Bouncing Back.

What does it take to be resilient?

Popular opinion has it that resilience is the result of mental toughness, tenacity, grit, discipline, strength, and/or thick skin. There’s some truth to this, but each of these answers assumes that resilience is primarily about enduring through a difficult situation or bearing up under hardship.

Resilience, however, has a slightly different connotation. The Latin root resilire means “leaping back” and refers to the ability of a substance to recoil or bounce back into its original shape after being deformed under pressure or tensile force. A resilient thing is not undentable, uncrushable, or unstretchable—it is persistently bounce-back-able.

Applied to humans, being resilient doesn’t mean that we never crumble under pressure or aren’t ever crushed under the weight of criticism or disappointment. Being resilient means that after having been painfully deformed—emotionally, spiritually, or vocationally—we have the capacity to bounce back to our God-intended form and purpose.

Understood in this way, what is the engine that drives resilience? The book of Philippians suggests it’s joy.

At the time of his writing of this letter, the apostle Paul is in prison and awaiting trial. He is separated from a church he dearly loves and uncertain that he will be able to continue his missionary journey. Death was a real possibility. Yet at this moment, Paul is deeply connected to joy. The Greek noun joy (charis) and its cognate verb rejoice (chairō) occur 14 times in this short epistle. It is Paul’s joy that fuels his call to the church to “hold fast” (3:16), “stand firm” (4:1), and “keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen” (4:9). It is his joy in his apostolic calling that compels him to press on toward the goal (3:14) despite the many obstacles put in his way. Paul’s resilience is predicated on his deep sense of joy.

What the world needs now more than ever are not pastors who are tough, tenacious, or thick skinned. What the world desperately needs now are pastors who are deeply connected to that which brings joy in their life and vocation. Howard Thurman memorably put it this way: “Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What makes you come alive? What type of work of compassion, advocacy, care, justice, teaching, healing, leading, mentoring, building, connecting, or sharing brings you joy? That’s where you’ll find resilience. Resilience isn’t (typically) something we can cultivate out of the blue. Resilience is that which springs forth naturally when you are aligned personally and vocationally with your God-given joys and passion.

1 Comment
  • R. Mark Giuliano
    Posted at 10:08h, 11 December Reply

    Love this short reflection on one of the most beloved of biblical passages. Thanks for writing/sharing. You’ve rescued Philippians 4:4, in particular, from being reduced to the status of a trite meme by deepening the important connection between resilience and rejoicing!

    The Thurman quote is helpful, too. The first project I assign my placemaking students at the Savannah College of Art and Design is an oral presentation called, “This is where I ‘live'”. It invites the students to consider this very question: what makes me come alive? In my new book (Feb. 2022), “Making It Home: I Set Out to See the World and Made It All the Way to Cleveland” I suggest that, at least for me, “home is where the cause is.”

    Thanks again. I’m looking forward to brining you into my sermon for the third Sunday of Advent!

    Grace and peace.

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