A Resilient Theology

By Craig Bailey

Posted in Faith

My granddaughter lent me her stress cushion. I must have looked like I needed it! It’s one of those spring back cushions – you can squeeze it, twist it, jump on it, but it will always bounce back into its original shape.

As well as being fun, it’s a great illustration of resilience – the capacity to bounce back in times of stress. If ever we collectively needed that ability, it is now. In fact the need for resilience is almost a daily occurrence. At a personal level, we are needing to cope with everyday challenges of restricted movement, future uncertainty, limited access to family members … the list goes on. For some of us, there are painful realities – grief and loss, depression, loneliness. There is often no simple remedy, no formula; no quick fix.

How we think about these things matters. More importantly, the tools we have available to us to think about these things matter.

Recently, Kirsty Bucknell, an organisational psychologist and doctoral student at Macquarie University, released some of her and her colleagues’ research on resilience.[1] As part of it they surveyed 277 ‘ministry workers’ from across Australia measuring the relationship between self-reflection, insight, ruminations, resilience and well-being.

While it is accepted that general self-reflection is helpful for well-being, and more so when it is accompanied by insight, their findings are that adaptive self-reflection is more powerful as a contributor to a person’s resilience. By adaptive self-reflection, the researchers mean the awareness that enables a person to, not only connect with the emotions one feels, but to notice the strategies one requires and to evaluate and utilise the resources required to cope. In other words, it is one thing to enter a cycle of thinking and rumination as we often do when we are under pressure. It is another thing to have the tools at hand to know how to engage them effectively towards better health and resilience.

Theology is about thinking … ruminating … turning things over in one’s mind. The apostle Paul frequently reminds us of the importance of ‘examining ourselves’ – of thinking through matters of faith.[2] Irrespective of one’s position on faith, I would dare to suggest that most people think about God and most people think about themselves in relation to God: If there is a God, what is God like? Does God love me?

As educators in theology, our task is not to persuade people to think about God. Nor is it our task to tell them what to think about God or the Bible or Jesus. Our role is to give people tools that are going to equip them to engage with matters of faith, so that when life throws up the big questions or challenges, when faith is threatened, there is a strong, robust and resilient way of thinking that will help and not hinder.

As a pastor, I have often been confronted with situations that challenged a person’s seemingly rock solid faith. Sometimes it’s a gnawing question; sometimes it’s related to death or ill-health and frequently it’s about seemingly unanswered prayer. All of us have faced such situations from a personal perspective. It is my experience that when we have been told what to think or have simply gone to places that simply reinforce what we already think, we are less equipped to deal with the challenges of life. I count myself as blessed to have a faith in Christ that has been forged through exposure to a breadth of learning and education that I feel has prepared me well (though it is never complete). And the Uniting College, along with my early university experiences, has been part of that journey for me, both as a student and lecturer.

Here at Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, our stated goal is to provide ‘high quality, accessible education for all people.’ The quality of that education will be measured largely by how well we prepare our students to engage daily and - like the stress cushion - recover frequently in a changing church and a volatile, uncertain world.

Craig Bailey is the Director of Leadership at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology – for more articles about theological education, refer to the October/November 2021 issue of ‘New Times.’

[1] Bucknell, K.J., M. Kangas, and M.F. Crane, “Adaptive self-reflection and resilience: the moderating effects of rumination on insight as a mediator” in Personality and Individual Differences 185 (2022) 111234, Elsevier Ltd, 2021.

[2] 2Corinthians 13:5; 1Corinthians 11:28

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