How do we become more resilient over time? Without challenges, without stress, our resilience is not tested. In 2007, my children’s resilience was low. In 2022, they are two very resilient young adults.
Simply stated, resilience is the capacity to recover from difficulties. In the professions of engineering and construction, resilience is the ability to respond, absorb, and adapt to, as well as recover from a disruptive event. A resilient structure, system, or community is expected to be able to resist an extreme event with minimal damage; after the event, it should be able to rapidly recover its functionality similar to or even better than the pre-event level.
When I reflect on the role of stress in our lives, my initial thought is that it’s bad. However, when I look at it through the lens of resilience, I realize that without it, we would not grow into wise, well-adjusted, firmly-grounded adults able to withstand life’s storms. Stress is an unavoidable and necessary condition of personal growth. There are two types of stress: distress and eustress. Good or bad can result from either type. The difference in the outcome is a function of our interpretation and our worldview. In other words, how we choose to see it affects the outcome.
Every morning, when my kids go off to school, I give them a kiss and tell them I love them. I don’t take it for granted that I’ll see them again. If that’s the last time I see and speak with them, I want those to be the last things they remember about me: the feeling of my lips on their cheek, the warmth of my skin against theirs, and the parental love in my voice. Now that they’re teenagers, they don’t receive it as they once did on the surface, but I know deep down in their hearts that they appreciate, expect, and need it. At the core, what I’m modeling is not only love but also compassion because they will need both to get through their school day.
Throughout their day, they will be subjected to all kinds of stress. Some may be distress. Some eustress. I want them to know there’s far more to life than just going to school. There’s more to living than just the mechanics of their day and the pressures to perform and conform. And no matter how their day goes, I am with them in spirit, and God has His arms wrapped around them, no matter what happens to me during my day. They don’t have to be afraid. They will never be abandoned, even if we never see each other again. Death doesn’t mean God is absent because there’s more to life than just this life. Death is sad, and it’s healthy to feel sadness, however, loss, pain, suffering, and stress are all part of the journey as we’re passing through this world’s conduit.
When you can learn to live this life with a “just passing through” resilience, then you can use all stress for the good. You can survive times of great distress. You can live with purpose. You can live up to the life which God called. You can live knowing that if you’re in God’s hands then no one can take you from them. You can absorb any hatred, prejudice, injustice, or death by faithfully believing “not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”
When you live life in this manner, then you’re living in the Neighbor-Zone. When you’re resilient, you’re able to prioritize others’ needs over your own. You’re able to humanize others, no matter their color, creed, or culture. You’re able to slow down or stop your day regardless of your own stress and circumstances to show love and compassion to someone else. You’re being a neighbor to anyone to whom you show mercy. Showing mercy requires you to prioritize and value the other person over yourself and their needs above your own. And a prerequisite to showing mercy is mastering resilience.