How Well Do You Bounce Back?

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Your infant spits up on you right before you head off to an interview in your freshly, dry-cleaned business suit (the suit you specifically cleaned for this occasion). Or, you lock the front door behind you, only to realize you forgot your keys inside the house. Or, the car won't start and you're already late for an important appointment. Anyone have days like these? How did you handle them? I've had my fair share of stressful days. One time, when I was already 10 minutes behind schedule, I couldn’t find my phone anywhere in the house as I tried frantically to get out the front door. I'd looked everywhere . . . except the fridge. Apparently, when I pulled the milk out in the morning to add a dash to my coffee (that I clearly hadn't drank yet), I'd placed my phone in the fridge in exchange for the milk. The day didn't improve much from there.

In all seriousness, when life throws tomatoes at you, how well do you bounce back? Sometimes, life’s inevitable difficulties—trauma, tragedy, financial stress, or relational issues—can bring us to what might feel like “rock bottom." This is where resiliency comes in. After experiencing life’s challenges, are you able to bounce back stronger, more self-aware, and with a higher self-esteem?

Why Is Resiliency So Important?

Resiliency helps us combat depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. It allows us to feel—from our core—that we can make it through difficult times and come out stronger on the other side. Do you remember the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders, and the house built on a rock? When life throws us into a storm, everything feels like it’s swept out from underneath us. Our world comes crashing down “and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:27, ESV). However, if we practice resiliency and strengthen our inner being, we can withstand the storm. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:25, ESV). We're all capable of being that house built on a rock.

But how do we get there?

How to Become More Resilient

Here are a few strategies to help you become more resilient and able to cope with life's challenges.

  • Get in tune with the messages you're sending yourself daily. Sometimes, we're our own worst critics. In times of trouble, our inner dialogue is essential in helping us cope and push forward. Maybe you're thinking to yourself, “I'm not capable of getting over this," or “I'm not worth it,” or “Bad things always happen to me.” Start catching the negative thoughts, acknowledging them, and then redirecting your thoughts to your strengths in the moment. You'll find yourself feeling stronger and more self-confident.

  • Give yourself grace. Have compassion for yourself and your 'humanness.' We make mistakes and things happen to us. Being able to accept difficulties in our life helps us in two ways: it keeps us from sitting in negativity and helplessness, and it brings us closer to focusing on supports we have and the ways we can make our situation manageable. Find your strengths.

  • Spend time in nature. How does nature apply to the fact that my car isn’t starting and I need to get to an interview? In all honesty, we need to get out of our homes and offices and take in fresh air to reset our minds and body. Really, it's about carving out a time in your week for self-care—like meditation, nature walks, journaling, or regular massages. Find what's best for you and work it in. Notice the differences in how you feel throughout the day and week when you take time to recharge.

I encourage you to start practicing resiliency—even when life is going great—so you're more prepared when challenges come. Above all else, be kind to yourself. You are capable. You are valued. You are gifted. You matter. If you don’t feel these things, ask God to help see yourself the way He sees you—as His loved and cherished child. And if you are anything like me, I need those reminders to feel like I can face what’s in front of me each day. I hope you find God's peace and little joys during this season of your life. Remember to look up. God is with you, always.

Living Unfiltered in a Filtered Society

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Filters, filters. Everywhere I turn and look, all I see are filters. We live and function in a crazy, filtered, expectant society. There are so many ideals about how to reach “success” ingrained in our culture, we don’t even recognize them. Here are a few examples.  

  • Corporate view: You reach “success” by making money, driving a nice car, wearing nice clothing, having sleek hair, being fit, vacationing over the summer and spring break, and living in a big home.

  • Religious view: You reach “success” by attending church every week. You have personal devotional time daily, you serve and volunteer whenever you aren’t working, you're married before you have babies, you're modest, you speak the lingo, you carry coffee most of the time, you're put together, and you're always nice and never have troubles (because prayer has been successful).

  • Free-spirited view: You reach “success” by living carefree. Your clothes are loose and flowy, you live “in the moment,” you practice yoga, you may have dreads or long flowing hair, you wear sandals (even in the winter), you're trying to build a tiny house, and you could care less about making money.

