Much has been written recently about resilience, sometimes defined as the capacity to handle chronic and acute stress with internal resources that have been built up on a foundation of meaning. Children who learn coping skills at an early age are better able to face adversity as adults with the help of positive understanding.
When I read books and articles on resilience, I am reminded of what spiritual literature calls joyful hope. It appears that resilience is the product of meaning (faith) and learned optimism that is rooted in a worldview that is large enough to withstand setbacks and failures (hope.)
In the epistle to the Romans, we read, “In hope we are saved.” Its ultimate and truest form is hope that rests in God. In a storm, nothing is quite as reassuring as trust in God’s grace. There is abundant evidence in sacred texts that God can be relied upon. In Hebrew Scripture, the culmination is the Passover from slavery by the parting of the Red Sea, both having appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle. In the Christian Testament, we find the dramatic act of Resurrection that made of our most fearful foe—death—a mere passage to new life.
It may be helpful to consider some of the literature on resilience to broaden and deepen our understanding of hope. For instance, it is said that resilience requires self-awareness and mindfulness. These enable self-regulation, which contains a tendency to see the slightest incident as a catastrophe-in-the-making. To a degree, we all have an inclination to dramatize things. This impulse can only be kept in check by sound knowledge of the circumstances, a reliable context for understanding that experience, self-knowledge and intentionality in choosing and taking measured and appropriate action.
Resilient people have positive attitudes, value friendship and compassion. What emerges here is the virtue of love, which fits with faith and hope to produce joy. Anthropologist Margaret Meade once wrote, “One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night.” She might have added that a close second is the need to care similarly for someone else.
For hope to be robust enough to weather emotional hurricanes, it must be developed and nourished like a muscle. This is done by exercising our God-given gifts. The healthy deployment of our gifts results in joy and resilience. These gifts anchor our spirit against the blistering winds of distress or despair. They are made stronger by use.
Care must be taken to ensure that these gifts are used in a manner that enriches the life of others without depleting the resources of the giver. To this end, periods of solitude and prayer are necessary for hope and resilience to endure over time. Only in this climate can we attend to the maintenance of meaning and the development of self-awareness. Mindfulness and hope make love possible and joy authentic.
Silence and prayer also protect fortitude and perseverance from calcification by making possible the necessary acceptance of change and loss. These become beginnings as well as ending. This is the Spirit of Resurrection that is the mark of true hope.