We’re so excited to share details of our 2022-2023 school year theme! This year we’re exploring RESILIENCE together!! It’s a great word and something that so many of us are struggling to understand as we continue to face unforeseen (and challenging) circumstances.
At the same time, we want to be careful how we are framing this concept for ourselves and for others. Too often this term is used to convince people to ‘keep going’ when what they might need to do is stop. Or to ‘stay positive’ about something that perhaps needs to be lamented. Or even to be a ‘team player’ when it’s the team that needs to make changes. On the flipside, resiliency as a tool for empathy, strength, empowerment, flexibility, consistency, faithfulness, and enduring love and kindness is apparent all throughout scripture and so we need to keep it in our vocabulary. Just perhaps with some modifications.
We’re not the experts but we are trying to learn from others to see if we can continue in the conversation about resilience in a way that serves our online community well. As part of that effort, we’ve expanded how we’re using the term.
Most commonly the definition for resiliency is “bouncing back” from adversity or challenge. Of course, this is resiliency, but there seems to be resiliency also in bouncing in (starting things with courage), bouncing through (persevering through things), and even bouncing out (letting go of something).
In Hebrews 12:1-3, we are told to look to Jesus for resiliency and certainly we find all of these aspects of resiliency in Jesus’s story. Jesus bounced into ministry, bounced out of manipulative situations, bounced through the work of the cross, and bounced back from literal death. Undoubtedly, Jesus practiced resiliency in his work, but he did this from a place of belovedness—as a child of the Father whose love for him had nothing to do with his successes.
Resilience Ultimately Belongs to God
In fact, it’s God’s love expressed in Christ that is truly resilient; it is the backdrop for any human resiliency. As a faculty and staff, we started our year listening to “Establish the Works of Our Hands” which opens with “If You don’t build it, we labor in vain”. Too often we march forward in the name of staying resilient, forgetting to seek out if this is something God has determined for us to do. Just barreling through work or picking ourselves up for the sake of grinding it out isn’t the point.
In this song, the speaker asks God to teach us to “number the length of our days”—that is to recognize our finitude and limitations and to realize that “only what’s done in love will remain”. Too often bolstering speeches about resilience are just pushing us toward empty workaholism or even masochism.
But in faith, it does matter what is calling us to bounce back—or even to bounce in, through, or out. Moreover, there are promises that God makes to always be with us and to watch over us without sleeping (Psalm 121:4) that are unique to God and not to be copied. (We need sleep!)
Our task in resiliency is about staying faithful to the things God has actually tasked us with—nothing more and nothing less. And most importantly to set aside the belief that God’s work hinges on our resiliency. Instead, the sun rises and falls because of God’s enduring love and presence. It’s love that never fails. And God is love.
It’s God who bears with us, puts up with us, and never gives up on the human project.
Professional Development: Vocational Resiliency
From a place of love, we are invited to work with resiliency. To stay faithful to the work God has established in us. This work can mean literally our jobs but more broadly as students, faculty, and staff our vocations—the things we do not labor in vain because they have been brought to us from God. Looking to The Resilient Leaders Project out of Seattle School of Theology and Psychology for guidance, we as a staff and faculty explored the idea of resiliency in leadership positions—namely as mentors, teachers, and overseers of young people. You can check out the presentation here where we wrestle over the challenges of resiliency in leadership in these times.
In response to this training and the breakout rooms that followed, here is what some of our teachers had to share:
- Personally, I’ve grown to become well aware of my need for PEOPLE and PRACTICE and PURPOSE in order to sustain me in the vocation God has called me to, both as a teacher and as a pastor (and a husband, and a father, etc., etc.). But it hasn’t always been that way. When I first started in ministry, I was focused on the purpose component, and relied very heavily on my sense of calling to see me through the challenging times. Later I grew to see the need to have a support community, that is people with whom I could be, as [our chaplain said], “complex,” so I have made a conscience habit of being with those people on a regular basis. The issue of practice is the one that I struggle with most. I know what I need, but I’m not able to sustain any of those practices over a long enough period of time in order for them to become a part of who I am and therefore I don’t gain their full benefit. I’m intrigued by [our chaplain’s] thoughts about the loop being the result of a lack of vision and I’m very interested in learning more about how God might use art to inspire, bring healing, and freedom from the unsustainable work patterns of my life.