Do any of these sound familiar? None of these ideals are necessarily bad. In fact, many of these concepts of achieving success are great. That's why they exist—because they speak to so many people. Being fit, practicing yoga, drinking coffee (hello!), saving money, praying, and taking vacations are actually fantastic life plans and goals. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is not the belief systems (about reaching success) themselves, but the tainted messages we humans inject into them. Things like, "If you want to be successful then you have to drive a nice car, practice yoga and be thin, drink lattes . . . ." And, “If you want to be a successful/good religious person, you have to get up every morning to read your Bible, never miss church, pray for an hour every day, and never ever talk about having a bad day.” What do these “have-to” beliefs cause much of the time? Shame, embarrassment, pressure, and fabricated truths—filters. We filter ourselves to avoid being ashamed, embarrassed—because let’s face it—who wants to have those feelings? I certainly don't.

But the question is this: Are you satisfied filtering yourself? Is it fulfilling to try to live up to some standard that you may not fully agree with anyway? Do you have a hunch when someone isn’t being completely unfiltered with you, and do you feel fully connected with them? I don’t know about you, but my interests and belief systems may have some quirks that don’t typically fit the standard. Most people don’t fit the mold that culture tends to place on us.

Our society attempts to define us; my proposition is that we should define it. Do you ever catch yourself admiring someone who seems to march to the beat of their own drum? They just have that “something” that draws people to them. I would be willing to bet much of that draw has to do with their vulnerability with people—owning their quirks and letting their freak flag fly. Because guess what? That freak flag isn’t actually freaky. It’s amazing and inspiring. It’s unfiltered!

Finding Meaning in Work

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Our son burst into our bedroom one morning recently with an alarming proclamation. “IT SNOWED last night!" he exclaimed. "Do we have school today, Mom?”    

Attempting to gather myself and slow my racing heart, I rolled over towards my bed stand, grabbed my phone, and squinted at the blinding screen. “Sorry bud, no cancellation notices. You are going to school,” I announced.

I'm sure you can imagine the immediate deflation of an eight-year old boy with grand hopes of playing in the snow and sipping hot chocolate, who now faced the crushing reality of another day of times-tables and cafeteria food. As I put my phone back down in a sleepy haze, our son stormed out in disappointment, lamenting, “Why do we have to go to school . . . ?”

To be honest, there have been many days that I've woken up with the same dispirited feeling wishing that I didn’t have to go to work. The “Sunday blues” is a real emotion that many people feel as the weekend comes to a close and Monday morning looms ahead. I'm not alone in this battle. In a recent Forbes poll, only 42.6% of workers liked their jobs, 52.3% of people were unhappy with their work, and 70% of workers weren't satisfied with their career choice. With 1/3 of our day spent at work, and with so many people unhappy at their jobs, we have a real problem on our hands.

The Bible actually talks a great deal about the subject of work. As a matter of fact, the very first words in Genesis reveal that God was at work and actually enjoyed it—He declared that His work was good. Near the end of the creation account, God creates man and woman, and He creates them in His own image. God blesses them and gives them a job to do: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground” (Genesis 1:28 NLT). God entrusted work to human-kind and invited them to partner with Him in the building and stewarding of creation and culture.

Nancy Pearcy, in Total Truth, writes, “The first phrase, ‘be fruitful and multiply’ means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, ‘subdue the earth’ means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, and compose music. This passage is sometimes called the cultural mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations—nothing less.” Unfortunately, we've lost this biblical perspective and our work has become a means to an end. We work to pay the bills, to put food on the table, to put our kids through college—or as the popular expression goes, “I work hard so that I can play hard.”

Many of us may be at a crossroads in our lives, and we need to step back and get a larger vision, a transformed perspective, and a broader paradigm of the transcendent purpose of work itself. Having a biblical perspective of work doesn’t mean that we go to work to share our faith with the hopes of converting our co-workers (though that may happen), but instead, we see that our vocation is part of God’s grand story that started in the garden and will continue when Jesus returns and establishes a new heavens and a new earth. Our work is a part of God’s Kingdom coming here on “earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Walking out of my church's sanctuary, the words on the back wall read: "We go out as partners with God.” Our work, whether it's paid or unpaid, is in partnership with God. Like He assigned the naming of the animals to Adam and Eve, so He assigns us tasks to steward creation and culture in a way that glorifies God and serves the common good (Proverbs 12:11, 14b, 24; 14:23). How do we do this? Jeremiah 29:4-7 gives us an example: “'Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters. And take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may give birth to sons and daughters. Become many there, and do not let your number become less. Work for the well-being of the city where I have sent you to and pray to the Lord for this. For if it is well with the city you live in, it will be well with you.’”

