Resilient resolutions

New Year’s resolutions. Remember those? How are you doing? Healthy eating, more exercise, a better routine, more reading, more Bible reading, more prayer… Chances are, though, you’ve struggled. Research has shown that nearly a quarter of people abandon their goal after one week, 46% after a month, and 64% after six months. That means half us have already given up on our resolutions. Why no stickability?

There are many reasons, but one recognised factor is being in a negative environment. We get tempted away and knocked off course. Life throws things at us, and the nice neat routines and habits we hoped to grow in wobble, topple and disappear. Failed. Again. The answer? Get back up, dust yourself down, and try all over again. In a word, resilience.

Resilience is seeing a resurgence. But what exactly is it? Technically, it’s the ability to anticipate, withstand and bounce back from external pressures and shocks. Life knocks you down and resilience is the quality that allows you to come back stronger than ever. Yep, my resolutions could definitely do with a bit of that. But how do you get it?

Conventional wisdom does say some helpful things. Life will be hard – face it constructively. It’s ok to have negative emotions – accept them. Also try to cultivate positive emotions, like gratitude. Don’t get isolated. Look after yourself: diet, exercise, sleep. Be honest about your struggles. Hmmm… these feel a bit like my abandoned resolutions.

But has the Bible anything to say? Scripture may eventually confirm much of the above advice, but as usual it takes a surprising route. Let’s listen to a pastor who had been round the block a bit:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

Pastor James wants to see his flock enabled to live steadfast – resilient – lives. So that when life knocks them back, they will keep going. An unswerving response to whatever life brings. They will face the external pressures and shocks, the trials of various kinds. Everything from our own weaknesses, to everyday inconveniences, to life-changing troubles. But for James the outcome is a mature, and maturing, perseverance. What’s the link? How do the very things that upset our resolutions and best-laid plans produce resilience?

James unveils the surprise: “the testing of your faith”. Those weaknesses, inconveniences and troubles are all a testing of faith. How true! When the pressure is on, we are put to the test. Where will we turn? Who will we trust? From where will we seek strength? What will be our help? How will we view the stress? The test reveals the answer of our hearts. And as we respond with faith in our resilient, unchanging God, then the fruit will be steadfastness, tenacity and resilience in His ways. We will feel weak in this process. But resilience is not just about making more resolutions; it’s primarily about faith. And the very things we think are knocking us off track will do the very opposite.

Recently a good friend was diagnosed with cancer. A mother of three children, her faith is being tested. I asked her what God had been saying to her in Scripture. With barely a moment’s hesitation she quoted Job 42:2:

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

And during this period of illness and treatment, through pain and uncertainty, she has continued to serve, demonstrating hope and perseverance to those around her. A faith matured through life’s ordinary trials is bearing fruit when a major test comes.

Many things can come at us to upset this year’s best laid plans. We are weak. But God is strong. We have a Saviour who for the joy set before Him endured a cross in weakness and resilience. May we resolve to respond with faith in this Jesus, growing in a true resilience that points to Him.