I have had a fairly privileged life. It’s true, I have endured some hardships – an injury that could have changed the course of my life, enduring an education “In the Men’s House”, two deployments of my own, two of Matt’s deployments, living in foreign countries, birthing my first baby without my husband by my side because of one of those deployments (but even then I had my mother for support), losing a baby to miscarriage, birthing a second baby, 9 moves in 15 years…. Perhaps some of that does sound stressful to many of you, but I count myself very blessed that I do not live with debilitating pain or illness, don’t suffer from piles of debt and rarely worry that I won’t make it to the next paycheck, have never lost someone I was particularly close to, do not have to care for a loved one with a chronic illness. I haven’t had to deal with anything that makes me think I am overly qualified to discuss resiliency.
When I first wrote about resiliency in my Survivor! posts, I noted that it was the ability to recover rapidly from traumatic events. To recover quickly from major stresses in life, basically.
So, what is stress? I’m going to skip the Webster’s definition and go with one that I think is more descriptive, attributed to Richard S. Lazarus: Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that “demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” (taken from an article on the Holmes and Rahe stress Scale found on Mind Tools). I love that the level of stress you feel is “perceived” by you and you alone. That what might stress you may not even cause another to blink.
Holmes and Rahe also developed a survey to help you discover just how much stress you could potentially be under. Of course I took the Life Events Stress Test, you know I’m a sucker for these things. Exercising a little leeway, I considered deployment a “marital separation”, and discovered that in the last 12 months alone, I scored 379 points, which they say “means a significant amount of life change and a significant susceptibility (about 80% probability) to stress-related illness.” Most of the events I consider to be extremely stressful in my life actually fall outside that 12 month window! No wonder the Army tries so hard to get us to take their Soldier and Family Resiliency Training so seriously.
They go on to say that there are some “variables that interact on health including positive factors such as support from family, friends or work associates.” I suppose these are the “resources” they feel we have to call on when stressors come knocking. I have to say that I am entirely disappointed that faith and prayer did not make that list. My ability to cope with stress is without question directly linked with the strength of my faith and the frequency of my prayer. God has certainly blessed me with amazing “family, friends and work associates” who have been crucial to my survival of stressful events, but it has been my personal relationship with God that has made the most significant impact on my ability to recover from trauma in my life, to be resilient.
Recently, I intentionally put my boys under a significant amount of physical stress. They have never ridden their bikes more than a mile and a half and yesterday, I took them out on a 3.2 mile ride. I didn’t tell them how far or how hilly it was going to be. I prayed before we left that I wouldn’t have to carry more than one child and one bike at a time if they were unable to finish. Well, to my utter amazement they not only finished, but were able to push their bikes themselves when the hills were too big and did it all without one single complaint. I even caught the 7 year old encouraging his 4 year old brother up a particularly big hill….if that doesn’t warm a mother’s heart, I don’t know what does. Through it all, I was there, encouraging them, offering advice, warning them of the dangers ahead, standing ready to pick them up and carry them. That is precisely what God is doing for us as we encounter stress and traumatic events in our lives, if we let Him.
In two very famous verses, God promises this to us. I love the encouraging words of Deuteronomy 31:16, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them, for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” Moses spoke these words to the Israelites as he told them that Joshua would be their new leader, and would take them across the Jordan river to take possession of the promised land. I can only imagine how stressful this new obligation was for Joshua and for all the Israelites. (The Life Events Stress Test doesn’t offer a score for conquering Canaan.) These words were meant to comfort them. Moses, on whom the people had relied for so long was no longer going to lead them, but he was reminding them that God would be with them no matter who their leader was on earth, no matter what they encountered on the other side of the Jordan.
The new testament verse that references this old testament text is particularly emphatic in its use of a double negative. The second half of Hebrews 13:6 quotes God as saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” My study notes say this could also be translated, “I will never, ever, ever forsake you.” Verse 7 goes on to say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” The Lord is my helper and the only resource I have that will never be exhausted. Because of His great love for me, I have no need to fear or stress. No trouble on earth or of man can take away the love my God has for me or my salvation.
In Survivor!: Part II, I talked about how resilient Job was. His life was fraught with suffering that eventually caused a strain on his relationship with God because Job thought he knew better than the Creator how he should be treated. Job allowed his pride to get in the way of his faith. All of his earthly resources failed him, but God never left him. God picked Job up and talked with him about His own omnipotent and majestic power. It is more like an inquisition found in Job 38-41, but at the beginning of chapter 42 “Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.”” Whatever the cause of stress in your life, know its purpose is to draw you closer to God, to make you more like Jesus, and sometimes to shine a light on sin in our lives. We have to learn to trust, lean, repent, and wait on Him. When we do this, as Job did, we also will be blessed by the Lord in “the latter days .. more than [our] beginning…” Job 42:12 That blessing may not be on earth, but those who believe in Jesus as their savior should take heart in knowing that heaven waits for us!
Being a survivor doesn’t mean never having to deal with traumatic events or stress, it means knowing how to overcome that feeling of being out of control and recover. What are you struggling with now? Are trials, temptations, sin, stress, or trauma causing you to feel like your earthly resources have been exhausted? How is it impacting your relationship with God? Your life may, at times, seem out of control to you, but God has orchestrated every event in it and He is there waiting to carry you if you should stumble or fall. He is our greatest resource in becoming a resilient survivor!