Resilience As a Spiritual Practice

August 30, 2021 by Kara Lassen Oliver

The change over the past two years has created layers of trauma and exhaustion. It doesn’t look like we will return to normal anytime soon. In the midst of it all, many of us long for resilience. In response to this longing, The Upper Room is offering an online retreat, RESILIENCE | Healing Practices for Mind, Body, & Spirit.

Over the pandemic I have become enamored, one may even say obsessed, with the plants in my home. My mom and sister inherited my grandmother’s incredible green thumb. The plants in their yard each year are bright and healthy; the colors and the heights coordinate beautifully. Everyone oohs and ahhs when they arrive at their homes. I’ve managed some success over the years with zinnias and knockout roses. And the same is true for indoor plants. We divided up the plants after my father’s funeral five years ago, and my mom’s peace lily and bamboo palm are practically trees in her home, while mine are still alive but growing ever so slowly.

But I’m learning. I’m learning about plants, and plants are teaching me about RESILIENCE—the ability to recover from difficulties.

I started my plant collection with those tiny $1.99 plants at Trader Joe’s. I brought them home with a whispered promise to do my best. I found several plants abandoned at work several years ago and decided my fledgling care was surely better than letting them languish in an empty office.

Now, I’m pleased to say that I’m making progress. My Christmas cactus actually blooms around Christmas. I have had to divide and repot my peace lily. The pilea has a tiny pilea baby at the base of its stem. And I haven’t killed the orchid that was a housewarming plant in our new apartment.

But friends, when I walk out of the bedroom some mornings and see the cyclamen drooping or leaves raining from the ficus (I told you I have gotten a bit obsessed!), my heart drops. I love these plants. I want them to have the perfect conditions to grow and thrive—I put an app on my phone so I don’t forget to water them. But sometimes because I get too busy, and sometimes for reasons I can’t understand, the plant wilts, the leaves fall, and my plants don’t bloom like my mom’s or my sister’s.

What I have learned is not to give up. I prune the dead leaves. I move the plant into the sun. I notice if it needs water or I have overwatered. I call my plants by name (yes, I do!) and tell them how much joy they bring me and commit to pay closer attention.

This little one… Hope. I put this little one in front of the window and watered every week. And it wilted and shriveled, though it didn’t die. I cut off all the dead leaves, moved it into a darker bedroom, named it, and promised not to overwater. And here she is! Unfurling, growing, RESILIENT.

Like flowers battered in a storm or house plants struggling with their novice owners, we all droop, wilt, feel like we may not recover. Our spiritual practices can revive us, sustain us, cultivate a spirit of resilience in us. One of my life-giving practices in these days is becoming a gardener—for my plants and for my soul. Paying attention to what is needed to thrive and being diligent and intentional about meeting those needs.

I’m curious: What old and new spiritual practices are sustaining you? I hope you will join our global Upper Room community for our online conference on RESILIENCE, September 30–October 2. This conference gives us a chance to join with others to tell stories of the storms of our lives, gain strength in community, pray, worship, move, and play together as we cultivate the soil for new life and resilience in this world together. I hope you will join us!

Kara Lassen Oliver is executive director of The Upper Room Center for Christian Spiritual Formation. She will be leading the workshop Healing through Prayer at the online conference RESILIENCE | Healing Practices for Mind, Body, & Spirit. To learn more, visit

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