Life is not short on difficulty. As I’ve been writing this, yet another school shooting has claimed the lives of at least six souls, and I was notified only a few hours ago that my childhood best friend died of cancer. Throughout my life, I’ve lost family and friends, fought through many medical issues, and have faced the difficulty of everyday life.
Life knocks us down sometimes. That is an unavoidable fact. The question then becomes: How do we get back up when it is all we can do just to keep breathing?
The American Psychological Association describes “resilience” as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.”
As followers of Jesus, we are not promised immunity from the trials of life—in fact, Jesus expressly warns us that we will face difficulties. In John 16:33, he says, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
Fortunately, we have a Savior who knows exactly what we are feeling and is the embodiment of resilience. Dying and coming back to life is a pretty dramatic illustration of the concept. Although resurrection is something Jesus promises us in the end, there are three biblical concepts that can help us grow in our resilience today.
The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 CSB)
It can be tempting to try to rush through pain, trials, difficulty, or loss without taking the time we need to fully recover. In order to avoid trivializing, diminishing, or rushing through our pain, it is important to slow down and bring our most authentic and vulnerable selves to trusted friends and to God—remembering that he is with us in it all and is the ultimate source of our healing.
Before we rush to discover meaning or unpack what is next, we must realize God may call us to simply walk with him as he validates our feelings and comforts us in our pain.
Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2–4 CSB)
To be honest, I have a hard time considering my difficult experiences as “pure joy.” When something bad happens, whether small (someone stole my parking space while I was waiting for it) or large (I am undergoing some scary medical treatments), an approach that helps me in difficulty is to “reframe my pain.” If I can see my hardship or experience in a different light, if I am able to glean truth from the situation, it helps me move a bit more toward the “joy” end of the spectrum.
Seeing your stolen parking spot as an opportunity to exercise grace towards your fellow man, or even as fodder for an amusing story, can help you move past frustration. When you go through larger trials of life, such as chronic diseases, pain, or loss, you can simultaneously hold two truths: this is hard, and nothing is wasted with God.
Let me be clear: I don’t think God causes all pain, struggle, or striving in our lives just to teach us a lesson. And remember, this is not about trivializing, diminishing, or rushing through our pain.
But in this passage, James reminds us that our setbacks are not permanent, and God can use the suffering we endure to actually grow, mature, and deepen us as human beings. Looking at a situation from a big-picture perspective and asking Jesus what he is up to in it can help us persevere through difficult and painful times.
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24–27 CSB)
After the dust settles on a difficult time, you may find yourself wondering, “What now?” As you search for a path forward, remember to consider the state of your “foundation.” During and after times of trial, it is tempting to rebuild our lives on the shifting sands of worldly hopes and answers. Instead, Jesus reminds us that he and his guidance are the only firm foundation for our lives.
I encourage you to lean into Jesus and godly community throughout the entire healing process, but especially as you begin to move forward in life again. Rebuilding with God and others can help us to take continued inventory of where we are, what God is doing and teaching us, and how we might use our story to support others going through similar circumstances. You may find purpose and meaning in helping others who are in the middle of a horrible experience with which you are well acquainted.
For you, God, tested us; you refined us as silver is refined. You lured us into a trap; you placed burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us out to abundance. (Psalm 66:10–12 CSB)
We are living in a broken world, and sometimes we can feel broken right along with it. In our hurry to heal, however, it can be helpful to reflect upon the difficult times we’ve faced in our lives. When the storm has passed, and you can take a deep breath, what might it look like to reflect with God on a difficult time in your life?
How has God brought you comfort and peace? How did he sustain you and grow you through that time? What did he teach you about yourself and about himself? Where are things still hurting and not making sense to you?
Talking honestly with God about these things a bit later can help you find further closure and healing even as you have already stepped into something new.
Being resilient doesn’t mean you are immune to hardships. Resilience is shown in processing hardships, rebuilding, and continuing to journey onward in life with God and others by your side.
As Proverbs 24:16 reminds us that “Though a righteous person falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin” (CSB).