Free to Be, Resilient … or Not

God isn’t waiting for us to prove our worth.

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Over the past 70 years or so there has been a lot of talk about the resiliency of children, even through crucible experiences. And yes, there are many stories that seem to bear this out, but are we missing the negative psychological/spiritual fallout that can accompany these stories? Of course we all want our children to be able to successfully weather hard times, but if we just say “children are resilient,” does that make it so? What if, due to any number of reasons, a child just isn’t all that resilient? Do we then consider them preternaturally flawed in some way? Do we just give up on them, adopting a survival-of-the-fittest kind of approach? Or is there a better way? Resilience is a skill, not an in-born trait. It can develop in a way that makes it seem like it must have been there all along, as evidenced in certain traumatic cases, but sometimes it is something we have to develop little by little over many years, and other times, without the proper grounding (and maybe even with it), we may never get there.

We can be thankful for the cases we hear about when children somehow get through extreme situations, but should we continue to hold these children up as heroes or as models to be emulated? Or would a better response be grateful prayer that they’re okay, followed by a community effort to make sure these kids are getting what they need going forward, so the trauma response that we sometimes mistake for resilience doesn’t become part of a repeating cycle in their lives?

We can try to teach our kids to be resilient, to have “grit.” There’s nothing wrong with either of those things, but perhaps the most important thing we can do for the young people in our lives is to ground our relationships with them in love. In parental love, in neighborly love, and most of all, in the knowledge that despite anything they’re going through or have gone through, they are ultimately loved with the greatest love of all, God’s love. Hoping and praying that through this grounding, our children will feel secure and able to continue on in the face of adversity because they know their worth is not tied up in non-essential things like how resilient they are.

30 years ago, two Luther Seminary professors published a widely-used confirmation handbook for young teens based on Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, Gerhard Forde and Jim Nestingen’s Free to Be. They begin the book with a beautiful explication of The First Commandment titled, “God’s Decision,” it starts like this:

“God has made a decision about you. He hasn’t waited to find out how sincere you are, how devout or religious you might be, or how well you understand the Bible and the Catechism. He hasn’t even waited to find out if you are interested or willing to take this decision seriously. He has simply decided.

God made this decision knowing full well the kind of person you are. He knows you better than anyone else could—inside out, upside down, and backwards. He knows where you are strong and where you are weak, what you are most proud of and what you would most like to hide. Be that as it may, God’s decision is made.

He comes straight out with it: ‘I am the Lord your God.’ This is the decision: God has decided to be your God. For God wants to be as close to you as your next breath, to be the one who gives you confidence and value, to open a future to you in the freedom of the Word. God wants to be the one to whom you turn for whatever you need.”

A potential problem with making resilience the end goal is that it can be easy to forget where God is, both in the difficulties we face, and in the way we react to them. After all, God is love (1 John 4:16), and the source from which all other love flows. Even when we find ourselves in the worst of situations (whether they be of our own making or completely out of our hands), that doesn’t change. Neither does the fact that God’s “steadfast love” that “endures forever” (Psalm 136) is for us: each of us, as particular individuals. This knowledge may or may not lead to resilience in our kids. And that’s okay, as that isn’t the point. Resilience may be a desirable outcome, but it is not the thing that makes a person (of any age) matter. The dignity of human life doesn’t boil down to whether we “deserve” it, or whether all of our insecurities and flaws are the “acceptable” ones. God has already made an affirmative decision about the worth of every last one of us, just exactly as we are, resilient … or not.


Interested in learning more about Lutheran thought and theology? Check out
Faith+Lead Academy’s course, “Lutheranism: Bound & Free.”

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