VIEW VIDEO It’s been wonderful being on vacation. Our son Sam and his wife Kelsea came down from Fairbanks, Alaska, with their dog Maggie, who met another dog during their visit and went into heat, which added an interesting dimension to our time together. It’s a terrible thing to experience passion and not be able to satisfy it, but then that’s one of life’s challenges, isn’t it—to accept your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had in mind, which is the definition of resilience, the ability to accept a new reality even when it is less good than the reality we had in mind.
Resilience. I was talking with a woman recently about her divorce, a circumstance she had never anticipated in her wildest imagination. But then her husband ran off with another woman and there went the life she’d had in mind—a loving husband in a lovely home with lovely children. I asked her what she was going to do. She told me, “Well, first, I’m going to grieve, and then I’m going to get busy and build myself a new life.” That’s resilience. Resilience is Job losing all his sons and daughters when their house collapsed in a great wind, but living long enough to have a son whom he named Jeremiah, a Hebrew name meaning “God will raise!” As hopeful a name as could ever be given a child. God will raise. Jeremiah. That’s resilience. Accepting your new reality even when it is less good than the one you had in mind.
We all could use a little resilience these days, couldn’t we? I’m so weary of masks and social distancing and conspiracy theories and bitter political divides and ignorant people doing ignorant things. I was complaining about it to Joan last week, telling her how rotten everything was and she said, “Yeah, just think how bad it would be if you weren’t a well-off white male with healthcare and a paid-for house?” I hate it when Joan introduces logic into my flights of pity. Joan has resilience in her genes. When she was fourteen, her father died suddenly without life insurance, her mother didn’t have a driver’s license, didn’t have a job outside the home, and had two more children to raise and send to college. Her mother didn’t miss a beat. Took driving lessons, got her license, got a job, the girls got jobs and they made it. That’s resilience. Accepting your new reality when it is less good than the one you had in mind.
I was listening to an interview this week. A psychologist was being interviewed about life’s difficulties and how we survive them and she said one of the truest things I’ve ever heard. She said, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” Boy, isn’t that true? Of course, it isn’t true for everyone. I still find myself, at the age of 60, getting blown down by the smallest little winds. Just the littlest setback, and I’ll be stomping around and complaining, acting as if I alone in all the world have been visited with the most misfortune.
Joan puts up with it for a little bit, then says to me, “Are you done yet?”
I think about it. “Yeah, I’m done.”
Resilience. Accepting your new reality when it is less good than the one you had in mind.
And who’s to say your new reality is less good? Your new reality might turn out to be far better than your old reality. We never know. When I was fired by my evangelical publisher for being a universalist, I thought the world had ended. But I eventually realized I had been set free, that I was liberated to write the books I’d been wanting to write. Life closes the door and opens a window.
So I’ve been having this discussion in my head. Is resiliency a result of your upbringing and family characteristics, or can resiliency be self-taught? If I’m an adult and notice how easily and often my life is derailed, is it possible for me to learn resilience? Or am I doomed to be perpetually frustrated, perpetually bitter, perpetually defeated, unable to make lemonade from the lemons life has given me?
I think resiliency is both those things. It is both a result of our upbringing and family patterns, but when those things are lacking, I believe resiliency can be learned. Indeed, resiliency must be learned if we are to be happy. And I think the first step in a resilient life is to refrain from immediately judging the circumstances of your life.
When something happens you hadn’t anticipated, don’t rush to say it was horrible or irreparable and that your life is ruined, and you have no future. We can know the past, we are aware of the present as it unfolds, but we’ve not yet devised a method whereby our future can be reliably known. So refrain from immediately judging the circumstances of your life. This is where the Quaker practice of stillness becomes helpful. Stillness allows our passions to cool, it permits a more thoughtful and balanced perspective to emerge, and finally, stillness helps us recall those times in our lives when the sun of goodness broke through the clouds of pain.
Today is the Fourth of July, and we’re celebrating our nation’s 245 birthday. But let’s be honest, this has not been an easy year to be an American. We have seen the brazen celebration of mean and cruel hatred, and appalling contempt for our highest and noblest virtues. This was brought home to me recently when Joan and I were on a motorcycle ride and passed a home in southern Indiana. On the house’s flagpole flew the Confederate flag, and underneath it the American flag. To see such a reprehensible banner fly above our nation’s flag was spiritually and morally nauseating. I thought to myself that America was going to pot. I wanted to return home, pack my suitcase, and move to Canada, rather than share a nation with people such as that. But resilience teaches us to pick ourselves up and persist. In this birthday week, let us dedicate ourselves anew to the best of America, not the worst.
We might not see the future, but that does not mean we can not shape the future. Resignation accepts and settles. Resilience says, “I will persist. I will do my best. The clouds will pass. The sun will shine again, and together we will stand in its glorious light.”