May, 2015: May is here, and with it, the summer daydreaming begins. Trips to places far away from everyday life, taking time to enjoy the quiet relaxation of nature, boating and water skiing on brilliant blue water reflecting a clear blue sky, and anecdotes told around a campfire are all right here at our finger-tips in Wisconsin. The smell of sweet crabapple blossoms spur my mind in a slightly different direction this year, as I hear stories and meet some pretty special people who compel me to ponder the personality trait known as resilience.
Resilience is a funny thing. If you ask the people around you whom you admire for their resilience, they will be the first to admit it is not something they sought out, prayed for, or in any way desired. Why? Resilience is only gained by walking through fire. The unexpected happens, and one is left to pick up the pieces and somehow move on in life despite seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Whether an unexpectedly devastating medical diagnosis, act of violence, catastrophic fire or other natural disaster, or the death of a loved one, resilience is simply the product of perseverance plus faith and hope that the future will be better.
Last year my one year old had a little incident in the kitchen, pushing her chair with booster seat attached back from the table instead of simply saying “I’m done.” The result was several failed stitches and a nice big staple to close her gaping head wound. Later that day, my oldest daughter came into my bedroom with great concern. She said, “Addy is just so brave, I don’t think I could ever be as brave as her."
"Have I ever been brave mom? Do you think I could ever be as brave as her?” I have to admit I was fairly amused at the worries of my six year old and a bit incredulous. Was my six year old actually worried she would never be as brave as her little sister five years her junior? I guess it’s a human thing, to think and wonder what we would do, and how we would react to a specific set of circumstances. Would we make it through? How would we get by? Who would help us? Is there a secret we don’t know about that makes the most resilient among us look almost super-human in their ability to handle a nightmare situation with apparent ease?
After talking with and observing the most resilient in our community, I am sure they will be the first to admit that they are not perfect or naturally resilient. It was simply a survival response to what had happened to them. When the choice is to either move on and make something positive out of something so negative, or to simply not get out of bed and face the world and their agonizing loss, with some trepidation, they choose to live. To feel. To love. To be grateful. To remember happier times and the memories of loved ones that will never be forgotten. And for most, they found a source of hope when they had none. A source of unconditional love that softly urged them to move on and get out of bed, focus on others around them, to aide in the process of recovery. A source that gives them hope beyond the happenings of our present world, someone who is always faithful and true, waiting with open arms to comfort, to hold, and to heal. It is not an overnight thing, not a one time decision, but rather a daily choice to live a full life of feeling, loving and serving others, or having a day stuck in the mire of emotions and processing. While it is so important to process negative life events thoroughly, it is also a fragile balance so progress can be made toward a more fulfilling and outwardly focused future. For this group of people, it is not a choice to go back to their previous stable and predictable life as it once was, so the only choice, they will tell you, is to move on, heal, and grow from the experience.
Last week I read a very interesting article on Facebook that listed the personality traits of kids who make successful, independent adults. One of the only traits unrelated to the parents’ education level and socioeconomic status was grit. A child or adult with grit is far more likely to be successful in overcoming adversity, and this is what makes this one independent variable so powerful. It determines not only who we are, but how we react to the unexpected in life. Will we drown, or will we overcome?
So many thoughts about resilience and grit make me wonder, what can I do to instill the ability to overcome difficulty in my children, and also assist those around me when they are going through difficult times. For children, I may need to force my kiddos to continue an activity to which they committed themselves, even if they have lost interest and have no apparent talent for simply because they made a commitment to a season or semester. I may encourage my child to participate in an activity that is difficult for them, just to give them the opportunity to see what a little dedication and hard work can do. While they may never become a professional speaker or a D1 soccer player, simply going through the experience of struggle and see how hard work can make up for a lack of talent will give them confidence to take on future challenges without giving up. It is only by going through the process of overcoming difficulties in life that kids learn the benefits of sticking with something, even when the chips are down.
Even better than teaching your children grit and resilience, how about modeling it yourself? Have you taken on a new endeavor and stuck with it when the going got tough? Have you challenged yourself beyond your comfort zone, whether zip lining, public speaking, or taking piano lessons as an adult, as any of these tasks can demonstrate resilience. When trouble comes your way, what is your natural response- to run away, or confront the unexpected with wisdom and grace. This is what breeds grit.
For friends and family among us going through difficulties, they will attest to the fact that although they may look put together with a smiling face to you, the hurt continues for weeks, months, and years. What do they need? Instead of asking (they won’t know), offer assistance, ways to off-load their plate as they may feel momentarily stunned, overwhelmed, and be simply unable to take even baby steps forward right after the unexpected happens. Making a meal, assisting with childcare, talking about the memories of loved ones, and just being available to listen are all ways to help others during their most difficult struggles in life.
Spring is a beautiful time of renewal of homes, gardens, nature, and spirits. Don’t miss this obvious opportunity to learn, grow, serve, and by summertime, bloom beautifully in health, relationships, and in service to others around you!