Last month many communities throughout the U.S. participated in Resilience Week, hosting activities and events about building resilience in individuals and communities.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences — to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant stress. Resilience-building activities include spending time in silence and solitude, practicing gratitude, engaging in fun and play, practicing being in the present, mindfulness, meditation, showing kindness and care for others and practicing self-care.
Stories can also build resilience.
“Storytelling is, I believe, one of the best ways to identify and examine resilience skills in yourself and others and to learn them,” said Ron Breazeale in Psychology Today. Stories enable us to learn from characters as they deal with adversity, allowing us to identify skills and attitudes that enable them to succeed or cause them to stumble.
When we watch stories with resilient characters, it can build resilience in us too. These stories can give us hope, which empowers us in the face of difficult circumstances.
As believers, none of this should be new to us. For thousands of years, Jews and Christians have engaged in practices that build resilience through spiritual disciplines like prayer, solitude, worship, meditation, service, forgiveness and reading Scripture.
For Christians, however, resilience isn’t the goal of these practices. The disciplines have another purpose. They point us to Someone greater than ourselves.
“The disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us,” writes Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline. “God has ordained the disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we place ourselves where he can bless us.”
Foster writes in A Year With God: Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines that “Spiritual disciplines involve doing what we can to receive from God the power to do what we cannot. And God graciously uses this process to produce in us the kind of person who automatically will do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.”
Spiritual disciplines are ways God designed for us to cooperate with him in our transformation to Christlikeness. They are actions we take to place ourselves before God so that he can change us.
It is the same with stories. Good stories explore what it means to be human and live in this world, choices we make and paths they lead us down — and yes, we can learn from them.
But the best stories are true — not that they actually happened, but in that they reflect human nature and the way the world works. They are like echoes of the Story. They remind us of truths woven throughout that larger Story — truths like hope, forgiveness, sacrifice and love. Ultimately, that points us to its Author.
Understanding stories as echoes of God’s Story gives us a deeper value than simply learning skills and attitudes from them. It reminds us that we, too, are part of that Story. We all live and breathe in it. It is our Story, too.
And that helps transform the way we live in difficult times. As Mark Scandrette puts in Soul Graffiti, “In a world that seems fragmented, we need a place to belong, a source of peace and rest, a way of life that works and a story that helps make sense of all we see.”
Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.