Resilience is a popular word these days. I’ve been seeing the word used in commercials—from the NFL to Microsoft. In this time of pandemic and social change, we are all needing to grow resilience. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines resilience as “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.” I have experienced this resilience in my physical environment and in my very soul.
We have lived for nineteen years on top of a ridge in a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee. Our backyard, full of trees as far as we could see. Over the years, we have seen deer, turkeys, raccoons, and foxes. We have shivered in the night at the wild howls of the coyotes and the yips of their pups. Then, almost two years ago, machines started toppling the trees at the bottom of the hill. It turned out that a housing subdivision was being built where the woods used to be.
As the trees have been removed, the bedrock blasted to even off the land, the land graveled and paved, we’ve wondered what has happened to the wildlife who made their home there. In the summer, the dogs let us know of the migration of turtles through the back yard—perhaps seeking a new home? These past few weeks, we’ve heard the coyotes howling in the night. I saw a buck watching over three does on the edge of the construction area. The turkeys have shown up all over the neighborhood, to the confusion of the dogs on our morning walks. I trust that the moles, voles, chipmunks, turtles, and foxes have moved on to new homes. These wild creatures are finding ways to change and adapt to the loss of their habitat. They are resilient.
Many years ago, I went through a difficult time of uncovering wounds from my childhood. Those years of intense inner work were so long, so painful. My reality seemed to be blasted away; my life felt like it was made up of piles of rubble. There were times when I did not know if I would make it through the brokenness. During that long process, I began to believe that God created me, created us, with the capacity for healing. Just as scrapes and cuts on bodies heal themselves, wounds on spirit and psyche can heal.
Healing takes lots of work. I would not have made it through that time without the help of therapists, doctors, and friends. During the times when I was too broken to pray for help, others prayed on my behalf. The wounds have not disappeared completely. Some days, out of the blue, the old pain is triggered, and I’m swept into the old feelings. It’s like having a scab knocked off of a still-healing cut.
I am not the same person that I was before I started my healing journey. The process of healing has reconfigured me—making me the compassionate, resilient person that I am today. I don’t regret the wounds or the healing. The Spirit has formed me into a new being.
Like me, there are many of us who carry the scars of physical, mental, or psychological trauma. Survivors of abuse or trafficking. Those who fear leaving the house, who yearn for safety for themselves or their beloveds because of the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes. Individuals or communities who have lived through natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or wars. Each of us, living through a global pandemic. All of us live with the legacies of our woundedness.
I believe that the God of love and wholeness created us as resilient, healing machines. Just as our bodies heal from cuts and scrapes, our hearts and psyches lean into recovery. The Holy One holds each of us in a warm blanket of love and healing despite the traumas of our lives.
In these days when we are struggling to get through difficult times, we can turn to the example of Jesus, who taught and modeled resilience to a people struggling under Roman occupation.
Through parables and teachings, he taught his followers about loving enemies and searching for the least and lost. He healed the sick and challenged the powerful. He blessed the poor, the grieving, the persecuted. He led in humility. He invited his followers—and us—to open our bodies, spirits, and hearts to the healing love of the Holy One.
Jesus offers these words to all of us who are wounded: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
May it be so.
Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel. Her latest release from Upper Room Books is Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.
Photography by Dylan White / Nashville, TN
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
View a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism.