Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
There are many unexpected and sudden difficult challenges that individuals have to face in modern life Many of these may be considered life-changing experiences. Such events may include, for example, abrupt acute-chronic illness, accidental injury, serious financial adversity, sudden unemployment and/or loss of home, severe family-marriage difficulties. Strong dysfunctional emotions such as anger, anxiety depression and a profound sense of dread are often common reactions.
Developing a healthy psycho-spiritual management resilience and hardiness strategies are helpful when coping with such catastrophes. Resilience is a psychological process of adaptation in the face of obstacles, trauma, tragedy and stress that is related to good emotional, physical and spiritual health.
One of the resilience strategies favored by scientific cognitive clinical psychologists is the unconditional acceptance of self, others, and the vicissitudes of life. Two essential cognitive shifts are involved in this process. First, framing choices as preferences by using phrases such as "would like,” rather than considering choices as demands by using words that imply “must,” and second, evaluating realistically, that is, seeing the untoward events as less than 100% bad, instead of consistently over-evaluating by labeling them "terrible, awful or the end of the world, more than 100%." Nothing, after all, can be more than 100%.
Looking at Old Testament Sacred Scripture, Esta Mirani asks: "could we understand Exodus as God taking the Jewish People on a journey from weak to strong, from downtrodden to resilient?" She goes on to conclude: "a deeper reading of Exodus is that God guides us on developing personal strength and resiliency. We can persist and overcome adversity and oppression, and achieve security and a sense of well-being.
A great spiritual lesson in resilience can be learned from Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite Woman as described by St. Matthew (15: 21-28). The Canaanite woman came to Jesus crying, "Have pity upon me Son of David!" She wanted a cure for her possessed daughter. It is the only occasion on which Jesus was ever outside of Jewish territory, in the land of Tyre and Sidon north of Galilee where the hated Phoenicians, the enemies of the Jews, lived. At first, Jesus ignored her. But this did not stop her. She acknowledged Him as "Son of David." She was persistent and did not let obstacles - the insults of others - stop her.
Our Eastern Church Father St. John Chrysostom asked, "Was she silent and did she desist? By no means, she was even more insistent." St. John Chrysostom pointed out that Jesus knew she would say this. Jesus, he said, wanted to "exhibit her high self- command." (Homily LII, on St. Matthew XV).
This ‘high self-command” means that she is tough and resilient, and takes responsibility to overcome barriers; one characteristic of resilience and hardiness is taking decisive action. Like her, we have to start by making a choice, even against all odds. We have to be committed despite all who mock us and to stay loving in the face of those who reject our love or even hate us. Grace is a gift of God, but we must cooperate with it. "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full," (John 15:11).
To follow the Canaanite woman's lead we, too, must be committed to God with all our heart, must be realistically persistent, tenacious, stubborn, undiscourageable and joyful. If we do this, we will prepare ourselves to survive catastrophe by wearing the armor of resilience.
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
He is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.
Fr. Morelli is also Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
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