The question by the Jewish retreat leader, in the middle of a retreat with business people on the subject of resilience, caught me off guard. Let me explain.
After 25 years in pastoral ministry, I was feeling both a little burned out in parish ministry and surprisingly interested in trying something new. My spiritual director noticed the nudges of excitement in retreat work and spiritual formation and kept urging me to pay attention, keep alert. Once, while on a day retreat, the leader passed around a basket of quotes and Bible verses and invited us to choose one randomly. The words of Isaiah jumped off the paper, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). So when a friend told me about a retreat on life transitions, how could I do anything but sign up instantly?
I did not know that most of the participants would be business leaders; though the participants were employed differently, we had much in common as we all were searching for ways to live and move in times of transition.
“Many think of life and change as an upward slant, always getting better,” said the leader, “but what happens when life throws a curve, when things don’t get better?” Common responses are despair, a crash-and-burn experience, an all-or-nothing response. The slanted line she drew looked like climbing a mountain and then abruptly falling off.
She drew an alternative line that still slanted up but now included one or more loops. She called it “the resilience spiral.” This looped line and the wisdom of resilience comes from the study of people who have survived difficult times and situations: in particular, Holocaust survivors, widowers who lived more than five years after the death of the wife, and teenagers who avoided gangs. Interviews with these survivors revealed the wisdom and practices of resilience.
When a difficulty comes, the upward line begins to curve back on itself and eventually curves down. This may happen when a new boss is appointed that doesn’t appreciate our work, for instance. Or when several families move and the parish budget is severely impacted. Or when the big contract goes to a competitor. The straight line of bigger and better begins to curve back on itself. That is when the leader asked me the resurrection question: In essence, did I believe the line would curve back up again? Even if the line did not come out at the same spot as before, did I believe in the upward slant, the joy and energy we feel when we use our gifts and talents, doing what God calls us to do? Resilience is trusting that the curve will come back up.
Trust is the essential key in resilience, trusting that when the curve heads south, God is still at work in the midst of the shifts and changes. Don’t jump off and crash, but pay attention; trust and learn some practices to hold you until the new emerges.
Excerpt from the current issue of Weavings, “Resilience” (Feb/Mar/Apr 2013). To get a copy of this issue or to order a subscription to Weavings, call 1.800.972.0433 or order online.