Resilience is moving ahead into unfamiliar waters. To be resilient is to actively face your fears and actively cope with the present situation. As I listen and speak with clergy leaders, I am hearing a lot of resilience among our colleagues today, and, I am hearing ‘resilience fatigue.’ To view both, let’s start with resilience.
“While everyone is born with a certain level of resilience, you can train to become a more resilient person,” says Dennis S. Charney, M.D., Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and a 30 year researcher into resilience. Dr. Charney describes two characteristics of resilient people: first, they face the facts, often brutal facts, of the present situation and second, they also believe they will prevail.
The two key elements for developing the resources as a more resilient person are having a role model and having a support system. For the first key of role models, I understand these experienced people as mentors. These are the people we can learn from because they have experienced events and challenges and situations like the ones you are experiencing now. They have reflected on that experience, have some distance, have reframed the questions to put them into context, and have created meaning in their lives from the experience. These are similar situations, not identical. The lessons learned and meanings discerned are adaptable to subsequent, future situations. Mentors then can share that learning with others in appropriate ways that open up the questions for the learner.
A support system is the second key. Resilient people ask for help. They draw on close, intimate relationships as well as other relationships of trust that have been built on shared experience. These relationships of trust delve into thoughts, feelings, reactions, reflections, questions, our beliefs about God, and beliefs about ourselves. Part of the support system is articulating your beliefs, moral compass, your view of human nature, and Christ’s nature with us. Spiritual Leaders create intentional learning communities for trusted, safe space to share these dimensions of our ministry experiences. In doing so, leaders build resilience.
Even those with good resilience skills and especially those who have drawn on these skills often, experience what I am observing as ‘resilience fatigue.’ By now in ministry there have been so many decisions made and adjusted, so many starts and changes, and so much navigation of strong emotions. I am hearing that recalibrating one more time is an increasingly difficult undertaking. Clergy and lay leaders are fatigued facing into the brutal reality of this pandemic that is constantly changing.
To balance out ‘resilience fatigue’ look for ways that you and your community can gain confidence that you will prevail over time. The short time lines that leaders used at the onset of the pandemic of two weeks, next month, and in six months are no longer practical. One congregation (not TEC) found a way to prevail by looking to their welcome message. Their church says, “All are Welcome.” They decided that until “All are Welcome” could be true for every one and every member of the congregation, there would be in-person worship. That means their ‘time-line’ for gathering is long-term and digital. They can plan, communicate, develop better resources, and use their current resources for the ministries of their church. Can we ask ourselves, “do we need to keep adjusting or can we set a time line based on a fundamental value of our parish? Perhaps continuing the feeding ministry is the most fundamental. Perhaps personal contacts for pastoral care. Perhaps music that heals. Whatever the most important focus on that for your long term strategy. Build from there. You, your leadership, and your community, will prevail over the long term.
Developing resilience and addressing resilience fatigue are both realities for leaders now. Look for role models and supportive communities as safe places to face into the reality you experience so that you can build resilience. Look to fundamental values as a foundation from which to build your confidence to prevail. Every leader needs resilience now.