- I really liked the reminder that value and vocation are separate. It is tough to remember during hectic weeks when faced with one setback after another. I also appreciated the idea that the purpose is set but the vocation (how the purpose is carried out) is adaptive.
- Vocational and financial instability have made it difficult for me to find margin/rest/reflection over the last couple of years. I especially found interesting the notion of resilience making us more healthy, whole, and holy because of the challenges we face. It’s definitely felt more like survival lately than seeing the challenges actually making me better.
- I like the thought of resiliency as actively becoming healthy, whole, and holy because of challenges. [My husband] and I have talked a lot about how our thinking and priorities have changed since his heart attack. We are choosing to slow down, recognize and appreciate our blessings, and prioritize BEing rather than DOing.
Exploring a Chapel: Individual & Communal Resiliency
As we think about resiliency in vocation, most likely we’re thinking as individuals. We ask questions like:
- How can I persevere through the first few months of breast feeding?
- How can I face that person again after what they said to me in that meeting?
- How will I possibly let go when my child goes to college?
- Will I make it through this semester?
Typically, when we think of resilience, we’re imagining a single person’s efforts. While this is a helpful framework to start with, when we explore what resilient faith in the gospels might look like, we see an invitation to consider this both as an individual phenomenon and as a community effort.
Back in October, during a Spiritual Life gathering (our high school spiritual formation/chapel group), we examined two passages that address these two sides of resilient faith (individual and communal) in interesting ways.
Mark 5:25-34 tells the story of a woman who has slipped through the cracks. We’re told that she has been bleeding for twelve years (25) and can reasonably infer that this has resulted in both social and religious isolation (Lev. 15:25-27). In this story the woman is travelling alone. She’s on her own. And if this is because of compliance with Levitical law, it’s important to note that this is not because of unkindness or injustice but simply to prevent the spread of disease; Mark takes no issue with Torah over this. Instead, the indictment comes against the health care system. Mark tells us this woman “suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” (Mark 5:26).
Take in that she had “spent all she had” and yet “grew worse” for twelve years.
So here she is mostly likely left without human connection, access to religious ceremony, and most of all bankrupt by the doctors.
Perhaps you know someone living this story. When asked, over 60% of our polled high school students knew someone who had been sick for months, years, or ten years or more.
But this woman is unique. She is determined. She is also convinced. The text tells us she says out loud but to herself: ““If I just touch [Jesus’s] clothes, I will be healed.” Bolstered by devotion, she braves the crowd, reaches for Jesus, and is healed. On her own, she resiliently perseveres through twelve years of sickness and all the financial, social, and religious losses that have come with it.
Feeling her tug at his clothes, Jesus asks who has reached out to him. Politely the disciples remind Jesus that there is a whole crowd of people touching him. And yet Jesus insists on focusing the camera on just her; Mark tells us “Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it” (32). The woman ‘comes clean’ (pun intended) and tells Jesus that it was her and he responds:
“Daughter, your faith has saved you (healed you/made you whole/made you well)” (34). In this instance only in the gospels does Jesus call out an individual as a daughter and he points the healing at her personally. It is her resilient faith—her faith that has persisted through illness, economic ruin, and religious and social isolation—that saves her.
Some translations will even order the words this way: “the faith of you has saved you”.
Certainly, this woman deserves our attention and recognition as a paragon of resiliency.
And also, I think Mark wants us to realize that perhaps this kind of resiliency should not have to rise up.
