Sunday Message: October 24, 2021 – Hope and Resilience – Romans 5: 1-5

What to say about hope and resilience?
Well, first of all, I voice a big thank-you to Sandy McCaig, for outlining repeated instances in her life and the life of her family, when hope was elusive – and then hope was found again, and hope found a partner named resilience. I trust that Sandy’s exploration of her experience with hope and resilience might be an encouragement for us to set aside some time to recall how these qualities have worked in our life’s story.

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While I have not found any place in the Bible where the words resilience or resilient are used – or I should say, a Greek or Hebrew word that would get directly translated into these English words – that’s not to say that we don’t see resilience in sacred text. Qualities of endurance, perseverance and pressing onward keep showing up, from the story of Job to the endurance of Paul and the earliest Christian Apostles. In our reading today from the 5th chapter of Romans (5:3-4) that same Apostle, Paul, writes from his experience in his linear/sequential way: “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” While I would tend to pull back from his statement that we “glory” in our sufferings, I must acknowledge that some of the most important and enduring learnings in my life have been incubated in the bleakest times, and that emergence from long times of suffering or hard challenge has been intrinsically connected to hope. The kind of hope that shows its own resilience in hard times has taught me to believe that I am loved – to recognize that I am not alone, either personally or spiritually – to approach life as a holy gift – and to trust that the sun will come up in the morning, giving me a new day to move toward healing and wholeness and creative discovery.
But what about resilience, “our ability to withstand life’s challenges and bounce back”? How do we hang in there long enough for us to start seeing signs of hope? I want to be very clear that resilience isn’t one of those guilt-producing “should” things in life. Some may be hard-wired for resilience, and some grew up in households with a “never say die” attitude, but for the most part “resilience is not a fixed trait that you do or don’t have; it is a skill that you grow and work on”. And, once again, I thank Sandy for introducing me to the work of the Mayo Clinic’s Dr Amit Sood, which I directly reference here [unless otherwise noted, all quotes listed here are from him].
While each of the following points could turn into its own sermon – and who knows, maybe they will? – I want to briefly state the nine characteristics of resilience, as presented by Dr Sood. As with any such list, it’s not a magic formula for success, but rather some skills and qualities that have been found to be beneficial in their desire to have greater resilience:
1. Composure
“To be more resilient, stop, recognize the disruption, and take a minute to think about how you want to respond. [and] opt for solutions that represent your values and protect your interests”.
2. Patience
Patience ties in with active listening. “Giving others our full attention when they’re speaking, delaying judgment, and letting others complete their thoughts uninterrupted makes us better listeners — and therefore more resilient”. Recognizing one’s patterns and triggers of impatience goes a long way, too.
3. Optimism
As Sandy mentioned in her presentation, Resilience and Hope – or hopefulness, or optimism – are great partners. Choosing a hopeful or optimistic framework for one’s day, perhaps even developing some sort of mindful/spiritual practice to start the day can boost one’s resilience. Noticing when realism is sliding into pessimism or defeatist thinking, and stopping and re-setting, is another approach toward an optimism that can undergird resilience.
4. Gratitude
Immediately after this message, we will hear a couple of messages of gratitude, from Jeff and Trish, and I thank them and the PledgeFest team for that. If gratitude is something that does not come easily for you, start small: “Be thankful for something simple, like a deep breath, a glass of water, a creative insight, a smile, a hug, or something that arrives on time”.
5. Acceptance
What comes to mind here, are the opening words of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. In a time when there are so many things beyond our control, a willingness to roll with the bad and the good is a tremendous asset.
6. Kindness
Kindness is very much a two-way street: as we choose kind responses to others, we are likely to have more kindness toward ourselves; and as we are kind toward ourselves, and pay attention to how that feels, we may be more patient and accepting in our approach to others… which further bolsters our resilience.
7. Sense of Purpose
Many of us, I think, have found that our sense of purpose – as individuals and, yes, as a Church – has needed to be re-shaped at a time when it is not possible to have all the kinds of person-to-person connections we are accustomed to. And yet it remains true, that in whatever form it takes, a sense of broader engagement with the needs of the world and/or participation in addressing a cause that is aligned with Christ’s call to love and inclusion, will help us to address the needs of the day with greater resilience.
8. Forgiveness
This is one of the core teachings of Jesus, and really easy to misrepresent, yet we forge ahead. Especially when we are isolated from one another, it is easy for old hurts to grow well beyond their original size. When choosing how to approach these, we are presented with a choice: we can “fester the…hurt or find healing. Forgiveness [ – while maintaining safe boundaries – ] decreases the load of your hurts, which frees up your brain to focus on the things that make your life meaningful and bring you joy”.
9. Connection
It’s tempting to move this one into the ‘well, maybe when COVID is done with us’ category, but there are so many ways to cultivate connection. Early in the pandemic I recall phone calls with parishioners who I thought might be prone to isolation and loneliness and to the contrary, they’d figured out so many work-arounds that they needed an eighth day in the week to fit everything in. Finding or reclaiming connections, and the means to boost those even now, supports us in whatever we are facing. And that support, is a core foundation of resilience.
As I mentioned earlier, I do not expect any of this to be a magic solution to our desire for hope and resilience in our lives… but if you do find that any of these points might be useful to revisit, bookmark this week’s service and watch it again, or go to to print off the PDF of this message for future reference.
Hope and Resilience are not just human constructs, designed to dodge reality or buckle under to factors that we could be changing. They are helpful, forward-moving aspects not only of human life, but of God’s over-arching intention that we move toward fruitfulness, fairness and justice, joy, and wholeness. As we gradually come to find hope and resilience we will likely get a sense of finding ourselves – and perhaps even finding or being found by that foundational presence we call God. May that process of finding and being found, be yours this day. In the spirit of resilience and hope, Amen.
References cited:
McCaig, Sandy.
Niebuhr, Reinhold. “Serenity Prayer”.
Sood, Amit. and

For further reading:
Graham, Linda.
Schrobsdorff, Susanna.
© 2021 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church,
and the source authors Amit Sood and Sandy McCaig.