As June comes to a close and businesses reopen, I’ve noticed that my anxiety is less at times. Yet there remains a cloud of uncertainty as the number of infections escalates in states where leadership chose defiance over caution. And the catastrophic failure of leadership at the federal level adds unprecedented levels of uncertainty about the future.
It is no wonder that so many are racing towards some resemblance of normalcy. Even the most resilient among us are pushing the limits of our coping mechanisms. We are learning a lot about ourselves, and a lot of what we learn is unsettling.
I’m anxious to do a few of the things I missed over the past three months. But most of all, I’m eager to stop being concerned about infecting others or becoming infected myself. And denial doesn’t work well for me. I’ve tried it.
I’m hopeful that we see the end coming soon, yet I know that the end is elusive. Too fast, too soon, and unmitigated stupidity is likely to result in tens of thousands more unnecessary deaths. And in my more difficult days, I admit that one of the victims could be me or someone close to me. Understandably, a lot of your anxiety and mine comes out of a shared feeling of hopelessness.
The most basic definition of resiliency is simply the degree to which a person can recover from adversity. We all have varying levels of residency. One of the basic building blocks that help us be more resilient is the ways we cope. Like most things where there are choices involved, some ways of coping offer better results than others.
While the degree of resiliency is, in part, based on a person’s relationship with the people who raised them, resiliency is also learned. Research has determined that genetics plays a minor role. However, feeling loved as a child plays a significant role. Nevertheless, we can discover new coping skills that leave us stronger on the other side of adversity.
New York Times writer, Eilene Zimmerman, knows a lot about recovering from adversity. This year she published her first book, Smacked. Her book comes out of her experiences and research after learning about her former husband’s addiction to drugs that went undetected for years. Today Eilene is a journalist living in New York and like her neighbors, dealing with life at the epicenter of a pandemic.
Five years ago, Eilene Zimmerman discovered that the man that she thought she knew, and who seemed to have it all together, used drugs to cope with his anxiety and stress. His addiction eventually included opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Ms. Zimmerman’s recent article about resilience focused on the common characteristics of resilient people. Her experience with the death of her former husband gave her a place to begin. After all, his death taught her a lot about coping with adversity. Her article is timely since our resiliency is under strain.
As a journalist, her first step was to interview a large number of highly resilient individuals. In other words, people who successfully recovered after experiencing a lot of adversity. Her first observation was that resilient people have a positive, realistic outlook. Resilient people don’t deny their circumstances. But they do look for opportunities to find the positive within the negative.
A pandemic is a traumatic event. It is unpredictable, more so in the U.S. than elsewhere due mostly to a lack of testing and an incompetent president. The pandemic is also uncontrollable, at least by you and me on our own. We can only do what we have the power to do. While this adds to our anxiety, recognizing what we can and cannot control is another attribute that makes us more resilient.
My role model for resiliency is Jesus Christ. Honestly, each time I make such a statement, a voice in my head shouts something like, “Of course, He was the Son of God.” The reality is that the advice found in His teachings are insightful for this reason. It is not surprising that Jesus had all of the attributes of a resilient person.
Highly resilient people also believe in something greater than themselves
The great news is that even if you choose not to believe that Jesus is also God, your doubt need not diminish the value of His teaching. And learning from a highly resilient person who spent His time helping others is a good starting point.
For example, Jesus taught the importance of living a moral life. It turns out that highly resilient people have a moral compass. They have a solid sense of what they consider right and wrong, and it tends to guide their decisions.
Highly resilient people also believe in something greater than themselves. As a result, they participate in religious or spiritual practices. And there is a bonus. The support that comes from being part of a faith community further enhances our resilience.
It is also true that Jesus was quite critical of religious leaders and practices. And I’m confident that He would have even more to criticize today. But Christ doesn’t tell us not to get involved. Instead, He cautions us to be sure that our own practices are based on our love for both God and other people.
Which leads me to the next characteristic of highly resilient people. They have a concern for others. Resilient people have a degree of selflessness. And they find a sense of purpose in their beliefs and act on them.
But even highly resilient people are unable to change many of the things they want to change. Instead of fretting over what they cannot change, they focus their energy on what they can change. Dr. Steven Southwick, a psychiatry professor at the Yale University School of medicine, says resilient people reappraise a problematic situation and look for meaningful opportunities.
Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it?
One day Jesus was teaching about anxiety. At one point, He asked the question, “Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it?” Some of us see the answer to this question as obviously no. Others may think about the answer a bit longer, thinking of exceptions like worrying about things that might affect our well-being.
But the truth is that it is not the worrying that makes a difference. Resilience comes from focusing on the other things that can help. Those things that we can do something about, like wearing a mask and social distancing.
Next month, we focus on freedom. We are not done claiming a new normal for ourselves. We begin July with a celebration of our declaration of freedom. But it is time to live as free people by first demanding freedom for all. We aren’t interested in going back to the way things were with systems of injustice and segregation. For more information our series, Live, see the article, Coming up in worship on our website.
I invite you to join us each Sunday. We plan to be live via webinar, through Facebook live, or you can call (929) 436-2866 and enter the meeting number — 324 841 204. We go live at 10:30 am. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to info@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
Eilene Zimmerman. “What Makes Some People More Resilient Than Others.” New York Times. June 18, 2020.