From Leader to Leader – Can you roll with the punches?

by César De León PhD LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, the Covid-19 virus hit all of us like a train.  Last year my wife and I spent one-hundred and fifty-two nights sleeping in hotel rooms and had decided to slow down our travel appointments a bit so we could focus on some backburner projects. So, when the pandemic experts mandated social isolation and we were sent home, we thought, perfect, we will finally have some time to get some long-awaited writing done.  So much for that great idea.  We quickly found ourselves knee deep in the abyss of Zoom.  Administrative meetings began, requests for sermons and seminars followed; invitations to speak to youth, women and men’s groups, then ministry crisis counseling sessions were added; and what first appeared to be a possible respite of a few peaceful days offering the possibility of catching our breath, just never materialized. 

No one actually knew what to expect when the pandemic crashed into our lives, nor could we begin to imagine the immediate personal, family and professional adjustments we would need to make to meet the demands to adjust, reinvent, accommodate and to continue to serve our respective communities while rapidly adapting to our changing life rhythms.  One thing is for sure, this pandemic has introduced a cascade of difficult situations for many. There is a sense of impending doom that many are experiencing as they face the possibilities of losing an income or the ability to pay the rent or mortgage. People are afraid of not being able to secure food and other essentials for their families, or worse, of falling prey to the virus and not being able to recover. Stress levels have skyrocketed and many now are dealing with mental health issues such as high levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and a vast sense of loss; others are even experiencing suicidal thinking.  We are hoping and praying that this pandemic and its residual consequences will soon pass, and that we will soon return to our “new normal”; but until that happens, we need to find ways to strengthen our spirits, fortify our bodies and boost our mental attitudes.  

Resiliency is the capacity to “roll with the punches” and adapt or adjust to unexpected circumstances in order to turn a difficult situation into a growth experience. It is turning all this negativity and adversity into something positive—to become stronger and more resourceful, and to build toward a healthier future, says Froma Walsh, codirector of the Chicago Center for Family Health and author of Strengthening Family Resilience.1   The idea is that we can recover as quick as possible and continue to be in control of our lives.  People who are able to be resilient are able to control the levels of stress in their lives and better cope with stressors that threaten their mental health.  These individuals tend to view the difficult moments in life as challenges and invitations to respond in adaptive ways rather than surrender to panic.  In other words, they do not think of themselves as victims, but as warriors, as fighters that need to accomplish something in the midst of crisis situations. By choosing this mental re-frame, our hearts function more efficiently, blood vessels expand, and our bodies becomes more productive.  When we see things as a threat, blood vessels contract, the heart works less efficiently, and many vital body functions are impaired, including the brain.  In the long term, viewing difficult episodes as unmanageable threats is associated with accelerated brain aging.2

The phrase, “He who overcomes” is repeated multiple times in the book of Revelation. It is clear that God expect us to endure, to persevere. Paul talks about resilience when writing to the Corinthians, But remember this—the wrong desires that come into your life aren’t anything new and different. Many others have faced exactly the same problems before you. And no temptation is irresistible. You can trust God to keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it, for he has promised this and will do what he says. He will show you how to escape temptation’s power so that you can bear up patiently against it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 (TLB). God empowers us to practice resilience, to be able to stand in the midst of negative circumstances and patiently bear enemy assaults.  While this text is addressing temptation in particular, it can also apply to any situation that crashes into our lives threatening our safety and well-being.

Matthew repeats the same idea, “Staying with it—that’s what God requires. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry, and you’ll be saved” (TLB).  The Message version simply says: “13 But those enduring to the end shall be saved.” (Matt. 24:13, MSG) It is clear that perseverance, having staying power, or the more contemporary term, resilience is something our Father calls us to sustain in the face of adverse circumstances which we will all face while on our earthly trajectory. No one knows how long or to what degree this pandemic is going to continue to affect our lives, but if we want to ensure that we are going to sustain mental, physical, emotional and spiritual stamina, we will do well to follow some simple practices.

Speak to yourself

It is to our advantage to remember that we are adopted children of God and that through Him we are capable individuals.  Repeating to ourselves, “I am a beloved child of God and I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me,” can be very beneficial.  As we face terrible circumstances and our existence is threatened, we must remember that we are never alone. There is a God in heaven watching and walking each step of our journeys with us. Repeating and memorizing favorite Bible promises can remind us that we serve an omnipresent and omnipotent God who offers us His ongoing comfort and security.

Be aware of your emotions

It is important for us to be aware of our emotions and feelings.  When we feel anxious, fearful, mad or angry and we don’t know where these emotions are coming from, our levels of stress will increase, creating higher levels of cortisol, which will result in a compromised immune system, which in turn, will affect our ability to fight pathogens.  It is imperative that we understand exactly why we feel angry, anxious, or fearful. Writing out our fears and worries through some form of journaling and taking the time to prayerfully analyze and then release them into the hands of God, will help us cope and manage them in a more productive and efficient way.

