Laughter, gratitude, compassion and purpose – these are the keys to a more resilient life.
But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. – Isaiah 43:1-3a
Resilience. It’s a trait I admire. Folks who can get knocked down again and again, in big ways or small ones, yet pick themselves right back up and move forward.
My sister, Bevie, was like that. She struggled with multiple sclerosis her whole adult life, but was always the first person to laugh, to pull a prank, to have courage and forge ahead.
I was thinking about her strength and her humor a lot last week, as it was her birthday.
One day Bevie managed to tip her wheelchair into the ditch at the end of the driveway going to get the mail. Most of us would succumb to frustration or panic in such a moment, but the neighbor found Bevie laughing, her feet dangling up in the air.
Resilience. The ability “to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.”
Do you need to be more resilient this year? To bounce back more easily when life falls short of your expectations? To thrive in circumstances that might otherwise cause you to collapse into a ball on the couch hugging a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream?
Some people seem to be born with a special gene that makes them naturally resilient. But, the truth is, resilience is a behavior that can be learned; an emotional muscle that we can build and can be strengthened.
So how do we build that muscle?
Well, in addition to Bevie’s number one rule – “You gotta laugh!” – a recent study among American military veterans found that higher levels of gratitude, altruism and a sense of purpose were strong predictors of resilience. These, then, are traits that we need to be intentional about cultivating in our lives.
It’s easy to let one bad event grow disproportionately in our mind. Have you ever had someone say something critical to you and the words play over and over again in your head for a week? No matter how many other nice things are said to you or about you?
Rule of thumb is we need five positive comments to overcome one negative one. Well, the same can be true about our circumstances. Sometimes we need to be intentional about remembering all of the good things that are happening in our life in order to not let the bad events overshadow them. It’s amazing how we can become blind to the blessings right in front of us. Kind of like the laundry on the dresser that never gets put away. We just get used to it being there. We don’t notice it anymore.
Keep a gratitude journal for a month. Write down 5 things that you are grateful for each day. No cheating. You can’t list each of the four new tires on your car separately. Trust me, you will have plenty to be grateful for. Flip back through the pages once in a while and give thanks for the abundance in your life.
If you need stronger reinforcement, start a gratitude jar. Each day write what you are grateful for on small slips of paper. Whenever you are in need of a reminder of just how fortunate you are, pull a few slips out of the jar and read them.
Let’s face it. When difficult circumstances happen, many of us want to shut ourselves off from others. To close up. To keep our head down and just get through the day.
When we focus on other people, when we put others’ needs above our own, it builds our own capacity for resilience, for getting through whatever situation is challenging us at the moment.
This doesn’t mean you have to go big and join the Peace Corps. Simple actions can make a world of difference.
- Pay attention to other people today. Smile. It can literally change someone’s day.
- Hold a door open.
- Volunteer to make or serve a meal.
- Check on someone who lives alone or has been in bad health lately.
Helping others helps us to keep life in perspective. And, according to at least one study, it may just help you live longer, too!
Rediscover your purpose.
When we lose sight of the larger narrative of our lives, it is easy to be blown in the wind by each situation or circumstance that happens, good or bad.
Endurance runners will tell you that race day is always on their mind. When they are struggling to get themselves out the door to train, they think about race day. When blisters or weather or injuries make them want to quit, they think about race day.
Endurance runners are clear about who they are and what they are about. They see adversity as a series of speed bumps along the way to their ultimate goal.
Part of our challenge with resilience is remembering our ultimate goal.
As followers of Jesus, we are not that job we were wanting or the size 6 we were hoping to be. We are not the illness that shapes our life differently than others or the financial struggles that feel like they have no end. We are not defined by our occupation or our health or our relationship status, as important as all of those things are in our daily life.
We are defined by our faith.
When you walk out the door each morning, is race day always on your mind?
For all that he accomplished in a day, Jesus only had one thing on his mind – to make the Father known. To embody the love of God so that others would know God and be drawn to God.
That is our purpose, too. No matter what is going on in our lives, embodying the love of God, giving people a glimpse of Jesus is always our race day goal. Building others up. Being peacemakers. Forgiving. Sharing.
And the amazing thing is, that goal gets lived out in the midst of our circumstances – whatever they are. We have purpose right where we are. God accepts us and uses us and loves us right where we are. Not once we get that job or once… you fill in the blank.
Think about where you are in your life right now. Where are you finding it hard to bounce back? What opportunity is there in that circumstance to let God’s love be made more visible through you?
Resilience says, “This moment does not define me. I have the power to define this moment.”