Thriving Through Stress: Gaining Our Lives
Friends of mine are downsizing from a new, sizable home in a wealthy suburb to a modest, comfortable ranch in the small town where they grew up. They are “simplifying” and looking for a less intense, less stressful lifestyle. Ironically, though, even though they have just put their house on the market, this move, like most, is proving to be stressful.
Grandparents that live in the same neighborhood are concerned about how often they will see the grandchildren when a 20-minute drive separates them. The couple themselves wonder how the move will affect the business they own and run 20 minutes in the opposite direction from their current home - almost an hour from their new home town. And the children . . . well, the children are already missing their friends and wondering about a new school, new sports teams, and a new life.
We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s not a move; maybe it’s a job change, a new church, an aging parent who can no longer live alone. The odds seem stacked up against us, and in the stressful circumstances, we think of all the reasons why life feels bad.
But maybe bad isn’t the right word. Hard circumstances aren’t necessarily bad. They are just hard. And on the other side of hard, we often find blessing.
“We finally just told the boys, ‘This move is happening. Let’s figure out how to make it work,’” my friend told me. His wife explained that “figuring it out” meant talking about which friends would be missed and which activities could be replicated in a new town, and ultimately, casting a vision for the boys about what life might look like on the other side of stress. But first, they have to walk through it.
RESILIENCE IS THE NEW SKILL
According to Peter Cappelli in his February 25, 2013, Human Resource Executive Online article, “Thriving on Stress,” new research indicates that people can be taught to interpret stressful situations as opportunities for something positive, allowing them to change their otherwise negative responses. The character trait he’s talking about? Resilience.
“Perhaps most interesting about this research is the suggestion that it might be possible to teach people how to interpret stress as something useful in order to change how they respond to it, perhaps overriding the genetic predisposition,” Cappelli wrote.
So is resilience just a matter of interpretation? Is there more to thriving through stress than just a little positive thinking?
According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter in her July 17, 2013, Harvard Business Review article “Surprises Are the New Normal; Resilience Is the New Skill,” resilience is born out of failure and tragedy, and it develops when we learn from our mistakes, take responsibility, and nurture a plan for moving forward.
“Resilience draws from strength of character, from a core set of values that motivates efforts to overcome the setback and resume walking the path to success,” Kanter writes. “It involves self-control and willingness to acknowledge one’s own role in defeat. Resilience also thrives on a sense of community — the desire to pick oneself up because of an obligation to others and because of support from others who want the same thing. Resilience is manifested in actions — a new contribution, a small win, a goal that takes attention off of the past and creates excitement about the future.”
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF STRESS
At The High Calling, we are exploring more deeply what it means to have resilience, or to thrive through stress.
In her post “Surprised by Motherhood Every Single Day,” Lisa-Jo Baker rehearses the stress of motherhood that nobody talks about to new moms just arriving home with their bundles of joy or sleep deprived in the early days of parenting. “They tell you that we should love this time. That the days are long but the years are short. That you should savor every second,” she writes. “But they don't tell you that your children will hold a Mack Truck-sized mirror up to your life until you see every detail of your own flaws and failures and temper with horrifying clarity.”
Ultimately, she discovers that there’s no secret to great mothering; it’s just plain ‘ole resilience - or endurance, or perseverance, or just showing up everyday with her kids - that makes her a good mom. “I will stand guard. I will pray. I will get it wrong and try again tomorrow and the day after that. I will protect these children from myself if I have to,” she confesses.
Darcy Wiley writes about a different kind stress in her essay: “Thriving Through Stress: Discovering Your Inner Genius.” Facing her husband’s recent job loss, Darcy compares his experience to the famous physicist Albert Einstein, whose profound unhappiness and stress despite his gainful employment eventually led him to become the Einstein we all know.
“Alongside the job loss and resulting anxiety, there has come a sort of electricity as my husband dreams big beyond the status quo,” she writes. “He has his ear to the ground for innovative ways to expand our literary agency, has joined me in brainstorming ideas for mentoring writers, and has written over 50,000 words on his novel in the last few weeks. The stress has brought on increased creativity and the creativity is, in turn, soothing the stress.”
In “Thriving Through Stress: Our Endurance Makes Us Stronger,” John Blase experiences stress at the opposite end of the spectrum: starting a new job. A back injury just before he began left him in excruciating pain, so he resorts to prayer to get him through those first days. Rather than helping the situation, things got worse.
“When stress pops up (and it will), our initial reaction is to find a quick fix,” he writes. “We double up on prayers. We amp up our Bible reading. We quote chapters and verses. We create extensive praise-playlists on our iPhones so we can saturate our mind with what’s true. All of these are good practices. But contrary to what you hear at conferences or see on Facebook, many times nothing happens. Sometimes it gets worse.”
GAINING OUR LIVES
In the Bible, “resilience” is often called “endurance.” In Luke 21, Jesus tells his disciples that life is going to get more and more difficult, more “stressful,” as we might say today. “By your endurance you will gain your lives,” Jesus teaches them. And in the book of James, we see the same truth Kanter described in her Harvard Business Review article: “the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
But there's another aspect of endurance we ignore to our peril. When the road is long and we must make the journey, we need to rest here and there or we'll never make it. Rest, writes Bonnie Gray in her Daily Reflection, "When Anxiety Strikes," is a gift Jesus freely offers.
"When we come into contact with stress, our natural response is to push through. We don't want to be in need, or fail to meet others' expectations—especially our own. We beat ourselves up for not trusting God," Bonnie writes. "But, God offers us a different response. Instead of being harder on us, Jesus whispers, 'Come to me, all those who are weary laden and I will give you rest.'”
Thriving Through Stress
Stress is an inevitability of the 21st century, and opportunities abound for simplifying our lives and changing our circumstances. But for most of us, the better change comes from within. As we deal with the stress in our lives, are we just trying to manage all the variables, mitigate the damage, and survive? Or is there actually a way to thrive through stress? Join us for another High Calling series where we discuss how our faith in Jesus and the resilience that develops through difficulties can help us thrive even in difficult circumstances beyond our control. If you know someone who is going through a particularly stressful time, why not encourage them by emailing or sharing one of the articles in our series.