A famous song, ‘Tubthumping,’ written about resilience, was used several years ago to promote the Melbourne Storm rugby team. Do its words, “I get knocked down but I get up again,” depict your own capacity to rebound during successive COVID lockdowns? We may well ask what the alternative is, anyway, as we power on unflappably, working from home (yet again). But in our reflective and self-aware moments, we do well to recalibrate our capacity to endure beyond the limits of tolerance we might think we have already reached.
Pushing beyond them responsibly needs us to exercise the muscle of resilience because, as said by Canadian author, Roy T. Bennett, “All that matters is you get up one more time than you were knocked down.” One more time. Again. One more time than we thought was already one more time last time! Is that not itself somewhat disconcerting? Is Melbourne’s lockdown 6.0 really ‘it’ for us now? Few really think so (and, by the way, have I even remembered the correct count amidst the fatigue of it all?).
How might we develop genuine resilience, though, whenever it is needed? Perhaps this is not just about facing off against the resurgent COVID threat to our health and finances but, indeed, against any form of oppression to our wellbeing. After all, we tend to burn out when we have reached our coping limits and no longer find the inner reserves to power on in the face of dashed expectations.
I’d suggest that some helpful tools for resilience breakthrough in any area of life include the following.
1 – Assessment: the Outward Perspective
Are we looking at our circumstances objectively? Our life is not described by what overwhelms us temporarily. There are often people close to use (or people who can become close) who need us to trust them with our reflections and with the right to help us reframe them. Such people help us see the silver linings in the clouds of life and can also help us find our place in a community that will help us to be ‘other-focused.’
Culturally-conditioned starting responses to adversity will often be shaped in part by families, neighbourhoods, and organisations, so as to impose mindsets of imprisonment that then need new ways of conceiving of our surroundings if we are to break free. Greater awareness the world around us can enable us to choose new responses, new learned behaviours and attitudes, even when circumstances are outside our control.
In Philippians 4:11, Paul the Apostle affirms the need to find contentment in whatever situation we face. One of the inherent meanings in the word he chooses is the need to be independent of external circumstances. We do not have to be defined by the world we are in, by our apparent fate, by the words that sometimes ring between our ears.
A U.S. poet, Maya Angelou, helpfully recommended, “if you don’t like something change it, if you can’t change it change your attitude.”
What outward perspective do you need to adopt? What must change about your response to life today?
2 – Awareness: the Inward Perspective
Are we conscious of the inner thoughts and messages that shape us? Are these sometimes too confining? Just as a good night’s sleep or a short walk can refresh our perspectives in the short term, so can the ability to break away from destructive thought patterns in the long term. Again, it is the right people in our lives who can help us not only to reframe our worlds but our words.
Emotional responses to expectations often impact our inner thought life. Unchallenged, these can find destructive outlets and can also prompt awfulisations and extremisms of learned helplessness. Reflections such as, “they always…,” “I can’t…,” “she never…” will often reinforce as apparent facts certain views that need not be so definitive in the cool light of day.
Christians often speak of being called, that is, having a clear sense of life purpose desired and shaped by God. This makes us indefatigable – resilient – and it provides an anchor in times of despondency and inner turmoil. Though that call needs to be shaped over time, it remains an ever-burning flame of hope, an antidote to burn-out, continually inspiring us with God ideas about our life and future in preference merely to good ones.
The prophet Jeremiah writes (in 17:9): “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, said quite pointedly, “Of all deceivers fear most yourself.” Embracing truth will combat self-deception.
What inward perspective is needed? What self-talk might need to change in you today?
3 – Attentiveness: the Upward Perspective
King David found strength “in the Lord his God” when faced with adversity (1 Samuel 30:6). But what does this heavenward posture look like? We need tools for breakthrough. Of course, Bible reading and prayer will usually only inspire the Christian who reads and reflects with a mind to ascertain what God might wish to reveal. Psalm 119:105 shows that the Bible can light the way forward, but Christian discipleship needs it to be devotionally applied not distantly appraised.
Simone Weil, a French psychologist, wisely stated that, “Attentiveness is the heart of prayer.” We don’t pray our own agenda when needing resilience from God but, rather, pray to discover his. And to be in a position to hear well spiritually, we often need some foundational physical and emotional support: Elijah famously heard from God in 1 Kings 19 only when he was first able to rest and eat!
What upward perspective is needed and how are you seeking it? Do you know God’s response to your own expectations? Discovering this can actually be confronting.
4 – Adaptability: the Downward Perspective
Being willing to compromise our expectations – regarding time, efficiency, capacity, people – needs a flexible posture, and that drives us to a place of humility. When we look upward we are then driven downward – to our knees in prayer!
God opposes the proud and yet gives grace – the grace we need – when we are humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). Only from this vantage point can we avoid conformity to the expectations and mindsets of the world around us. Instead, we find ourselves submitting to a biblical perspective and owning the responsiveness that brings the much-needed renewal of the mind (Romans 12:2) by which we live differently, resiliently.
An English writer, Max McKeown, said that “all failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation.” When a biblical perspective is brought to bear on life our resilience becomes possible and healthy change becomes inevitable.
What downward perspective is needed that will take you to your knees in responsive obedience and humility to the point that you can truly receive God’s grace to sustain you?
5 – Application: the Forward perspective
Proverbs 4:25 speaks of healthy direction when it encourages: “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” When the Israelites experienced the miraculous healing of the bitter waters in the desert (Exodus 15:22-27) they quickly needed to resume their mission to advance to the Promised Land, not to remain encamped at the place of their rescue.
A growth response to expectations is a forward-moving one. Change is not static and we cannot afford to remain stagnant. A resilient life embraces setbacks to create comebacks, breakdowns to create breakthroughs, tombstones to create milestones.
We don’t go looking for adversity but it certainly finds us, and we can either respond with fear grounded in what our instincts tell us or with faith grounded in what revealed truth tells us.
U.S. psychologist, Abraham Maslow, advises: In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.”
What forward perspective is needed to help you grow through dashed expectations or hardships so as to become better in that experience?