background and who grow up in a relatively harsh environment tend to be mentally and emotionally tougher. They do not crack easily under pressure. Whereas those who have a privileged background and who have lived a sheltered life in their growing-up years tend to be more fragile in many ways.
The point is resilience can be developed.
A Sense of Purpose
Researches have shown that people who possess a strong sense of purpose in life cope better with adversity and failure compared to those living without conviction of any kind.
The apostle, Paul, is an excellent example. Paul is a remarkable man, a missionary extraordinaire. In his own words, he suffered tremendously for the sake of the name and gospel of Jesus Christ. He travelled widely and tirelessly to spread the good news. He suffered persecution; he was beaten, whipped and stoned on countless occasions. He was imprisoned. Often, he had to endure hunger and cold. The list goes on (2 Corinthians 11:23-39).
Why was he willing to go through such hardships? Because he lived with a sense of mission, and that is to preach Christ. He served a purpose higher than himself as evidenced by these immortal words of his - “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
A sense of purpose gives meaning to our suffering. There are reasons for the pain and affliction. For Paul, it was the devil’s opposition to the gospel. The fact that our suffering is not meaningless provides motivation and determination to keep pressing on until the goal is accomplished. Otherwise, why bother? What is the point of persevering? One might just as well give up and die to put an end to the pain.
On Monday, my wife and I went to Jewel Changi Airport. I have heard so much about it. Friends rave about the stunning largest indoor waterfall. “A WONDROUS WORLD AWAITS” - says Jewel’s website. So, I was eagerly looking forward. However, when I set my eyes on it, I was disappointed. Not because it was not beautiful. It was a magnificent piece of work. But because of the hype surrounding it, I was expecting the waterfall to be much larger and grander.
Expectation is a powerful emotion.
Persecuted saints throughout history expect persecution for professing their faith. In their letters, the apostles told them so. In these letters, you notice that they did not ask the saints to pray for the persecution to go away. The encouragement is always to endure and persevere. And through these trials and sufferings, their faith would be refined, and their character strengthened. That is how resilience is developed.
Paul encouraged the Corinthians saying, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” He called these challenging experiences a treasure in jars of clay. Resilience is a treasure indeed.
Expect adversities and failures in life, and you will be able to cope with them better. Expectation has a way of posturing your mind to bear with shocks and unpleasant circumstances.
In view of this, I am concerned with overprotective parents. Some parents are so paranoid that they totally insulate their children from getting hurt physically and emotionally. There is a downside to it. By sheltering their children excessively from the painful realities of life, these parents are depriving them of the opportunity to develop resilience.
Resilience can only be developed through experiencing knocks and failures in life. Unless it is something serious, let your children learn to deal with the problems themselves. Talk to them and coach them on how to handle these situations. But don’t intervene unnecessarily. Children are hardy and adaptable. They will learn quickly to cope and fend for themselves.
Teach them to expect challenges in life. Let them be accustomed to the fact that they do not win, and they do not always get their way all the time.
This is how God trains His children. He allows trials in our lives. Sometimes, He engineers them. How else can we develop resilience?
That’s the reason for the apostle, James, saying, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (resilience). And let steadfastness (resilience) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4 - ESV).
Pastors Leslie & Adeline Chua