There’s a community organizer in the Seattle area who put it this way:
I think of two forms of resilience. There’s natural resilience. Like a flower that survives in the arctic tundra. Not because the tundra was put on it but because the flower and the tundra coexist in the same space and so there are different types of plant life in the arctic that live there. And they are resilient. They can be stretched in environments that a lot of other plants couldn’t be. I think that’s a natural resilience and that’s an important resilience and a beautiful resilience.
There’s also a forced resilience though. I often think of this like a rose and concrete. And we applaud the rose. “Oh you’re so strong, you’ve survived so much. You can keep doing that” but without an acknowledgement that that concrete was never supposed to be there and that there are tons of other roses that should be able to grow but can’t because concrete was poured over them. We need to start reframing how we look at resilience and the very not normal environments we’ve created.
Perhaps this woman is like the rose in the concrete. We must celebrate her resiliency, but also recognize that the concrete block placed upon her should not have been there in the first place. She should have had help.
Resiliency that is grounded in shalom is rooted in community. Why is she all alone? Why have the systems that are there to help her body bounce back from illness keeping her down instead? How could her community let her run out of money?
To this woman and all of the other men and women like her, Jesus says: “you are my child, and your resilient faith saves you.”
But maybe it shouldn’t have had to.
On this same day in Spiritual Life, we also looked at Luke 5:17-20. In this story, we find a man who is paralyzed also seeking Jesus. This paralytic is also resilient and also has resilient faith. But with one difference: he has a resilient community. Wanting to bring this man to Jesus, Luke tells us his friends wanted to carry this man on a mat but “could not find a way to do this because of the crowd” (19) and so the friends had to adapt their plan to make sure they could get this man to Jesus.
Notice the difference between community (the paralytic’s friends) and the crowd. The gospels have a lot of mixed reviews about what happens when crowds (sometimes called mobs) gather for both good and not good reasons around Jesus. In this case, the crowds are problematic because they are preventing this small community of friends from taking care of their friend who is a paralytic. Numbers, in this story at least, are not what make ministry happen. In fact, in this case the volume of people gathered prevents ministry from happening. Instead, it’s a handful of devoted friendships that see God’s work to completion.
Seeing that there is no way to Jesus through the crowd, they come up with another plan. This is impressive and speaks to their flexibility in problem solving—one of the key markers of resiliency. Undoubtedly the friends are tired. The text tells us that the paralytic is a man—not a boy—so this guy is heavy and they’ve likely carried him a decent distance because we’re told that people have come from all over to see Jesus (17) so presumably they also could have come from anywhere. But instead of giving up and leaving their friend behind, they climb the roof, move around some of the tiles and lower him down to where Jesus is.
Talk about removing the concrete.
They literally take out the barrier that was keeping this man from Jesus.
These friends are creative. Where others see a ceiling; they see a door.
Now, here’s something interesting. In response to this act of friendship Luke tells us that when Jesus saw their faith (the faith of the friends) he sets free the paralytic from both sin and paralysis. It is their faith that saves him. It’s the resilient faith of the community that saves the individual.
Oh and the crowds? They too are transformed. Instead of continuing to ignore the challenges of this community seeking to bring their friend to Jesus, suddenly they have turned their attention fully to them. After this miracle Luke tells us “everyone was amazed and gave praise to God” and said “we have seen remarkable things today” (5:26).
The invisibility of this resilient community including this paralyzed man gains Jesus’s attention and in doing so, brings the whole crowd’s attention to this group. They are no longer hidden. Moreover, this little group of friends causes the whole crowd to ‘see’ God.
When asked if students had seen expressions of this kind of resilient community in their own lives, they shared some powerful examples. Here are just a few:
- In our neighborhood we have a [social media] group of over 4,000 moms who ask for things and support each other in community. I think building a community where first, people ask and second, people respond is key. You have to know people so well that you can anticipate their needs and you have to make it part of the expectation and culture to help others.
