building resilience

Photo credit: matti-keponen-APmBcTBLRic-unsplash

I mentioned in my last post that I needed resilience. I didn’t know yet the depth of that truth.

A few weeks later and the “drag” of our situation is wearing on me more than ever. I feel the weight of my own emotions and inconveniences. I am burdened by the pain and struggles of those who are suffering much more than me. I see others reacting with great frustration to the limitations and longevity of the virus impact.

Our stress behaviors show off loudly these days.

It helps to remember that anytime we adjust to something new (new job, new home, new family member), it tires us out. So much about our situation is new right now. New ways of working or going to school – or losing those things. New ways of getting basic supplies or doing without. New ways of interacting or missing interactions no longer available to us.

Uncertainty is wearing. We typically do not like to stand at the crossroads without clear direction, but everything about our future feels unknown. Many decisions that were previously straightforward require more thought now. In addition, we often have to consider the complexity of how our choices affect others.

The loss of anticipated activities and celebrations also depletes our motivation. Feeling out-of-control, vulnerable, or trapped is unnerving. Isolation, loneliness, fear, and grief are physically exhausting. So is living in tight quarters with others who are also expressing their reactions to this out-of-control life. Everyone is at least slightly on edge – some of us much more than others. So what can we do?

SHUT DOWN THE “SHOULDS”

Erasing unrealistic expectations and perfection-pressure helps us conserve needed kindness and compassion for ourselves and others. When I replace “I should be… do… act like…” with a humble recognition of my weakness, I often find others willing to step in with forgiveness and help. I am learning to set goals (significantly) lower than normal at times, leaving margin for those days when motivation, energy, and creativity wanes.

GRACE.  GRACE.  GRACE.

I have repeated this word more times than I can count. Encouraging myself and others to offer grace and acceptance rather than criticism, judgement, or anger is crucial. It’s not easy to do, and I fail often, but we all desperately need it. I’m taking initiative to reach out to others and lean into relationships – even when it is hard for me. I hope that practice will stick with me over time.

TAKE CARE

I am thinking about how I can prepare myself for the long-term effects of our “new world”. Awareness of all the above helps. As does taking care of my physical needs as much as possible (healthy routines, sleep, fresh air, good food, water). Working on a significant, joy-giving, or worthwhile project each day/week gives me energy too.

The flower above is my inspiration – beautiful, strong, and resilient – growing courageously and miraculously in the crevice of that challenging rock. Ironically, that impressive perseverance would not be needed or visible without the challenge.

What has been most difficult for you this past week? How are you building your resilience?

the gifts of Christmas

Christmas gifts Kris Mouser_Brown Foter.com CC BY_ND

There are good years when everyone is home, getting along well, happy with their gifts, and focused on the “reason” for the season. But there are also difficult years when what we hoped for or what we envisioned does not come anywhere close to happening. Both are very normal in life. The problem is not the difficulties. The problem is our expectations. Our expectations that Christmas will be perfectly wrapped, shiny-bowed, and glitter-dusted like a beautiful Christmas gift.

Our reality doesn’t match our hopes and expectations.

Maybe you have a “special” person in your family or group of friends. The one who no matter how many advent candles you burn or how many advent calendar dates you turn, you just don’t feel filled with Christmas spirit when you’re with that person. They push your buttons, triggering your feelings and emotions so that you are angry or frustrated or discouraged, or you feel judged and criticized no matter what you do.

Perhaps you have experienced a loss this year that’s going to affect your Christmas. There will be a gap, someone missing in the pictures, in the activities, at the table. Maybe you didn’t lose them this year. Maybe it was sometime in the past, but their loss still impacts you, especially in times like this. This is the first year my mom won’t be with us. I get blindsided by missing her when I least expect it.

It might be that you have done your shopping, your decorating and your baking, and you think you’re doing great… until you happen to spend time on Facebook or Pinterest or visit a friend’s home, and all of a sudden your work feels a little inadequate, a little sub-par, not quite how you would like it. Comparison gets to your head and heart, and makes you feel “less than” or incompetent compared to others around you.

If comparison does not make Christmas hard for you; it might be that your financial situation is more difficult than you had hoped. Maybe that promotion didn’t come through or maybe the new business hasn’t taken off or maybe you are out of work, and you don’t have the money to buy what is on the wish list. You’re worried about seeing disappointment in some young, sweet eyes looking up at you on Christmas morning.

You might be sick or care-giving for someone. Holidays with those realities makes celebrating more challenging. I will spend Christmas with my Dad. He has Parkinson’s, dementia, and alcoholism that are affecting his days and therefore they are going to affect our Christmas. He may or may not remember what day it is.

Maybe your difficulty is not the ones that you care for. Maybe it is more the lack of someone to care for… maybe you feel alone and lonely during these days.

These are real Christmas challenges for many of us.

It could be that none of these issues affect you this year. Last year was close to perfect for me. My biggest challenge was dealing with a form of survivor’s guilt – I call it “blessing guilt” – because I had all my children at home and we had a great time enjoying every minute of it, while at the same time close friends and family were dealing with all kinds of pain – the realities I just mentioned. I struggled to fully enjoy the gifts that God had given me without overlooking or underestimating the realities of others.

Whatever your reality this year, I hope you know that Jesus is not only “the reason for the season”, but Jesus is also the “answer” for the season and for all your needs. He is not distracted by preparations or decorations or gift buying or baking. He has plenty of time and energy and limitless power to take interest in what’s difficult for you, to come along beside you and help you.

Jesus had relatives who sometimes made life difficult for Him; Jesus experienced loss and wept; Jesus went through many difficulties and would have traded some of His experiences for another if He could. And His birth we are celebrating this season? A cross-country journey by a very pregnant teenage mom on the back of a donkey, an unsanitary birth with only a first-time father to help, and His first days surrounded by smelly livestock and shepherds?

Jesus understands a reality that is different from the ideal. 

I invite you to see this Christmas not simply as an opportunity to bake and decorate and buy and wrap, but also a time to reflect and lean into Jesus to find understanding and hope in a way that maybe you’ve never done before. Let go of your expectations of what Christmas will or should be like and embrace your reality – even your difficulties – this year. Struggles are often some of the sweetest times in our faith journey.

May God build your faith stronger
as He heightens your awareness of His presence always.

May He deepen your appreciation for people,
as you recognize that life is so very fragile.

May your contentment grow greater – with yourself – and your circumstances.

And may you become a more gracious person – grateful for what you have received and compassionate and empathetic with others in need.

Those are the best gifts.