The word “resilience” has caught the fancy of the scientific community. Researchers want to unravel the mystery of how two people can face an identical challenge with very different outcomes? How does one person navigate a challenge successfully while the other does not? The first person is labeled resilient. But what makes them resilient? It’s not entirely clear. For example, how do some alcoholics stick to sobriety while others slide backwards? How do some addicts succumb to the death grip of meth while others slip free? How do some pastors figure out a way forward for a congregation while others give up and leave ministry?
One idea is that resilient people have a thought process that says, “I can do this.” No matter the quantity or quality of the challenge, a resilient person faces the challenge straight on and say, “This will not be the end of me!” It is a form of confidence that says to the darkness, “you will not win.” Like the patient just diagnosed with cancer, they face the doctor and say, “I’m going to lick this thing.” Or the student who picks up a seven-hundred-page textbook and says, “Let’s go!” It’s the pastor who reminds the congregation, “Hope is the conviction of things not seen.” It is the parent who stands at the foot of their child’s grave and says, “Life will somehow go on.” Or the parent in hospice care who says to their children and grandchildren, “You will be resilient when I’m gone.”
A young man is estranged from his father after years of physical and emotional abuse. The estrangement allowed the young man to feel safe. But now, living on his own (and a little bit older and stronger), the young man decides to return home to face his father. The son is not interested in winning. He wants an equal relationship with the father he once feared. With a little bit of work, he finds some confidence and a voice. His confidence comes from the knowledge he gained doing research on his father’s family. He discovered a history of physical abuse handed down from one generation to the next as an automatic pattern of behavior. He learned about the family history of absent mothers who often retreated to the other room when fathers became angry with their sons. He began to see how accepting this pattern of behavior as “fate” was the part he played in the triangle. Standing at the door of the house, in front of his father, he speaks, “You and I are better than this. We can have a relationship without violence; without the escalations of words. I want a relationship with you that is based on respect. I want a different relationship.” He is resilient.
Working on being resilient doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome. In the end, we all will die from something. But resilience does make a difference for oneself and to important others. It is just one component of what it takes to step up and do better in this life. We have a limited number of challenges to face over a lifetime. Each challenge is an opportunity to bring our best self to any situation. Overcoming adversity is about bringing one’s confidence, thinking, and determination to any challenge and letting nothing get in the way of one’s relationship with important others and God.