The Oxford English Dictionary lists two definitions of resilience. One describes resilience in the context of a person; the other describes resilience in the context of a physical substance:
‘The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.’
‘The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.’
But there’s more to resilience than these two definitions. Biblical resilience adds an element that no dictionary can: the fact that our strength comes from God and the river of life that flows from Jesus’s love for us. His love is patient; he leads and moulds us gently, little by little – the opposite of the sense of urgency I get from the two dictionary definitions above. It’s a process, a journey, with God at the helm.
My own journey has certainly been one of ups and downs: time spent at rock bottom, time spent climbing mountains (literally) and everything in between. I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learnt along the way and I know they contribute to my ability to weather the storms, but I’m also so glad to know that God isn’t done yet.
I’ve been working through a course on resilience by John Eldredge, co-author of the familiar favourites ‘Wild at Heart’ and ‘Captivating’. In order to grow in biblical resilience, he encourages us to give everything and everyone over to God – a practice he calls ‘benevolent detachment’. Through this daily practice, I have been reminded to trust God as the source of my life (and, therefore, my resilience). The true river of life.
As someone who loves green landscapes, the image of a river of life gives me such peace. And the passage from Jeremiah which describes a tree planted by the water is one of my favourites. It’s such a beautiful illustration of biblical resilience:
‘But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’
(Jeremiah 17:7–8 NIV)
As beautiful as this message is, it can still be hard to maintain a positive attitude and act out of faith instead of fear when living with chronic disease. The cards we have been dealt mean that life is never simple.
I want nothing more than to disappear on an adventure, whether that be a few days of hiking through the African bush, a few weeks of camping my way through Norway or a year of backpacking between various global outreach opportunities. But I can’t just up and go.
While I’ve been lucky enough and well enough to enjoy a number of shorter adventures during my lifetime, chronic disease is my constant companion and has to be taken into account when planning anything. It affects how I live, every day, and it doesn’t go away (unless you’re one of the really lucky few). I need to keep certain medication refrigerated wherever I go; diet and rest need to be balanced and maintained; exercise and stretching are not just healthy desires, but necessities. My ability to 'rough it' is limited and in the current climate of population density, pandemics and travel, health is a constant juggle.
Thankfully, God too is my constant companion. Just as he was with Joshua, he will be with me through thick and thin, through drought and plenty, through healthy periods and periods of illness:
‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’
(Joshua 1:9 NIV)
And this gives me the courage to live life to the full, rheumatoid arthritis and all. What do I have to fear when the creator of the universe is on my side?
So, my prayer for all of my fellow chronic disease warriors out there comes from Ephesians:
‘I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,
the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources
he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.
Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.
Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.
And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should,
how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.’
(Ephesians 3:14–18 NLT)
• For a snapshot into what it was like living with swollen knees, read ‘The Value of Knees’.
• And here's a copy of an article I wrote for the Arthritis Foundation of South Africa: