I hope you're well. I've spent the better part of two decades learning about God's nature and intelligent design of His creation through scientific research. Researchers, such as Kenneth Pargament, have shown that religiosity and spirituality can inhibit resilience as much as help it; consequently, it depends on how you experience your faith in determining its aid when you are facing life's difficulties. In my research, I've found two variables predict the positive impact of one's faith on resilience: sense of coherence and psychological acceptance.
Sense of coherence (SOC) is one's cognitive appraisal of a situation in terms of its manageability, meaningfulness and comprehensibility. As you face adversity in your ministry, resilience is fostered by focusing on the worthiness of your investment in the struggle. You can also be sure that the situation is manageable – the Lord who works in you and through you has all the resources necessary to tackle the situation. It's also helpful to rely on others to assist you to comprehend the situation fully and to marshal resources for its resolution. In short, heed Jethro's advice to Moses (Exodus 18).
A growing body of research shows that avoidance of things we don't want to experience and feel tends to do three things when avoidance is impossible. First, they make us think about them more (tell someone not to think about bananas and then ask them what they're thinking of…). Second, they also cause us to avoid the things associated with them that we might like – pastors know plenty of people who avoid love and cherishing because they want to avoid hurt and risk. Third, avoidance limits choices of behavior to preservation.
One way to increase psychological acceptance when facing adversity is mindfulness. Mindfulness involves the acknowledgement of thoughts and feelings one experiences in the moment without judging them as good or bad. Sometimes, it's helpful to just be present with my emotions. If I don't have to judge them, I don't have to avoid them. If I don't have to avoid them, I'm free to not impulsively react to my feelings in addressing my situation; instead, I'm liberated to engage in value-based action that is indicative of who I am as the Imago Dei.
One way to increase one's mindfulness is to engage in meditative prayer. If you're interested in learning how to use Christian Devotional Meditation, see my blog post here. If you're interested in a short set of videos on my research on Christian Devotional Meditation's benefit in decreasing anxiety, click here .
If you're struggling with anxiety, anger, depression or other distress, please seek professional help! Increased SOC and acceptance improves your mental and physical health. In turn, improved health and wellness allows you to serve God more effectively. If I can be of help, feel free to contact me at (903) 923-2095 or gnissley [at] etbu.edu. Additionally, I offer face-to-face and telehealth services through the Texas Baptist Counseling Network. For more information on the Counseling Network, please contact Katie Swafford at katie.swafford [at] texasbaptists.org.
Peace be with you!
Dr. Gerald Nissley
Dr. Nissley is the Program Director of the Master of Arts in Counseling, Assistant Professor of Psychology and a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at East Texas Baptist University.