Develop a Locus of control

Elizabeth ScottMS explains that resilient people believe that they have the control of their lives3, and that even though they cannot control what happens to them and the events that disrupt their daily lives, they can develop a locus of control and determine how they want to respond and react to these events. Jesus is an excellent model of a resilient individual with a remarkable locus of control in his life. Time and again, we see him facing adverse circumstances, constant criticism and accusations, ridicule, ostracism, unjust treatment, judgement, punishment and finally, even death. Yet, Jesus always remained in control, and decided how he was going to react to all of these adversities. The apostle Paul reminds us that “. . .God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Tim. 1:7, ESV).

Connect with others

We were wired to connect. I like to think that one of the reasons we all have a “monument,” aka: a belly button in the middle of our body, is to remind us that we were created to develop optimally within the context of connections that are vital for our survival.  Our initial infant-mother connection is eventually shared with other emotional connections as we transition through our developmental stages as we connect with siblings, friends, spouses, and relatives who will bring love, joy, companionship, and will challenge our brains to develop neural connections that will actually help us maintain our mental abilities sharp and in optimum condition. Avoiding prolonged isolation is fundamental to being able to adjust and accommodate to adversity. The Scriptures remind us that, “One man is able to have power over him who is alone, but two can stand against him. It is not easy to break a rope made of three strings.” (Eccles. 4:12 NLV). We can all benefit from learning how to make use of the current social media platforms available to nurture our relationships with family and friends during this season of social distancing. Our brains, hearts and immune systems will benefit greatly from an increase in relationship connections.

Have Faith in God

God promised that nothing was going to come into our lives that we wouldn’t have the ability to withstand; that includes the Covid-19 pandemic. (1Cor. 10:13). He also said, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT).

And as if Jesus knew that at some time we were going to be very concerned about our personal survival and worried about being able to obtain food and shelter, He shared the following directions, “25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? 28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? 31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God[a] above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. 34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matt.6:25-34 NLT). What a sense of security is offered to us. Jesus offers a blank check that will come our way when we need it the most.  Now, this obviously doesn’t mean that God will provide or solve our problems in the way or moment we may expect or request.  It may be that we are going to be short on food or perhaps we won’t have the means to pay for our rent, however, that doesn’t mean that God will not provide ways and means for us to be fed and have a roof over our heads, even if it’s not in the way we would have chosen. God may provide individuals who will share their food with us or open their hearts and homes for us to stay with them for a while. Whatever means God chooses to use, one thing is for sure, He will never leave us nor forsake us.  

Reading the following thought as often as necessary can also renew our trust in God’s attunement to us: “Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God.  You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. . .His heart of love is touched by our sorrows and even by our utterances of them.  Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind.  Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe.  Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice.  There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read, there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel.  No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. . . The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon the earth to share His watchcare, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son.” 4

Individuals who have a growing faith in God, who refuse to see themselves as victims, and who see life as a challenge rather than just a series of unwelcome, complicated circumstances, are more optimistic, have a good sense of humor in spite of the adversities that surround them, and get regular physical exercise to keep their bodies and minds in optimum condition. 

Indeed, when we understand just how attuned God is to each one of His children, we are strengthened to stand, resiliently, until the end. Enduring requires making a conscious decision to walk, in faith, with God daily, knowing that He will grant us the final victory, “Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21 NLT). I love this inspired promise, “All heaven is at our command.  If we are obedient children of God, we may draw daily supplies of grace. Whatever temptations, trails or persecutions may come upon us, we need not be discouraged.  Neither man nor Satan can close the door which Christ has opened for us. . . No power can hide from us the light of the glory which shines from the threshold of heaven along the whole length of the ladder we are to climb; for the Lord has given us strength in His strength, courage in His courage, light in His light. . . If we only realized that the glory of God is round about us, that heaven is nearer earth than we suppose, we should have a heaven in our homes while preparing for the heaven above.” 5

Friends, by His grace alone, we can daily deepen our trust in Him. We can learn how to cope more wisely and intentionally with the stressors of this life, and we can cultivate an unshakable resilience in the midst of any and all punches we will receive while we await His soon return.   

References:

1.      Froma Walsh, Strengthening Family Resilience. New York: The Guildford Press, 2016.

2.      Jessica Migala, Your Coronavarius Teaching Moment. AARP Bulletin. May 2020 Vol. 61 No. 4

3.      Elizabeth Scott, “How to Cope With Stress and Become More Resilient” https://www.verywellmind.com/cope-with-stress-and-become-more-resilient-3144889

4.      Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, Washington: Review & Herald Publishing Association, 1956, p. 100

5.      Ellen G. White, “Our High Calling”, Washington: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1961, May 2, p. 128

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