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What Is Resilience?

What Is Resilience?

There’s no doubt in my mind that adversity cultivates resilience. Before we get ahead of ourselves, what does that really mean? Some psychologists define resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.”1

The word resilience derives from the Latin term resilire, which means “to recoil or rebound,” and made its debut in the English language in 1627. The first entry in the Oxford English Dictionary memorializes this as “an act of rebounding or springing back; rebound, recoil.” The second definition of resilience was added in 1824, associated with elasticity: the “power of resuming an original shape or position after compression, bending, etc.”

Popular culture seems to have limited the definition of resilience, using it to describe people who “bounce back.” While I appreciate the sentiment, I see the term as being a bit broader. Bouncing back implies that resilience is something simple and quick, such as the return of a ball bounced against a wall time and time again. That we could simply be tossed and retrieved without eventually becoming cracked and deflated — wouldn’t that be nice if it were true?

We are not people who simply bounce back. We experience all kinds of trouble. We endure unspeakable tragedy and ambiguous loss, both of which can take a lifetime to heal. We develop wounds and scars.

Resilient people experience this pain with honesty and bravery, and they become stronger not despite the resistance but because of the resistance.

I might define resilience this way: our daily, consecrated act of remembering there is something far greater than our present troubles, which offers us the power to endure and emerge. In adversity, what is the something greater we are supposed to remember? In the gospel of John, the beloved apostle captures the promise of Jesus:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.John 16:33


Jesus didn’t promise us an easy existence. He didn’t promise health, wealth, or prosperity in a world full of trite clichés and memes. He promised trouble. Hardship. Difficulty. He gave a further promise to overcome all hardship and difficulty on our behalf.

  • He has overcome the world. With Him, we can overcome too. This is holy resilience.

Healing begins the moment we speak what is true.

The truth is, no matter the adversity we find ourselves in, we have access to a source of overcoming love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV). We may not bounce back in adversity, but we do find our legs to stand up again, powered by a love that never fails. That’s resilience.

This ability to stand back up reminds me of the Oxford English Dictionary’s second definition of resilience: the “power of resuming an original shape or position after compression, bending, etc.” There isn’t a time limit for the compression, the bending, the absorbing of the aftershocks of pain or loss. Though we may resume our original shape — we look like some version of who we were before the adversity — there’s something new about us. We have a new quality, a new strength.

As a mother who in her twenties gave birth to a son with severe cognitive challenges, in her thirties endured the sudden onset of panic, and in her forties lost a father after decades of mental struggle, I’m still learning what it means to bend under the weight of tumultuous seasons that feel accented by loss. This doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced significant joys along this exact same journey, for pain always becomes purpose if you let it. I’m simply acknowledging the narrative arc of my life in order to remember the original shape or position God intends for each of us, no matter the recurring adversity we find ourselves in.

Pain always becomes purpose if you let it.

What I’m struck by is that I haven’t gone back to the original shape of who I was as a child — that would be regression. While I still look like Rebekah, there are scars from three Cesarean sections that brought Cade, Pierce, and Kennedy into the world. There are new wrinkles and laugh lines from saying yes to adopting Joy in our mid-forties. While I return to something that looks like me, I also become incrementally stronger, able to endure a little bit more. This endurance brings an inner quality that is renewed “day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). This is true resilience.

If more than four decades of living have taught me anything, it’s that the ones who “bounce back” may not be the most resilient. The people who’ve weathered storms throughout the entirety of their lives, who’ve stayed when it would have been easier to leave, who’ve lived with integrity and commitment, who’ve both resumed their original shape and undergone internal transformation? These are the resilient ones.

  1. “Building Your Resilience,” American Psychological Association, January 1, 2012, -resilience.

Excerpted with permission from Building a Resilient Life by Rebekah Lyons, copyright Rebekah Lyons.

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Your Turn

Have your life shocks, disappointments, and battles changed the shape of you? That’s true for me. I’m different for enduring, relying on Jesus, and warring on for what’s good and what the Lord has assigned for me. Pain can become purpose in the hands of Jesus if we let Him do what only He can do! And, you and I can become resilient in leaning on Him and being strengthened by Him. Come share your thoughts. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full

Building a Resilient Life