Being Resilient

The new favorite word in health care is resiliency. I believe this is so due to the limits of efforts to cure. The reality is we simply can’t uncover all the necessary circumstances and aids to change what we want and thus the result is often futility and resignation. Given our inability to fix what ails us what is left to be done? Years ago people analyzed such understanding as fate, believed there was nothing that could be done and went further, believing the present to be the divinely planned. If you could not explain something and could not affect something we believed it was designed to be that way. But now that we do believe we can change things, that what is doesn’t have to be so, we strive to change. But change has not come as easily as we assumed.

So here we are, afflicted and challenged, and unable to change as much as we wanted. Now what? Resiliency is not resignation, it is not giving up, and it is not the beginning of futility and resentment. Rather it is learning to live with the reality of limits, of challenges, of what cannot be fixed. Years ago we called this “making the best of it” but now we have christened it with a far more charming word, “resiliency”.

But what do we mean by resiliency? My own definition is not focused on courage or determination or will power or strength of character. Those terms only seem destined to shame the poor soul who can’t get it together to rejoice everyday despite the setbacks. I am as weary now of the “power of positive thinking” people as I once was of the negative “it doesn’t matter what we do, we’re all doomed” mentality I heard so often as a child. It seems so odd to me that reality is the enemy of both schools of thought, for in the midst of challenges is surely joy-filled moments and in the midst of achievement is surely failure, regret and loss. Why are these two words, limits and possibility, understood as such polar opposites of one another?

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Our youth group gathers in a circle every Sunday night and each participant shares a thorn, which is a concern, a bud, which is something to look forward to, and a rose, something very good for one’s soul. I try as hard as possible these days to look at life precisely through this filter; what is a challenge or concern of mine, what is an emerging possibility and what event have I experienced that has brought be deep joy. Holding these three things together is not being “negative” and it is not being Pollyanna either. Surely an approach like this is facing reality squarely in the face, giving in neither to maudlin sentimentality nor morbid resignation. There is something cathartic about expressing these three matters of the mind and heart openly, especially with each other.

For me resiliency is how we make sense of the sorrows, joys and opportunities that life offers. I try hard not to get carried away by any of it, keeping it all in perspective, remaining calm and pressing forward with what I learn in this never ending process of discernment and discipleship. I see life less as character building or character flaws and more as finding a narrative that moves us in the direction of life-giving connections and difference making in the midst of limits and even death. I know my body will fail, I know I will experience loss and I know I will die. I don’t blame anyone or anything for this. I am not filled with resentments, envy or hurts. But I also know that life includes failures, mine and others. How can I judge others without first judging me? Finally, I know wondrous possibility, abundant joy and deep connections; to others, to creation, to the Creator. I remind myself of this and thus I find hope and I find life. Loss/pain, wonder/possibility, and gratitude/joy are the staples of my life.

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