Life is hard. “In this world you WILL have trouble,” Jesus said. The ability to successfully face the hardships that will inevitably come to us will determine our level of satisfaction, joy, and peace. Resilience isn’t just a desirable trait, it’s absolutely essential. And, it turns out that scripture has a lot to say about this essential quality for successful living.
There are many passages we could examine to illustrate the point, but the letter from James is one of my favorites. Eugene Peterson does a good job capturing the meaning of James 1:12-- “Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.” Patient endurance. Perseverance. Determination. Grit. All these characteristics are desired to face and overcome adversity.
When working with and ministering to severely emotionally disturbed children, instilling these characteristics is a necessity. Children who have experienced early childhood trauma, sometimes called “ACEs” or adverse childhood experiences, desperately need to know that God loves them and that they have the skills and abilities to meet their present challenges and future difficulties. It’s not enough to simply love them and teach them Bible stories. They NEED the tools to take what they are learning from Intermountain’s amazing staff so they can apply it to their lives and integrate it into their belief system. When they believe the truths we seek to impart and embrace the unconditional nature of God’s love and our care, then we know we have made a lasting difference. That is why I have purposefully shifted the ministry focus at Intermountain Residential to building resiliency in the thirty-two children under our care.
Resilience is more than simply picking yourself up after you get knocked down, it involves environmental and biological factors that are often out of our control. As Paul Tough writes in his excellent book, How Children Succeed, the science of resilience tells us “that the character strengths that matter so much to young people’s success are not innate… they are not simply a choice. They are rooted in brain chemistry, and they are molded, in measureable and predictable ways, by the environment in which children grow up.”
For over a decade, many of those involved in social work have recognized the need to focus on a child’s strengths rather than their deficits. As the Social Work Policy Institute states, effective social work with vulnerable children has shifted to a “strengths perspective,” and as a result, “increased attention was paid to personal qualities and social influence that promote or reflect health and well-being.” I love the idea of building on the strengths the children I work with already have and then structuring my lessons and instruction in chapel around those traits identified to further build resilience.
I am currently writing a curriculum that ties into the measure developed by the Resilience Research Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia (resilienceproject.org). Using their “Child and Youth Resilience Measure,” I have been interviewing the children of Intermountain for the last four months and the initial results are encouraging. Recently, two formerly fearful children looked me in the eye at their discharge and could recount the things they learned and the skills they gained while in our care. They could see the connection to their faith and how their story and God’s story were now woven together on the path to resilience, experiencing greater hope, joy, and peace.
“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. The children of Intermountain know that trouble better than most! Jesus continued, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Let us join together in God’s Kingdom work, building more resilient children, families and communities.
If this effort is something you’d be interested in knowing more about, I’d encourage you to contact me or find out more about Intermountain and Elevate Montana. The Helena Affiliate of Elevate Montana meets monthly and is an inspiring group of people serving in a number of fields and capacities throughout Helena. If we’re going to make a difference in the hearts, minds and souls of children and youth in our community, we’ll need everyone’s help in some way.
The Reverend Dr. Chris Haughee is a licensed minister of the Evangelical Covenant Church and has served as chaplain of Intermountain’s residential services since 2012. An adoptive father to two, Chaplain Chris Haughee is an advocate for greater inclusion of foster and adoptive families in the life and ministry of local congregations. He has written a curriculum for introducing churches to trauma-informed ministry practices and is currently working on a 16-week children’s ministry curriculum based on his work in building resilience in children and youth. A member of Helena’s Elevate Montana group (www.elevatemontana.org), you can follow his ministry at www.intermountainministry.org or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org