When I was a younger Christian parent, I wanted to believe that having faith in my strong and capable God inoculated me and my family from experiencing the trials and struggles common to humanity. I had hoped to think Christians existed in some sort of spiritual Goshen, sheltered from the plagues that befall ‘them’ – those who stand outside the Kingdom. And while it is true in many cases that our lifestyles founded on biblical principles give us protective qualities from many of the storms of life, our experiences tell us that even Christian homes have stresses and events that can be very disruptive to the functioning of our families. Jesus’s prayer to the Father is “ not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”, so honestly, we have been forewarned that we’ll face difficult situations from time to time.
Every day your child faces stress events can cause them to feel vulnerable, anxious, afraid, sad, frustrated, or lonely. As parents, we’d like to think we can shield our children from these things, but the truth is, there are always going to be events that can cause stress in our children’s lives – a parent’s sudden and unexpected job loss, health issues of parents or family members, events happening in the world that impact the family directly. The good news is that starting right now and today, you can help them build resilience, so they are equipped to take on the challenges that come with life and growing up.
What is resilience and what contributes to it?
The word resilience started in the physical sciences as the capacity of an object to return to its original shape when stretched; think of a spring or a rubber band. I’m going to date myself here,but in my own childhood I remember my brothers, sister and I playing with “Stretch Armstrong”.
Do stores even sell these anymore? This was like a large GI Joe toy with hard plastic body but with these pliable stretchy arms and legs. My three siblings and I would each take one arm or one leg and together we would see how far the ‘ol guy could stretch. But he always bounced back. That is resilience.
The concept of human resilience became the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and stress; it’s what we use to bounce back from the hard things in life, or as I like to say, bounce forward. I say forward, because it’s unrealistic to expect families to bounce back as easily as Stretch Armstrong’s limbs do, especially when faced with serious life challenges. With serious issues, it may not be possible to go back to the way things were, but instead resilience forges new pathways; it becomes a way to look at life as a series of ‘moving forwards’. For Christians, in any talk about resilience, we must look at it through the lens of Biblical Truths: Jesus told us we would always have tough times, but He also told us that the Father would always be with us, strengthening us for the task set before us.
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God,the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40: 28-31
How can parents promote resilience in their children?
There are several ways that parents specifically can support resilience development, such as acknowledging your child’s feelings; keeping your child safe while allowing him/her to explore the environment; modeling what empathy and caring look and sound like; and encouraging your child to do things on his/her own. These work together as ingredients in the soup of resilience but one of the most significant influences on resilience has to do with family belief systems.
Brain research tells us that strong faith and prayer can promote health and healing and reduce stress. When your biblical values are lived out with your children (you practice what you preach) and when you create meaningful shared family practices, the whole family is better able to withstand challenges. I am going to highlight two biblically based practices that you probably already know are important parts of the Christian life, but maybe did not know that they encourage greater resilience in your children and yourself too.
- *Give God the glory in all things.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
Children are strengthened in resilience when they know that even though they (or you) may not be able to control the outcome of events, that does not mean the family has been forsaken by God. This is the time to be thankful for family and for what you do have, even in the middle of the challenges. When you give God the glory as a family, the perspective changes from what you can’t do to how you can get through it together. Who says thankfulness needs to only be on display during November? When facing struggles, make a thankful tree or banner as a family, listing (or making pictures of) all the things you have because of God in your life. Read bible stories of God’s provision in times of struggle. Focus on His power and strength.
- * Pray not only for help in trials, but pray also for more resilience.
Exodus 14:14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
Philippians 4:19 My God will richly fill your every need in a glorious way through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
When we teach our children that God is with us in the trials too, we promote the idea that we are all in this together, with God; that He is there to sustain us through the trial. When parents show how we trust God in our own lives, we give our young children the building blocks to trust God for themselves too. Children are better able to handle adversity with that bounce forward attitude when they sense an abiding loyalty and faith in one another that is rooted in loyalty, faith and trust in God.
No, we can’t be taken out of the world, never having to face adversity and hardships. But we can learn to reframe the scary or uncertain things for our children, to show that we can get through it as a family and after all, God is still on the Throne.