Life rains down on all of us. We experience loss, sadness, frustration, difficult times, goals missed, dreams disappointed. We go through broken relationships, betrayals, trust misplaced, loved ones hurt.
Yet, while the rain can drown us, it can also strengthen us. While it can overwhelm, it can also energize. What makes the difference is the character trait we call resilience. To be resilient is to be able survive the winter and make it to spring. It is to learn from and find a way to understand life’s difficulties.
The Courage To Rejoice
How do we become more resilient? The Danish existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote a profound sentence in his Journals: “It requires moral courage to grieve; it requires religious courage to rejoice.”
What Kierkegaard calls religious courage is the sense that life has a purpose and a meaning. When we know that our life matters–when we live for something larger than ourselves–we are more likely to have the courage to rejoice even when life is hard.
The Right Perspective
That is not to say that we should see the world through rose-colored lenses. Voltaire’s character Dr. Pangloss in Candide saw “the best of all possible worlds” in everything, but that is unrealistic and impossible for many of us. Rather, we can shift our perspective.
We can struggle to see our lives from a long and broad perspective. When we do so, we often experience more gratitude and feelings of accomplishment, and the sadness of the moment is seen as temporary rather than permanent.
Sometimes we need to force ourselves to look at this broader perspective. It does not come naturally. As Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert wrote in his book Stumbling on Happiness, “Most of us have a tough time imagining a tomorrow that is terribly different from today…”
“We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy feeling bad about an actual present… we find that it’s a lot like trying to imagine the taste of marshmallow while chewing liver.”
The Spirit of Resilience
What a resonant description! Yet, what faith does is give us the means and tools to look at our lives more broadly. When we pray, we see ourselves as part of a people that precedes and will succeed us.
When we study, we attach ourselves to an ancient and everlasting tradition. When we we gather together, we make up a community that can hold us up when we falter, and can give us comfort and strength when we need it most.
By Evan Moffic