Recently, I have been writing my second book, Transilience: Gliding Through Adversity. My book is about what it takes to be resilient. I call it Transilience because it has everything to do with one’s faith and how it helps us transcend or rise above our circumstances.. We can thrive in the face of adversity. Falling Upwards, a book written by Richard Rohr reminds me of our journey as Christians. It highlights the continuous cycle of falling and then getting up and moving closer to God.
The core of resiliency is spirituality. Twenty-five years working as a therapist confirmed that. Progress in therapy moved just as quickly for those with deep spiritual roots as with those who had little or no spiritual orientation. There was, however, a difference in the sustainability of that growth. For those lacking spirituality, therapy became a revolving door. The client was done with therapy once they felt better, but back in when there was a downturn in their life. Those with a deeply felt spiritual connection coped with life’s stressor’s better. How they viewed their setbacks, or relapses, was significantly different.
When individuals enter therapy, they are broken and are yearning for healing. An infinite variety of life events trigger a need for therapy. It could be a loss of someone close, a loss of a job or marriage, an addiction that cannot be overcome or, possibly, a child who was rebelling and is in harm’s way. What we know from our training as psychologists is that pain is a necessary precondition for change. It is not the ease of a stress-free life that propels us toward something better, but rather it is the unbearable, the misery of life that forces us to change. The first step into a therapist’s office is the first step toward becoming whole. It is the seekers among us that have the strength to change and find better ways to cope. I’m not prone to put bumper stickers, but when I started my private practice, I had some made that read: “LOSERS COMPLAIN, WINNERS GET COUNSELING.” Although simplistic, it reflected my sentiment at the time that victims stay victims because they don’t reach out to make the necessary changes.
Richard Rohr in his book, Falling Upwards, reveals that those of faith fall upwards toward God rather than spiraling downwards. Change is necessary for anyone who is invested in a spiritual life. As Richard Rohr says, “…if there are not serious warning about the blinding nature of fear and fanaticism, your religion will always end up worshiping the status quo and protecting your present ego position and personal advantage—as if it were God! Jesus’ first preached message is clearly, Change! (Mark 1:15: “’The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.’” and Matthew 4:17:”From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near’”), where he told his listeners to ‘repent,’ which literally means to ‘change your mind…”
The significance of change is present in the animal kingdom as well. Their survival is dependent on their ability to adjust their behavior to new and ever changing circumstances. The same is true for our spiritual survival. The only way you learn how to recover from falling is by falling. When hit by painful circumstances, we become invested in our need to change. Our growth moves upward and forward until we hit another wall that requires another change. Our energy is reserved for our forward momentum rather than becoming bogged down by fear or blaming others. As we practice our spiritual growing, the wall hits become less of a bang and more like the smooth glide, a constructive reflection through the obstacles of life.
James Fowler, a developmental psychologist at Candler School of Theology proposes s series of stages of faith development. He defines faith as an activity of trusting, committing and relating to the world based on how we relate to others.
- Stage 0- From birth to two years we develop trust based on the safety of our environment Conversely, if our environment is unsafe and toxic, we fundamentally distrust the universe.
- Stage 1- From three to seven years, we are concrete thinkers so we learn about faith through experiences, other people, and the stories
- Stage 2- involves children who are school age. At this age, we tend to see God as having human characteristics., and Bible stories are taken literally.
- Stage 3- From age twelve and through adulthood, we generally conform to religious authority.
- Stage 4- When we are in our twenties and thirties, we take personal responsibility for our beliefs. The complexity of faith is acknowledged and conflict-awareness increases. Stage 5 is evident in the mid-life crisis years. This is when the complexity of faith is underscored and we recognized that truth cannot be explained by simple statements.
- Stage 6- In the final stage, the enlightenment happens. We learn the universality of the love and justice and hunger for the day when all people with live in such a world.
Our faith changes as we stretch ourselves to connect meaningfully with those around us. This very act causes us to rise above our circumstances. Exercising our faith makes us happy people. According to the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, they found that forty-eight percent of people who attend religious services on a weekly basis are nearly twice as likely to describe themselves as very happy. Whereas, twenty-eight percent of people who never attend said they were very happy. Conversely, four percent of those who never worshipped are twice as likely to say they are very unhappy compared with two percent of those who attend services weekly. There appears to be a relationship between practicing one’s faith and a sense of well-being.
A most inspiring study done in the 1980s and reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July of 1990, illustrates the value of prayer. The test was done as if prayer were a new pharmaceutical. It was a double-blind experiment. The patients who were prayed for and those not being prayed for had no way of knowing which group was theirs. The study took place at San Francisco General Medical Center’s coronary care unit. Born again Christians prayed for those in the randomly selected experimental group. A randomly selected control group that was not prayed for. The findings were impressive. Although the patients were equally sick, the half who were prayed for had fewer episodes of congestive heart failure later, or pneumonia or cardiac arrest. In the control group, those not prayed for, twelve patients needed tubes inserted for breathing or feeding. In the prayed for group, no tubes were needed. Nine control-group patients needed antibiotics, only two in the prayed for group.
There are some in the medical fraternity who think the whole idea of a prayer experiment as pure nonsense. The researchers think anything that helps patients get well is valid. Besides, they say, prayer is “about as benign a form of treatment as there is.” In reality, prayer is the largest wireless connection.
Falling down and getting up have been with us from birth. It is how we grow and change. Our spiritual life gives our journey meaning and purpose and forges a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Kathryn Den Houter, Ph.D.
April 2, 2016