What do you find on the road that leads towards spiritual resilience? Trouble.
What has the spiritually resilient elder passed through and beyond, again and again, that has fostered spiritual maturity? Suffering.
What is our universally shared human experience that all of us would avoid if we could; the unavoidable encounter that extracts from deep within our greatest wisdom and deepest love? Grief.
In last’s week’s newsletter I asked the question, “What is spiritual resilience?” But I did not offer a definition. This week I ask two related questions:
- What happens on the life journey like that leads to spiritual resilience? (This question was answered above.)
- Why is it so crucial that we learn spiritual resilience? (This question will be answered below.)
First, however, I will finally offer a definition:
Spiritual resilience is the capacity, the kind maturity and strength, that makes it possible for us to survive any trouble, suffering and grief with our faith, hope and love not only in tact but stronger, enduring, even eternal.
To the extent we have learned spiritual resilience, we are able to adapt to any and all changing circumstances, including death, with love—not fear—as the primary motivator in our lives.
On the other hand, fear is the force from within that causes us to adopt patterns of insane denial, avoidance and addiction that are suicidal. We think these blueprints for survival and the “good life”–power, pleasure, control, greed, domination, consumption and an infinity of others–will protect us. They will not. They are all murderers of the body, mind and spirit—and destroyers of community.
Here is another question: When is it our turn for trouble, suffering, grief?
When we read the New Testament letters of Paul and others, it quickly becomes very obvious that the early Christians knew that “anytime” was there time to suffer.
If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.2 Corinthians 1:6
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.1 Peter: 1.6
Some of us have been blessed to know Christians from other cultures who, like the earliest Christians, take it as a given that they may suffer deprivation or grief at anytime. Christians in Romania, living in poverty and under communist oppression, first mentored me in this path towards spiritual resilience.
However, in general, what do we expect regarding suffering? In our culture of comfort, consumption and escape, when trouble comes our way, a common complaint is, “Why me?”
Why not me? Half the parents in the world do not know where they will get the food for their children’s next meal. When is it my turn to suffer? In Mexico, over 100 of our Baptist pastors have died from the co-vid 19. When is it your turn to suffer? Climate-chaos has already driven thousands from their mountain homes in Nepal and Bolivia. When is it our turn? The military just slaughtered hundreds in Myanmar. When is it my turn?
When is it your turn to suffer. I am writing this article on Good Friday afternoon. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus longed for that time to not be his time to suffer. But, it was. Jesus recognized this fact and prayed, “Not my will but thy will be done.”
Are we willing to suffer, whenever it is God’s time for us to know the grief that so many millions have passed through on their way to spiritual resilience? Any volunteers?
Let me sock it to you with this affirmation.
Sometimes people who are well on their way towards spiritual resilience actually do volunteer. They choose to suffer alongside the dying, the grieving, the lonely and lost. They bear another’s burdens. They carry a sister or brother across a killing field. They exit the desperate pursuit of comfort, safety and pleasure and choose to be one with the broken and the despairing. That choice, believe it or not, consistently leads toward spiritual resilience.
A couple of weeks ago I called a friend, American Baptist Missionary Tim Long, who works alongside the churches and pastors of Northern Mexico. He is the one who told me that we had just lost another pastor in Tijuana to the epidemic; over 100 so far. A multitude of grieving families and churches. For the next 24 hours or so, I felt numb. Weary. Then I realized I was using all my energy to hold back, to turn away from, suffering with them – which is the feeling of “compathy, as I shared in last week’s “Weekly Whittlings.” Finally, exhausted from holding the grief at bay, I took my Mexican brothers and sisters, and myself, to God in prayer. The weeping, suffering, over the next couple of days was real, but it was also redemptive. As human beings we have to know our limits. We are not called to share the burdens of the whole world—that job was only given to One. However, every time we are called by God to suffer with others, to bear another’s burdens and sorrows, by the mercy of God we pass through and emerge on the other side of “the valley of the shadow of death” full of faith, hope and love. We grow in spiritual resilience.
And that matters, why? Is it not obvious? Have you not been passing through the valley of the shadow of fear during this continuing epidemic? Do not the troubles, divisions, threats of violence frighten you? You are aware, are you not, of the billions of hungry children, grieving families, lonely elderly, and the millions of refugees clamoring for a new home? I am convinced that in our country there is far more free-floating anxiety than hardly anyone recognizes. We are, I think, deep into the most terrible spiritual/emotional health crisis our world has ever seen. Please, go back to the top of this article and look again at the image…
There is no time to waste. Either begin or deepen your spiritual life.