Like it did for the disciples, previous and ongoing trauma—such as emotional, sexual, physical, or relational abuse, neglect, injury, financial hardship, or racism—affects our mental health. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration explains that trauma can "evoke two emotional extremes: feeling either too much (overwhelmed) or too little (numb) emotion." Symptoms include “exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, physical arousal, blunted affect, flashbacks, and avoidance of emotions, sensations, or activities that are associated with the trauma, even remotely."
Some of us remain in denial of the trauma we have experienced and carry unhealed hurt, which leads to resignation, hopelessness, and despair. But when we choose to courageously face the challenges and address our pain, we heal and build resilience.
We can experience growth and resilience in some areas of our lives, while struggling to do so in others. Neither healing nor resilience grow linearly. Instead, we cycle in and out. We may become weary and wonder if healing will ever occur. But we should extend grace and be patient with ourselves because, as we cycle, healing is happening incrementally.
Regardless of the trauma or hardship we’ve endured, what matters most is that we address it. The disciple Peter, who denied knowing Jesus after he was arrested (John 18), felt enormous grief and guilt because of his actions. Later, the resurrected Jesus guided Peter through a process of forgiveness and restoration when he asked Peter three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Each time after Peter answered affirmatively, Jesus responded, “Feed my sheep.” Peter knew he was forgiven and received a new calling from Jesus (John 21:15-17). This exchange helped build resilience in Peter that he would need for his future life of ministry.
Though it can be hard to face what happened, every challenge has a seed of strength that lies dormant or unrecognized. When we are ready and take even small steps toward facing the challenge, we grow. Then we start to discover new life emerging from past pain. We find strength in what God has done and is doing now.
One way to build resilience is through holistic soul care practices that prioritize our emotional, relational, physical, vocational, and spiritual health. These soul care practices are therapeutic and may be practiced on your own or in community. You can engage in these practices on an ongoing basis, not only when something difficult or painful has occurred.
Here are some practical soul care activities to incorporate into your regular rhythms:
Neither healing nor resilience grow linearly. Instead, we cycle in and out. Engage in listening prayer. Listening prayer is listening with the belief that the Lord speaks all the time through his Word, pictures, the words of others, and memories. Listening prayers can help you identify how you’re struggling. It can be how the Holy Spirit brings correction, emotional healing, peace, and comfort. Throughout the Bible, people received a new name that reflected who they really were (Gen. 17:5; John 1:42). We can also listen in prayer for our new name or a word of encouragement.
Engage in listening prayer. Listening prayer is listening with the belief that the Lord speaks all the time through his Word, pictures, the words of others, and memories. Listening prayers can help you identify how you’re struggling. It can be how the Holy Spirit brings correction, emotional healing, peace, and comfort. Throughout the Bible, people received a new name that reflected who they really were (Gen. 17:5; John 1:42). We can also listen in prayer for our new name or a word of encouragement.
Bring your thoughts to God. In Philippians 4:8, Paul wrote that "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." As we listen and are attentive to our story's pain and beauty, our thought life transforms. So, we "take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). We can take those nagging thoughts and ask the Lord what he thinks, or for any insight we need to know.
Though it can be hard to face what happened, every challenge has a seed of strength that lies dormant or unrecognized. Rely on relationships. Jesus’s disciples grew in resilience even as they grieved his death—but they did not do so alone. Through church, support groups, and online or in-person friendships, the support of others helps build our resilience. So does seeing a therapist, journaling, and expressing ourselves through art. These connections remind us that we are stronger and not as alone as we thought. Others can hope for us and help us dream again.
Care for your body. Practicing relaxation techniques releases energy, tension, and stress. Our mental and emotional health can become compromised if we are not eating, sleeping, or exercising. So, walk, dance, stretch, take a nap, and remember to breathe. The word sabbath means to stop, take pause, and be at rest. The Old Testament command to rest is for our benefit. Resting is a revolutionary act, as we surrender our lives solely to the Lord's care. You can also ask Jesus for help in breath prayers: Slowly breathe in encouragements, such as "Jesus, your love is perfect," and then exhale what needs to be released—fear, anxiety, stress, and more.
Express gratitude. Resilience offers strength to continue to heal emotionally and pursue justice for others.Remembering the highs and lows of our journey is crucial. There is much to be thankful for, even during tough times. The Apostle Paul writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). We can be grateful for minor and major things, and we can bless others by sharing our reflections.
Remember to play. Do not deny the hardships, but don't forget to focus on beauty, love, joy, and laughter. Many of us need to enjoy ourselves in the healthy and fun ways that children do. Expressive art and music, or playing board games or video games, can engage us creatively and allow us to connect with God's playful presence. We can connect with others and our environment without the pressure to impress or perform.
Practice prayerful activism. As we become more resilient, we can better “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). The prophet Isaiah calls us to “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:17)." As we advocate for others, we declare that we trust God to take care of us, and out of his abundance, we have more than enough to bless others. Resilience offers strength to continue to heal emotionally and pursue justice for others.
At some point, we each will likely face challenges too great for us to bear alone. Therefore, it’s important to begin prioritizing your mental health. With each small positive step, you are slowly healing and building your resilience. You have the promise that, along the way, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26). And as you are gentle, compassionate, and caring toward yourself, your resilience will grow and your love for God, family, friends, and neighbors will deepen.