Do you remember Gumby, the clay cartoon character who first appeared in the 1950s and was reintroduced again in the 80s and 90s? He was flexible and could return to his normal shape after being twisted and stretched. Gumby was resilient! A resilient person is able to recover from difficult conditions, avoiding a lengthy downward spiral after suffering adversity.

Why are some people resilient, and others not? 

We instinctively know that trauma has a nefarious effect on an individual’s life. We shudder at the thought of the ravages of child abuse, trafficking, and neglect. We have empathy for someone who has been victimized, yet those who view themselves as perpetual victims are some of the most trying people we know. Why do some people get up, move on, and start over after trauma while others stay caught in the vortex of despair, adding problem to problem, making one bad decision after another? 

Much is known that is valuable to our understanding of the impact of trauma. It applies to our clients, our co-workers, our family members, and us. If we can look honestly at our own emotional reactions to difficulty and become aware of the internal dynamics, we have the opportunity to learn to exercise control and to move forward with purpose and resolve. We all know resilient people, those who have faced unusual trials and have come out stronger than they might have imagined, honed by adversity.

Scripture has so much to teach us about adversity. We have warnings about not being a perpetrator of evil actions, of not causing others – especially the little ones – to stumble. We are enjoined to honor the Lord and do good to others. We also are told that trials will come for everyone, that God is our constant source of help, that we are deeply loved by our Heavenly Father, and that He is our shield and defender. The Christian message is one of HOPE. Our faith is full of encouragement to overcome evil with good, and to lean into the strength of Jesus, our Savior.

For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the LORD. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers. When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, I will make myself available to you,’ says the LORD. ‘Then I will reverse your plight and will gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have exiled you,’ says the LORD. ‘I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you.’ Jeremiah 11-14 NEV

Encouraging resilience in our clients is rooted in our faith and in the gospel message. It is our starting place, our support, and our goal for making a difference for them. Even if we are limited in what we may share with some, even if our respectful approach is not welcomed, it informs our prayerful approach. We pray for a wise understanding of the particular needs of each client, an awareness of the way trauma damages individuals, and the characteristics of resilience. Resilience can be taught, and a resilient person has the amazing opportunity to grow in grace and truth, relinquishing the mantra of “victim” and embracing the authority of a “survivor.”

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Joan E. Boydell is a Care Net Center Services Specialist residing in Lancaster County, PA.  She has been a Consultant with Care Net since 1994.