Nitty Gritty Resilience

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Resilience: the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. This brings to mind the scenes of Tom and Jerry stretching and compressing and returning back to their original shapes after being pulled and pressed. Is it not true that cartoon characters amuse us with their ability to get back to their original shape after being squished and squashed; pulled and pushed around?

In the real world, to be resilient is to be able to get back on your feet after being struck down. It is the capacity to withstand a difficult situation and recover quickly from it.

The resilience of the Filipino people is best seen in the aftermath of Yolanda – the super typhoon that struck the Philippines leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. It is amazing to listen to the stories of the survivors what they believe and how they cope in the aftermath of the storm.

We learn resilience from Biblical heroes. Job is number 1 in the list in terms of sufferings. The secret to Job’s resilience is his perspective on suffering. He knew his origin and his destination (Job 1:21). He came into this world with nothing and he can take nothing with him when he dies. He acknowledged everything he had is from the Lord (Job 1:21, 2:10). The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Shall we accept good from the Lord and not trouble?

Job’s faith enabled him to accept both the good and the bad. He sees both sides of the coin: his coming and leaving; God’s giving and taking. A resilient person sees God behind all the good and the bad.

Joseph’s resilience is seen in his journey from being favored son to hated brother to favored servant to accused prisoner to trusted prime minister of all Egypt… from the pit to the prison to the palace. In his story, there was not a mention of him griping and complaining. His brothers sold him into slavery. He did not sit in the mire cursing his brothers. He just made do with each circumstance the best he could.

God granted him favor in the sight of Potiphar. Joseph became his trusted servant. When Potiphar’s wife enticed him to sin, Joseph’s main concern that he could not do this evil and sin against the Lord. He was imprisoned for something he did not do.

In prison, God granted him favor with the warden. Joseph again helped his fellow prisoners interpret their dreams. The fellow prisoner he helped forgot about him. When opportunities came for him to avenge himself, he showed kindness to his brothers. The key to all these is his forgiving spirit. It was sad and painful to have his brothers betray him. Yet he did not let his grief turned to bitter anger. He focused on doing best he could under each circumstance. He refused to remain in the pit. A resilient person forgives the wrongs done against him.

David’s Psalms exemplified his resilience. His psalms of lament and of praise narrate his grief, his fears and his praise in the midst of trouble. He was kind to his enemies. He did not kill Saul who wanted him dead even when there was more than 1 opportunity for him to do so. He was kind to Shimei who cursed him (2 Sam. 16, 19). He also prayed for God to avenge him with his enemies. A resilient person is realistic and optimistic. David realized his sad and dangerous circumstances yet he is always sure God would turn things around for him.

危机 means crisis. The first word means danger. The 2nd is opportunity. This Chinese phrase wisely interprets that there is an opportunity in every problem. Jacob’s resilience is manifested in his encounter with his father-in-law. He wisely made use of the opportunities presented to him even when his father-in-law time and again took advantage of him. Joseph turned his prison experience into an adventure to help his fellow prisoners. This eventually got him out of jail to interpret dreams for Pharoah. David used opportunities to show Saul his loyalty by sparing his life again and again. A resilient person makes good use of opportunities in times of crisis.

I was surprised when a friend said I am resilient. How? She referred to my journey as a daughter-in-law who did not bear a son to carry on the family name. Perhaps she empathized with me the challenges of being married to an only son born to traditionally conservative Chinese parents. Perhaps my phlegmatic personality inclined me towards resilience.

One thing I know I learned that God wants me to focus on what I have and not on what I do not have. I do not have a son but I have three precious beautiful daughters – who are diligent in their studies and responsibilities. They love me and love each other. I miscarried my first child – a boy. For many years, I envied mothers tagging little boys along or mothers with big tall lads to do for them what boys supposedly do better than girls. God showed me that girls can carry heavy loads just as well.

I observed that my resilience is best seen when I lick my wounds and forgive. It is useless to remain angry and sulky after fighting with hubby. It is wise to heed the biblical teaching: Do not let the sun go down on your anger. More than just passive forgiveness, I learn from Jesus that active forgiveness is washing the feet of the people who kick him – the disciple who betrayed him, who denied him and who doubted him. Resilience is stretching the limits… going beyond what is normal.

I recall the power stretching sessions with my physical therapist. Stretching is not my fave to do at the gym. Dancing is much more fun. Yet stretching allows me to go on to dancing. After my ankle surgery, I could not put weight on my foot for almost 3 months. In my first session at therapy, the PT stretched my foot with all her might. Through the past 7 months, my foot got better because of the stretching exercises I had. My PT often asked ‘Mam, can I stretch some more?’ I would say: “Stop.” As time passed, I learned to let him stretch a bit more before saying stop. I distract myself with my phone and text and even FB – things that I like to do so that discomfort of stretching is not as visible.

Resilience is about elasticity. It is about being pliable – adaptable to all shapes and sizes of circumstances – realities in life. God is our master therapist. He knows our limits. He will not let us go beyond what we can bear. He equips as he calls. He enables us to be resilient to each twist and turn in life’s journey. He allows difficult circumstances to mold and shape us into his image – to be holy as he is holy; to love as he loves; to be patient as he is patient; to forgive as he forgives.

To be a resilient person by God’s grace and mercy is to journey with the boundless and timeless Creator – to go beyond our imagination and what we think we are capable of. Because our God is infinite – beyond limits and without boundaries, we can be resilient in trust and obedience and be pliable in the Potter’s hands.

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