- My family and I have some friends that just moved from Oregon to California. The husband started a completely new job and has been having a hard time adjusting. So my family and I hang out with them every other week to just encourage them and remind them that they have a support system. They have just bounced into something completely new which can be hard. …My family is just trying to make them feel welcome and not alone in this process. They also have a couple of other friends who are part of their community doing the same thing.
- [My friend] was going through a struggling time in his life but our friend group helped him through it and eventually he overcame the struggle. I think it takes resiliency to make a community that encourages and helps others and everyone within it to make sure no one slips through the cracks.
As important as our own resilient faith is, so is the importance of a community’s resilient faith. Our own faith makes us sons and daughters, but it is through communities of resilient faith that crowds of people come to be amazed and give praise to God.
Student Prayer for Resilience
As with most things, our actions need to be covered in prayer. Resiliency is the gritty widow coming back not just her task, but to prayer also. As educators we want students to endure the lessons we hope to teach them and to see the school year to the end but most of all we hope they’ll see the grace of God in the midst of these efforts. When students pray, you can really see the Spirit setting them free.
To close this blog, here is a mash up of prayers from middle school and high school students regarding resiliency. When our teachers, staff, and parents gathered together this past September to pray, we used these student words. We hope you will pray them with us on their behalf:
I pray that this school year [you would] please make me and my classmates very resilient to any kind of temptation that may falter our beliefs. Please help us to continue our journeys through faith and through our studies and let us not get distracted by things that aren’t important.
I know that we all fail so please let us fail and learn instead of failing and giving up. If we all learn, it will make us better as humans. Please let us not fear failure but embrace it. In your holy name we pray.
Most of all, I want to pray for resiliency for this school year. Being able to come back in hard times is very important.
I pray that through challenges in our schoolwork and lives we grow and become stronger. That instead of being defeated we learn from our errors. That we all continue to grow into strong and resilient minded individuals. That we have the perseverance to push through the struggles we face. That we remain strong and confident in ourselves. That we strengthen our faith and relationship with God through resiliency.
I just want these people to know that You are behind them and only You can do all things. I hope you can make them trust in you for those who are struggling.
Whether I fail once or 1,000 times, help me see that I can try again until I get it right. God, help my classmates learn to be resilient in whatever it is that they do. Help them learn that it is ok to fail. Failure is a normal part of life. With you watching over us and having a plan for our lives we can always rise above it.
You are our resilience, Lord.
I pray that we all have a solid, productive school year. Although there are bound to be setbacks and frustrations, I pray we can all work through them with Your help! I pray we are able to turn our assignments in on time and put lots of effort into our work. Please help us to not get discouraged when we don’t do as well as we hoped. Please give us strength to complete all of our work and stay organized. I ask that You encourage us when we need it. Help us to stay motivated to do our work, and help us to work for Your glory, not the glory of others.
No one can be perfect; therefore no one can not fail. I just pray that you help us see the light in our failures, God. Thank you for being a loving God and for all that you have done in our lives.
I pray that you will give us peace in our studies and protect us from the stresses of school. I pray that this semester will go well for everyone and that you will help guide us along the way. I pray that when I or anyone else feels like procrastinating, you will help us stay focused and get our work done. I pray that finals will go well later on and that we are calm and will absorb all the information we need to take on. I pray you will give us our daily bread so we may take things one day at a time. Thank you, Lord, for all you do.
Lord, I pray over each of my classmates even now. I pray for strength and resiliency in this new year; for focus. I pray for confidence and that we would all hear you speaking over us in new ways! I pray that most importantly, we would desire you with every ounce of life in us. And that we would find you in seeking you! Lord replace any negative thoughts or desires with your overwhelming peace and unfailing love. May we discover you in the mundane and search for you in the uneasy. Thank you for how you are showing up for us, even now. Thank you for all the times you’ve been there in the past. I pray that we would remember those times you’ve been faithful when it feels like you’re not there. Thank you for your love for us. Please show us how to become more like you in these coming days.
We love you.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen
As we close in on the end of year activities, we continue to pray that our families, faculty, and staff would find their endurance and resilience in the Lord.