Resilience. What does resilience mean to you? How would you describe it? I just finished a course called STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience), and one thing that I really appreciated was exploring what resilience is, hearing from those who have gained it, and learning some ways to build resilience. A few descriptions of resilience that we used were:
- Ability to bend and not break
- Ability to adapt to challenges or change;
- Healthy power amidst vulnerability and uncertainty
While living in Congo and now South Sudan, Bob and I learned some of the history of those places, which includes horrible exploitation, conflict, and suffering. 'Resilient' was often the first word that we would use to describe people in those countries who have survived, persevered, and adapted in the face of so much challenge.
But now I am realizing that simply surviving is not enough, because unhealed trauma continues to affect a person and their relationships for many years, even being passed down to their children genetically and affecting whole groups as historical or cultural trauma. Resilience does not mean merely surviving trauma – it means finding ways to heal and learning practices to maintain perspective and stability in situations that might be traumatic.
Rev. Peter Yien Reath is one person in South Sudan who has embodied resilience. He was falsely accused, imprisoned, and nearly killed in Khartoum because of his faith and his work as a pastor. After he was freed, he attended college in Nairobi and was trained in an approach to Trauma Healing. He now serves in South Sudan, starting and facilitating healing groups in rural areas. He has had to adapt to living in different places and respond to various challenges and threats. He has experienced the peace and strength of God that sustained him through those times of challenge.
We learned in our class about a concept called the “Window of Tolerance,” a zone where our nervous system is relaxed, calm, and engaged. When our ‘window of tolerance’ is open, we can respond thoughtfully and more calmly to bad news or frustrations. But when we are already stressed, tired, or depleted, our window closes, and we might erupt in anger at a slight provocation or go into despair from bad news.
So how do we build resilience? I have fresh appreciation now for the amazing, complex brain that God designed to help us perceive threats and stress and regulate our emotions and our nervous system. Our brain is integrally linked with the rest of our physical bodies – so sometimes physical actions (deep breathing, movement) can help to relieve mental or emotional stress, or physical pain can be a source of psychological or mental stress. This is why we are told that it is important to exercise, get good sleep, and eat healthy to promote mental and emotional well-being. Prayer, meditation, and being in nature are also important for me to nurture my spiritual life and relationship with God, which helps my ‘window of tolerance’ to stay open by reminding me of God’s perspective and presence. What are practices that you have found helpful? I’m sure that during this pandemic and election season we all need to have a few positive practices to help quell the anxiety and maintain hope.
"There is need for...materials of refreshment, challenge, and renewal for those who [are] intent upon establishing islands of fellowship in a sea of racial, religious, and national tensions." Howard Thurman (quoted by Brenda Salter McNiel in her book, Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0)