Recently, I read an article in the Ensign Magazine, a publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often inadvertently called the “Mormon Church.” The article was called “Raising Resilient Children,” and it struck me in many ways. Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back after encountering a setback or obstacle. No one gets through life without facing trials, no matter how righteous he might be. Bad things do happen to good people, even people of faith. Their resilience is the result of a combination of inborn traits, training, and trust in the Lord.
The article was written by Lyle J. Burrup, and he had experience counseling young Mormon missionaries while they were in the first weeks of their missions, at a Missionary Training Center (MTC). Mormon missions are very challenging for the youth of The Church of Jesus Christ. Missionaries keep a rigorous schedule, face many daunting circumstances, and often must learn a new language and adjust to a new culture far away from home. Missionaries are young! The qualifying age to serve has just been lowered from 19 to 18 for young men, and from 21 to 19 for young women. Some of the young men might end up as leaders of congregations in places where there are few Mormons. In an age when young people are taking longer to mature, Mormon youth are stepping it up. They must learn resilience even as they increase their faith. It is hoped that this process began when they were very young.
In America, where the birth rate is declining, many people who have children have very few, maybe only one or two, and they tend to coddle them. A new philosophy wherein everyone wins is meant to protect children from feeling inferior. Children have little work to do that is very meaningful. In prior generations on the farm, if anyone neglected chores, the family faced loss of crops, livestock, income, even their lives. No one dies nowadays in America if Johnny doesn’t take out the trash. Kids can grow up lazy and entitled, having faced few real obstacles in their lives.
As children become resilient, they understand and accept these two facts. They see life as challenging and ever changing, but they believe they can cope with those challenges and changes. They view mistakes and weaknesses as opportunities to learn, and they accept that losing may precede winning.
As children develop resilience, they believe they can influence and even control outcomes in their lives through effort, imagination, knowledge, and skill. With this attitude, they focus on what they can do rather than on what is outside their control.
Another mark of resilience is to see great purpose and meaning in life and people. A sense of purpose will help our children avoid giving up, in spite of setbacks and pressure to do so. If our children are becoming more resilient, they will develop deep values that guide them: charity, virtue, integrity, honesty, work ethic, and faith in God. They will involve themselves in what is happening around them and opt for commitment to values rather than feel alienated and avoid struggle.
Living according to the true gospel of Jesus Christ fosters resilience, and it’s much easier to be faithful to Christ, to have faith in Christ, if one is resilient. Remember the parable of the sower. For our faith to sink deep and take root, it must not be wilted by the parching wind or beating sun.
The following relate both to resilience and faith:
- Perfectionism undermines resilience. We may want to be perfect out of love for God, but when He speaks of being perfect, He means becoming whole. This is a process that is meant to stretch into the eternities and depends upon the grace of Christ. God loves us when we are trying. He knows we are imperfect. He gives us weakness to encourage us to have faith in His grace.
- Children learn resilience when parents use natural consequences as discipline. Standing in the way of natural consequences does not serve children well. We all need to learn to see mistakes as opportunities to learn. The doctrine of repentance is God’s way of doing this. To repent, we need to become aware of our mistakes, desire to change, confess, make restitution if possible, forsake the sin, and return to righteous living.
- Everybody doesn’t win when we are dealing with earthly matters. We all need to learn to deal with loss by developing an eternal perspective. Losing the game, even if it’s our fault, is insignificant from that eternal perspective. We need to learn to accept our losses and move on.
- The world is a competitive place. Should we hinge our self-image on success in any worldly thing? Probably not. We might not be the best in anything, but we still can become co-heirs with Christ in eternity. An eternal perspective helps us to see everything in mortality as temporary. Loss is part of our experience here on earth. Both children and adults should be allowed to lose.
- God values our effort most of all, and parents should focus on effort, rather than achievement, as well.
- Nothing is free. For every blessing, someone pays, whether in effort, time, or money. If children learn to pay their own way, they learn to value all they have. If they see others’ sacrifice in order to provide for them, they develop reverence and respect for those who aid them.
A person who is trained to be resilient from childhood (read the article to see how parents can train children to be resilient), will have an easier time developing deep faith in God. In Hebrew, the word for faith means “trust.” Even in the face of great trial, a resilient person will keep returning to God. If this is true, it’s no wonder that in these modern times, people are becoming less religious. Laziness, entitlement, the “everybody wins” idea, cradle to grave care, are all enemies to real faith. The reality of the gospel is that “in the world we will have tribulation, but Christ has overcome the world.” (See Online Bible, John 16:33).