Looking back on the last several months, I’m sure most of us have been dealt our fair share of challenges. Losing our daily routines is enough to throw most of us off. But what has been surprising to me, is just how resilient people can be.
Southeast’s retired Senior Minister Bob Russell used to say, “People overestimate their ability to handle temptation and underestimate their ability to overcome adversity.”
I believe this is true. So much of how we handle adversity has to do with our mindset and attitude. It’s not that we don’t have real adversity or suffering, it’s that we often process it in ways that exponentially increase our pain.
In digital terms, it’s not the information or the facts of the matter that create so much suffering. It is how we download the adversity that causes us to sink or swim.
I’ve been reading “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” by psychotherapist Amy Morin. Morin has a heart-rending story. At 23, she lost her best friend—her mother—to a sudden brain aneurism.
To make matters worse, it happened the same weekend she got married. Morin had no idea how she would navigate through such grief. But she did, only to get hit with a second round of trauma three years later when her husband died of a sudden heart attack.
They were going to a basketball game to celebrate their three-year wedding anniversary when he started experiencing back pains. They got so intense they had to rush him to the ER.
He never made it back home.
Out of those experiences, and some others I won’t go into, Morin decided to study people who were mentally strong. Mentally strong doesn’t mean stoic. Mentally strong means they are mentally and emotionally resilient—what the Bible refers to as perseverant (James 1:2-4).
She wanted to know what helped certain people move through pain and suffering in a way that met their trials head on, and then moved forward with their lives. She came up with some mental habits to avoid if you want to be able to persevere.
While I don’t have the space to go into all of them, I will highlight a few that I find imperative.
Don’t indulge self-pity
The first mental habit to avoid is self-pity. People who persevere don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves. Doesn’t self-pity feel so good though? Of course it does, or we wouldn’t feel tempted to indulge in it.
The only problem is that it is temporary and self-destructive. It’s like a drug. It feels good at first, but self-pity leads to living a pitiful life. People who struggle with self-pity find themselves consumed with whether or not they’ve been dealt a fair hand or they become preoccupied with whether or not they are being mistreated.
Its breeding ground is comparison. It’s a vicious trap I believe the enemy uses to ensnare us. However, I am confident God wants us to live free from it and develop character that produces hope (Romans 5:3-4).
Don’t give away your power
Another mental habit to break in order to persevere is giving away our power. Ultimately, God is in complete control. He alone is sovereign. However, He gives each one of us personhood, which entails making choices and exercising the power He has allotted us.
Proverbs 4:23 advises, “Guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
That means we have to exercise the power God has given us in a way that shields us from toxic attitudes, situations and people. I am convinced that if we utilized the power God has given us this way, we would be able to overcome the inevitable difficulties in life in a much healthier way.
Don’t try to please everyone
Lastly, people who are resilient don’t spend their energy trying to please everyone. It is easy to get caught up in seeking approval from others. We want everyone to be happy and get along, and we want everyone to like us. None of those things are bad in and of themselves. The hazard comes when we can’t move forward unless everyone is happy, peaceful and approving of us.
It is an unrealistic expectation to think everyone is going to accept and embrace us at every turn. The direction we are to take as followers of Christ is to live to please Him, and live in peace with others as much as it concerns us. We are under no obligation to continue to put ourselves out there emotionally, just to get trampled on over and over again. Keep moving forward!
I know these tips on perseverance are challenging. That is why it is called perseverance. Never give up practicing and exercising the power that God has given us in order to overcome. He will give us the grace upon grace we need as we continue to face life’s difficulties. And we know that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
This is a hope that does not put us to shame.
Nathan Thompson leads Southeast Christian Church’s Family and Marriage Ministry.