How faith builds resiliency in the face of adversity

Mr. Chase Court
The following has been adapted from an opening ceremony address given to the Upper School students by Jackson Hole Classical Academy Learning Support Coordinator, Mr. Chase Court, who is a licensed school psychologist.
There are three r’s that are commonly used as strategies and measurements of a student’s success in school: reading, ‘riting,’ and ‘rythmitic.’ Robert J. Sternberg, a psychologist and Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, and Rena F. Subotnik, Director of the Center for Psychology in Schools and Education at the American Psychological Association (2006) identified what they term the “other three r’s” critical to education success not sufficiently recognized in schools: reasoning, resilience, and responsibility. Of these three r’s, resilience is the key factor that distinguishes those that are highly successful from others.
Resilience is the process of positive adaptation in the face of significant adversity. It is a skill that we begin to develop early on in life. Julie K. Hersh, a writer for Psychology Today Online, posed a question to her readers asking them to share strategies for building resilience. The top response was “faith.” This is hardly surprising, as we know that those who are more resilient can move ahead in the face of difficult circumstances. But what constitutes faith? What is required of the faithful? Hebrews 11:1 describes faith as, “being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” Faith requires discipline of the emotions and the mind. It requires trust and obedience.
Christian Moore, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of the WhyTry Program, states that, “connecting with a higher power is a vital facet of Relational Resilience,” and that “a relationship with a higher power transcends the limitations and weaknesses of the human condition – anxiety, fear, pain, addiction” (2014). In a biblical sense, to be faithful is to trust and obey a loving, just, all-powerful God who seeks to have a relationship with us and wants what is good for us. Faith is the conviction that our lives have meaning and purpose. This faith gives us hope for a future that we cannot see and empowers us to move forward no matter the circumstances. As Hersh describes, faith is what gives us the strength to “step away from the immediate challenge” to “find the thread of interconnection” (2014).
Sometimes, we can know a thing better by its opposite. To better understand what it means to have faith, we can study what it means to be faithless – to be filled with doubt, and to be without any hope, trust, or confidence. Experiments, along with research over the last half of a century, have revealed that "learned helplessness" — the assumption that we cannot do anything to change our situation based on past experiences — depression, and anxiety may be a response to the feeling of a lack of control – that is, the lack of power to influence someone or something.
It is important for us to acknowledge that adversities are a reality, and bad things happen. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Faith lights the way and empowers us to take the next step when surrounded by darkness. Without the belief that our determined efforts will have positive results, adversities will easily overwhelm and defeat us. When we are distracted by depression or despair, we begin to lose faith, and leave room for doubt and helplessness. But we can strengthen our own sense of control when we take action to influence the circumstances of our life. Rather than give in to feelings of helplessness, we gain strength through faith when we persevere through adversities. Recalling how Hebrews 11:1 describes faith, we wield faith as a spiritual light in the dark – it is our ability to overcome adversities and become more resilient to the many adversities we face in life.
“Emunah” is the Hebrew word for faith. It begins with the Hebrew letter “alef,” which means “strength,” and ends with the letter “heh,” which means “reveal.” Faith does not, then, begin with knowing that the other side of the crate is safe – that revelation is reserved for after we find the strength to jump over the partition. Faith, then, starts with strength, and ends with revelation. Faith means that we move our feet along the lit path, unable to see what lies at the end, but trusting in God’s purpose for us.
Whitehead, James D., and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead. The virtue of resilience. Orbis Books, 2015.
Moore, Christian. The resilience breakthrough: 27 tools for turning adversity into action. Greenleaf Book Group, 2014.
Seligman, Martin EP. "Learned helplessness." Annual review of medicine 23.1 (1972): 407-412.
Sternberg, Robert J., and Rena F. Subotnik, eds. Optimizing student success in school with the other three Rs: Reasoning, resilience, and responsibility. IAP, 2006.
Hersh, Julie K. Faith, the intangible force in resilience. Psychology Today, 2014.

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