One virtue which is much needed today is resilience: the ability to bounce back. It’s a vital trait when events have, in various ways and to varying degrees, knocked over or crushed so many people. Now, as we glimpse – faintly and far away – the light at the end of the tunnel and with it the ending of this dreadful period, we are all beginning to raise questions about the future. Most of these questions hinge on resilience. How quickly, if at all, are we, our country, our jobs and our churches going to bounce back?
Of course, resilience is a virtue that’s not just for a crisis, it’s for life. Any realistic view of existence acknowledges that life is full of events that appear from nowhere then either trip you up, wear you down or knock you over so you end up on the floor counting your bruises. Under such circumstances we need to get up! Think of a badly injured athlete forcing themselves to finish a race. Resilient people triumph over disease, disappointment and deceit and a thousand other things. They are the stuff of legends, the focus of films and the heroes of life.
It’s not just individuals who need resilience. Countries, organisations and cultures all need the ability to bounce back. In fact, I’m pleased to work for the most resilient organisation in the world: after two thousand years of being endlessly trampled on by every imaginable enemy, Christianity is alive, well and thriving today.
Before I give you some suggestions on the recipe for resilience, I need to warn you that it’s wise to ask some questions before bouncing back. We all have things in our lives – unhealthy habits, unhelpful prejudices, unresolved issues – that are not wanted on the voyage of life. First, resilience needs to be reflective because after any crisis we need to review what has happened and what we can learn from it. Einstein is supposed to have said that ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’. In fact, resilience may involve at least a rethink and possibly repentance. Second, our resilience needs to be not just reflective but selective. So, at the moment, many people are saying how much they want to see ‘everything to return to what it was’. Everything? No! Let’s try to ensure that when we emerge out of this long, dark tunnel, we’ve left some unwanted baggage behind.
That said, what’s the recipe for resilience? I think we need to balance several things.
First, there needs to be a balance between both hope and realism. Hope is essential to getting up off the floor after some hard blow; without it we may as well stay there. Hope is one of the great virtues of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 13:13). The only safe and unbreakable hope comes from putting our faith in the God who, in Christ, has defeated all evil. Yet matching our hope there needs to be a realistic view of life that accepts that conflicts and challenges are inevitable. It’s an attitude that encourages people to make preparations well in advance. Resilient individuals put their armour on before the battle starts.
Second, there needs to be a balance between toughness and flexibility. Toughness is obviously important but resilient people know there are times and places where we need to be flexible. To survive a crisis often needs elasticity; the ability to bend not break before returning to our original shape when the crisis is over. In a gale, flexible willow trees may survive better than sturdy, rigid oaks.
Third, there needs to be a balance of both independence and dependence. It’s hard to give anyone else resilience; once someone has decided that they will lose a battle, then that’s what they will do. You’ve got to want to get up off the floor! That said, resilience is much easier if there is someone there to help you get on your feet. I feel that one of the most important roles of any church or church leader is to try to help people bounce back after the blows of life. Ultimately, the one who helps us all to get to our feet after we’ve been knocked down is God himself.
God is not only in favour of resilience, he has personal experience of its value. After all, what better example of resilience is there than Jesus breaking gloriously free of the seemingly unbreakable chains of death? Let’s let that biggest of all bounce-backs inspire and encourage us all!
Revd Canon J.John