Toorak Uniting Church

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Resilience: Bred in the Bone

Colossians 1: 1 – 12
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
Pentecost 8
14 July 2013

"A good half of the art of living is resilience…One is doing well if age improves even slightly one's capacity to hold on to that vital truism: "This too shall pass." ~Alain de Botton

It is interesting that one can be taken by a word or idea or concept on the first occasions when you really hear it. That was my experience when I heard someone talking about "resilience." I am aware I had heard the word many times before but in that instance I heard it for the very first time. Or perhaps I heard the truth of it for myself for the very first time.

I am not sure that I am a very resilient person. I suppose I have got to the age I am today… Of course that may have to do more with good luck than good management. I have had my successes and failures. There have been some fights in my life that I faced up to and others that I have either avoided or run away from. But while I am not so sure about my resilience, I know that life is richer and fuller when we cultivate resilience in the very centre of our being….When it is bred in the bone.

I have told others the story of leading a chapel service at Carey Grammar School some years ago and I said as part of the talk, "I suspect that I have learned more from my failures than I have from success." A statement I still believe today. After the service one of the parents approached me and said, "Thanks Rev, I liked what you said. The only thing I would add is that it is our successes that give us the courage to face our next failure." A very interesting and perceptive comment and I believe it is also true. To fail continuously would only lead to self-defeat. But to succeed, even occasionally, breeds resilience in the bone.

The Bible doesn’t tend to use the word resilience. It favours courage, patience and endurance and an awareness of the sustaining presence of God. From the ancient words of the Torah:

"My command to you is to be strong and courageous. Don’t be frightened or terrified; and certainly don’t be discouraged, for Yahweh your God travels life’s road with you and will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

Of course to command someone to be courageous and resilient isn’t that helpful unless there are strategies and ways of dealing with the disappointments and discouragements that come into our lives each day, month and year of our lives. But there is comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our struggles and failures and even in the catastrophes and disasters that are of our own making, we are not abandoned or forsaken. And while we may claim that resilience or courage are gifts from God, we also know that they are attributes that must be formed and nourished in each of us.

The author of the letter to the Church at Colossia alludes to this when he says:

…we have not ceased praying for you wanting you to be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthwhile and fully pleasing to God, as you are fruitful in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

But then follows the passage about resilience and courage:

May you be strong with the strength that comes from God’s wonderful power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, joyfully giving thanks to the one who has enabled you to share in the best of what is to come.

Five words, strength, endurance, patience, joyfulness and gratitude.

Resilience in the Modern World:
This is what a recent article from Psychology today says about resilience:

Resilience is that indescribable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes.

The factors that seem to make someone resilient are a positive attitude to life, a sense of optimism, the ability to regulate and control emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after a misfortune, blessed with such an outlook, resilient people are able to change course and soldier on. (From Psychology Today)

I suspect like any spiritual quality – and these are spiritual qualities - they must be brought into our lives and practised on a daily basis. As the title of this sermon suggests, they must "be bred in the bone." They must be deeply instilled; firmly established and acted on persistently. They have to become habitual and a part of everyday living, so that when the catastrophe comes I don’t run for the textbook on what is the best way to respond, I act from the patterns I have developed in my life.

Here are my suggestions as to how we can breed the important spiritual qualities of resilience in ourselves and hence be of more help to others:

I will finish with a quote from Parker Palmer from his book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, about resilience and the human soul:

"Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during my bouts with depression. In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed. My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wilderness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul."

That’s Resilience!

© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2013

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