Book review: Resilience in life and faith

Tony Horsfall and Debbie Hawker Resilience in Life and Faith: Finding your strength in God BRF 2019 (£9.99)

Being able to bounce back from difficult life events and adapt to challenging circumstances have become key life skills. In truth, the ability to cope with a crisis and find ways to survive trauma have always been important and people vary in their capacity to do this.

This book encourages us to develop our resilience and prepare for the challenges that life throws at us. It aims to weave biblical and psychological insight together and provide helpful pointers. The writing style is easy to read and each chapter concludes with a few questions to aid reflection.

So what is resilience? The introductory chapter suggests three things. Having the strength to fulfil the call of God, the ability to make the best of any situation and the capacity to deal well with pressure. These, and other elements, are drawn together in what the authors refer to as the SPECS model of resilience, which looks at five key components for resilience.

Spiritual: This groups together those aspects that give our lives a sense of meaning and calling; noting that resilient people have a sense of hope. The book touches on practices of forgiveness and gratitude; stillness, silence and sabbath; practicing spiritual disciplines and being part of a community which shares a similar ethos.

Physical: This includes those things that improve or sustain our physical health and help us to live healthier lives. This includes exercise, getting enough sleep, rest and ensuring we live with some margin, paying attention to what we eat and drink.

Emotional: Being aware of and coping with our emotions. The practices which can help with this include disclosing our feelings (either by talking or by writing, for example in a journal); praying and lamenting; giving anxiety to God; crying. All of these help us to recognise and experience emotions. Distraction and recreation; relaxation and breathing; laughing and seeking help can all play a part in helping us cope with our emotions.

Cognitive and creative: This aspect gives attention to our thinking and conscious mental processes. Our resilience can be enhanced through problem solving; keeping mentally active; being flexible and not ruminating on stuff; being a lifelong learner; developing a robust theology of suffering; finding opportunities to use your imagination.

Social and systemic: This aspect considers not just what happens within a person but between people and the network of relationships we are all part of. Spouse, family, colleagues all play a significant role either positively or negatively. Security issues, finance, climate, living conditions, culture and government policies all impact on us and our resilience.

As well as a chapter that looks at each of these aspects there are other chapters that link back to spiritual factors with a focus on a range of Biblical characters: Nehemiah, David, Paul, Ruth, Esther, Hagar, Mary and of course Jesus Christ. Another chapter looks at creating a community of resilient disciples who are prepared for hardship, willing to offer and receive help as well as trusting in God.

In short, resilience is about developing deep roots, roots that will sustain us when troubles come, roots that will cling on when the storms blow through, roots that go deep into a relationship with God and give us an inner resilience.

Overall, the book weaves these themes together with endnotes providing links to a range of resources for further reading (though why publishers can’t use footnotes is beyond me). The danger of the approach is that some elements are too simplistic and it would be great to see a further book which provides a more robust and in depth look at key biblical and psychological themes.

The upside of the approach is that this book is accessible and helpful to a wide range of people. It is tilted towards cross cultural workers but is really useful for ministers and any Christians working/living in contexts that are complex and draining. It is definitely joining my list of books and resources that are helpful for all mission workers to read.

For those interested in other resources on cross cultural resilience these might be useful:

Stress and Resilience

Full disclosure: I didn’t buy this book; each Latin Link team leader was offered a free copy, though it was on my ‘wish list’

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