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Bouncing Back
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“If we think we are fragile and broken, we will live a fragile and broken life. If we believe we are strong and wise, we will live with enthusiasm and courage. The way we name ourselves colors the way we live...We must be careful how we name ourselves”
(Wayne Muller).

Resiliency is the ability to spring back from and successfully adapt to adversity. One high school student said, “Resiliency is about choosing to bounce back from problems and stuff with more power and smarts.” Resiliency studies show that families, peers, students, work places, and other organizations have tremendous power to change the life course of those who experience adverse conditions or stressful life events. The key is to infuse individuals lives, including our own, and families and organizations, with these protective factors.

Attitude of Optimism—Believe in the reality of resiliency and communicate that belief. With the current emphasis on “at-risk” youth, many young people receive the message they cannot overcome their life problems. What is more powerful for them to hear is, “What is right with you is more powerful than anything that is wrong with you.” Other groups besides teens are also pessimistically stereotyped. Resiliency research shows that each person has a “self-righting tendency,” a capacity to overcome problems and move towards wellness. I believe this is a gift from God.

Perspective of Strength—Focus attention on people's strengths, show them how they have used these strengths, and help them find and develop their strengths to deal with current problems. One researcher recalls that when she talks about resiliency with youth, they tell her that, from their perspective, about 90 percent of the messages from adults in their lives are negative. If youth are to draw on their strengths to successfully cope with and overcome life challenges, they must be told, over and over, what those strengths are and how they have and can use them.

Protective Builders in the Environment—Numerous studies show that across their lifespan (from infancy through adulthood), people need to be surrounded with six elements of protection. These provide a framework for interacting in helping relationships, designing classrooms, programs, and work environments, and taking concrete action to help yourself and others overcome adversity and thrive. Briefly, they include: increase positive connections; have clear and consistent boundaries; provide for life skills development; caring and support that communicate, “I am here for you”; high (but realistic) expectations for success; and opportunities for meaningful contributions and participation  (genuine, “real-world” ways for individuals to share their gifts and service with the world around them).

Time to Turn Around—In our “instant-fix” culture, patience is often hard to find. Yet, for any person or group struggling to overcome adversity, things take time. Some of the most powerful resiliency programs in our country that take a mentoring approach in working with young people say it takes 18 months to two years to have a significant impact on participants' lives. We need to stay committed long-term!

If we infuse ourselves and those around us with these important factors, built upon the foundation of God's love, we can each bounce back from adversity. I'm reminded of the text: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4). Regardless of the adverse circumstances we face, spiritual resiliency is found  in a relationship with Jesus. What a promise!

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By Susan E. Murray. Reprinted with permission from the Lake Union Herald, December 2007. Copyright © 2008 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION © 1982.

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