Though God holds an extremely high value of our work, our value is not determined by our work. This can be a stumbling block for many of us who've been raised to believe that our work is our identity. A great way to determine if this is an issue is by identifying the emotions we experience when someone asks us, “So, what do you do for a living?” Do we cringe or do we gloat? Unfortunately, we live with the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sinfulness—thus the struggle to enjoy work, to work too much or too little, or to find our value or our identity by our work. Thank God that Jesus came and redeemed humanity's failures so that those who put their faith in Jesus can be adopted as sons and daughters into God’s family. God loves us and is pleased with us because we are His kids. We can’t do anything to earn His favor; Jesus did that for us. But just like the devil tempted Jesus' identity in the wilderness, he too will tempt us to live out of a false identity pursuing our ambitions, appetites, and approval through our work.

God’s desire is that we approach our work with a new paradigm of partnership with Him to bring about His Kingdom on earth with all of heaven’s resources at our fingertips. Hugh Whelchel, in his book How Then Should We Work, writes, “As we in obedience answer the vocational call in our own lives, we must learn to believe God uses everything we do. ‘ . . . we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8:28) All of our work, even the most mundane things we do are taken by God and transformed into Kingdom work.”

Finding Identity in the 'Holy Dance'

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As Christians, we believe God is Trinity— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—living uniquely and yet unified in mutual, self-giving love. The relational character of God is often described as 'a holy dance' between Father, Son, and Spirit, whose purpose for creating the world was to bring humanity into a shared relationship with the Trinity—as adopted sons and daughters. Because humans are made in God's image, the capacity for relationship is innate in all of us. As the apostle Paul wrote, “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5). I am in awe that my adoption, with all the rights and privileges of a natural born child, gave God great pleasure. All of humanity is invited, but never forced, into the holy dance with the Father, Son, and Spirit. When our identity is secure in relationship with the Trinity, we are free to create, explore, and enjoy the abundant life here and now.

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When we lose our ability to make meaning out of our experiences, however, it is difficult to thrive. As author C. Baxter Kruger states, “the goal of the evil one, is to destroy the dance of life shared by Father, Son and Spirit on this planet."

People are complex; our experience, as well as our faith tradition, informs our view of God and how we walk out our faith journey. What seems consistent in the human experience is the tendency to lean more heavily on one aspect of God’s character to the exclusion of another. As a child, I believed God was impersonal and uninvolved in the lives of people. Then, as a young adult, I belonged to a church tradition focused on holiness and obedience, which seemed to underemphasize God’s grace and mercy. Fear was a dominant emotion during those years, because I lived out of an identity focused on pleasing God.

Identity issues have been part of my own personal struggle and for those I work with, as well. As I recover from a distorted identity, I am learning to rest in God’s embrace and risk in relationships with others. God is the prime example of a relational being existing in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit. For humans made in the image of God, relationships are at the core of who we were designed to be. It takes courage to walk toward freedom after years of hearing hurtful messages that reiterate “you don’t have value.” Through 'the holy dance'—a deep sense of belonging as a loved and valued child of God is available to all.

Relational Pipelines: Four Key Relationships

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No matter how careful or attentive we try to be, we all experience the pain of broken relationships at some point in our lives. No one is exempt. In their book, When Helping Hurts, authors Corbett and Fikkert describe four key areas of relational brokenness that result in emotional poverty—or in "relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, [and] that are not harmonious or enjoyable.” When any one of the four relationships below are not functioning properly, people are unable to fulfill their calling in life.

Four Key Relationships for an Abundant Life

  • A right relationship and healthy dependence on God

  • A secure relationship with ourselves as a unique child of God

  • Connected relationships with others, characterized by empathy

  • A vital relationship with the rest of creation (or the world)

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These key relationships are the building blocks of all human activity and form an interconnected pipeline. This life-giving flow allows us to live out the truth of Jesus’ words: “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Healthy trust and dependence on God is the first relationship, and it provides a secure base in which to interact with others and the world. The quality and authenticity of our relationships with others is directly connected to our relationship with ourselves and our own uniqueness as a child of God (Galatians 5:14). The ability to love others well is demonstrated through our care and empathy towards the people around us—our families, friends, neighbors, and communities. The final piece in this pipeline is the relationship with the rest of creation (the world)—and finding our place and purpose in it through a meaningful vocation.

No one is exempt from brokenness in their relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation at some point in life. In light of this reality, we have the opportunity to practice new levels of compassion with one another. God invites us to partner with him in the ministry of reconciliation. "And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him" (2 Corinthians 5:18). Reconciliation happens most authentically when we understand our own broken relationships in light of God’s redemptive work. Jesus Christ is described in scripture as the Creator, Sustainer, and Reconciler of all things (Colossians 1:15-20). The authors of When Helping Hurts state that, “Jesus died for our souls, but he also died to reconcile—that is, to put into right relationship all that He created."

It is a high honor to be invited into the story of another person as they learn to release painful memories and experiences that have kept them in bondage, and experience new ways of relating to God, themselves, and others. Our hope is to meet each person where they are . . . and to empower each individual, couple, and family experiencing brokenness with the tools needed to gain wholeness, healing, and freedom for an abundant life.

Hope Is a Rope

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“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). That verse was written to a group of people who lived in the midst of chaos, struggle, and persecution. To hope in something or someone means that I live in expectation that something I desire or long for will happen. To hope means I trust that there is something more than I can see, touch, or feel. To hope means I don’t give up, even when I can’t see what’s ahead. To have hope results in the belief that my life is not worthless, because God put me on earth to be worthwhile, and one of the ways I do that is to add meaning and richness to the lives of others. 

In English, hope is a somewhat abstract idea of expectation. The word for hope in Hebrew (Tikvah), however, is more concrete. In Hebrew, the word means expectation—and  it also means cord or rope, which comes from a root word that means to bind or to wait for or upon. Tikvah is a rope that we can hang onto when the world seems out of control or when we don't know how to make it through a difficult season in life, like the promise given to the Israelites in captivity in a foreign land. “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope [tikvah]” (Jeremiah 29:11). Is it possible that a rope can give me hope? I can cling to God and cry out with the psalmist, “For thou art my hope [tikvah], O Lord God; thou art my trust from my youth" (Psalm 71:5).

Tikvah is used in the biblical story found in the book of Joshua. As Joshua prepares to lead the Israelites into the promise land, he sends out two spies who come to the house of Rahab, a prostitute. The king of Jericho hears about the two spies and orders Rahab to turn them over, but instead, she hides them on the roof and deceives the king. Rahab is in a vulnerable place and tells the spies, "I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you” (Joshua 2:9). This sounds like a hopeless situation.

She asks the spies to swear an oath that when Jericho is conquered, they will let Rahab and her family live. The spies say to Rahab, “We shall be free from this oath unless when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread [tikvah] in the window through which you let us down and gather into the house your father, mother and your brothers and all your father’s household” (Joshua 2:17-18). The spies keep their word and spare Rahab and her family. The scarlet cord was used here in a literal sense, but it gives us a picture of what hope looks like. The cord was Rahab’s only guarantee that her household would be spared by the Israelites. Though the physical cord had been tied to the window to ensure their safety, Rahab still had to wait for the realization of the spies’ promise. One of the most difficult things to remember is that "hope is rooted in waiting", a concept K. Gallagher beautifully details in her blog (graceintorah.net). I imagine Rahab walked through the steps laid out in Romans 12:12—being joyful in the hope that her family would be rescued, patient in the uncertainty, and praying to the one true God that she didn't even know, but hoped would be her salvation.

How do we cling to hope and keep waiting? How do we keep doubt from overwhelming us? In my experience, the answer is rooted in the vital relationships with God, ourselves, and others. The spies needed Rahab in order to leave a dangerous situation; Rahab needed the spies to follow through with their promise to protect her family; Rahab needed to wait and trust the one true God; and Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, needed assurance from God and the people who told him, “Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:18).

A connected relationship with God is like grasping onto a strong rope. We can cling to and depend on Him even when we can’t see the next right step. I need to rest in God, trusting that the issues I'm facing are part of what God is using to transform me. And, like Rahab and the spies, I need to risk allowing other people into my life. God really is in control, and when I relinquish my anxiety over to Him, I will find the hope that I long for in the midst of chaos.