Resilience: Studying with the Masters

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A family gathering in 2012 to celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday

Resilience – is it nature, nurture, practice or all of that?

I’ll get right to the sum of my tiny bit of research: I think it’s mostly “all,” but a person is generously helped along life’s path when their FOO (family of origin) provides a lot of love and support and models resilience and positivity, especially when hard times come. The emotional atmosphere around us as we grow is either life-giving or toxic; the latter can be overcome, but sometimes we overcompensate. Oh, humanity.

What struck me the most about those I interviewed was their sense of surprise at being a target of my inquiry into what I see as near super-human strength in them.

“I’ve never really thought of myself as particularly resilient.” That’s almost a direct quote from Steve’s stepmom, Mary. She has survived the loss of two beloved husbands as well as her dear sister and both parents, plus Mark (at 19) and John (at 7), two of her grandsons. Mary also has multiple sclerosis, which has decided to become more progressive after being a more chronic-but-manageable condition since her 30’s. I asked her recently how she is doing and she said, “well, a 5 out of 10, but I sure am grateful for the 5!” And she really means it. She chooses to focus on what she has, not on what she could have, or has had. She pondered my questions about resilience longer, and wrote this:

  1. I choose not to address or fret over the mystery of the Trinity, but to accept it as a mystery.
  2. I believe that I am a child of God, and that he loves me warts and all, just as I am.
  3. I find it easier to talk with and pray to God Incarnate (Jesus). My deeper relationship is with the one who walked among us, fully human.
  4. I have a deep and abiding faith that comes and goes—and comes again.
  5. God IS love.

She adds:  “When my heart is troubled, prayer flows from my thoughts. When my psyche and soma are in conflict, the indwelling presence of God in my heart and soul comes to the rescue. I think God hard wired us for resilience. He wants us to feel whole.” And then this, which I already knew about her: “I have a sense of altruism that I attribute to nurture, from an early age, by parents who modeled selfless giving and a real concern for the welfare of others.”

Her glass is always half full; her focus is almost always on others.

From my beloved sister, whose husband has ALS (and recently survived radiation treatment for throat cancer), who balances self-employment with caregiving, who has battled breast cancer and survived — more insight. She is another model of agape love to me.  She writes this, about her perspective and the learning process called life.

“Like elastic loses its resilience when either stretched too much, put through heat (as in a dryer), or the effects of ultraviolet light, eventually it just reaches the point that it is what it is.

She goes on: “For me, this goes with the prayer of ‘accepting the things I CAN change, as well as the things I CANNOT change.’ I have learned better to let some things go, because I know, deep down, that I CANNOT CHANGE THEM. They happened. I’ll probably never know why (unless I was the cause). Severe illness, injury, job problems, death of family members and good friends all happen, and I in my ‘advanced years,’ am STILL trying to learn to deal with them…but I’m getting better. Sometimes I may be viewed as callous. But I’m just hiding my panic and fears…so I DO call on God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I do ask Them for wisdom, for courage, for a full night of peaceful sleep, for strength of character, for health…and the simple ability to COPE.”


I guess I would sum up their wisdom, and that of others who’ve walked through fire, in this way:

  • let go of the illusion of control, of your need to understand everything
  • learn to receive love as well as give it; wake up each day and look for how you are being loved
  • let yourself feel everything, at least for a time, but watch out for self-pity
  • learn to slow down, release your mind from worry, and live in the present moment: God awaits us there
  • remember: what you believe is the most powerful thing there is. What you tell yourself, what you tell others, becomes your truth.
  • follow a balanced diet: make sure you have some dark chocolate in EACH hand.

I also recently listened to this podcast from “Hello Humans.” It’s an interview with David Roche about how he – who has severe facial disfigurement – learned to love himself. Two things stood out from his comments:

  1. A rule he has is “piss on pity.” He doesn’t need it, want it, can’t stand it; pity does not help anyone (giver or receiver).  I know that feeling.
  2. He said this (I’m paraphrasing): “Miracles make me lazy. I’d rather have grace.” This is profound and powerful. It helps me understand that I grow, we grow best in the presence of grace (which is kind of a soft, steady miracle in itself).

One thought on “Resilience: Studying with the Masters

  1. I agree, Resilience is all of that…just in varying degrees per person. Some people are not given a very large dose of Nurturing. At all. But somehow many of them grow into decent, loving people.

    I think Nature is there at birth…I think we might find ourselves battling our attempts to reshape ourselves, when one’s Self has always Been. One cannot “make themselves” into something they aren’t. They can work at improving parts, or stifling parts, but without Nurturing of the Good in a person, selfishness tends to take over.

    Practice, I think, is a horrible truth. Once one has endured any awful, soul-wrenching thing, the next such thing to come along seems either slightly less wrenching (which makes us feel horrid), or just as bad as the first time, (which makes us think we are just flat out gonna fall off the edge.)

    But somewhere along the line, the Bad Stuff in life becomes…”easier?”. It happens. And whether through fervent prayer (me) or grabbing one’s Self by the bootstraps and yanking…we make it through.

    A while back I had a stickie I cut out of some magazine that said (essentially) “Put on your big girl panties and DEAL with it.”

    Liked by 1 person

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