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Thriving in Challenging Times

May 27 2020

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For the first time all of humanity is facing the same thing at the same time. Yet all of us are responding uniquely to the changes and challenges that face us.

This pandemic is open-ended, and we don’t know what’s coming a little way down the road let alone how it will end. For many of us, it’s largely the unknown that’s fuelling the anxiety we may be feeling. As emotional beings we are dealing with uncertainty; as social beings we are feeling the loss of human contact; and as spiritual beings some of us will be grappling with questions about life and death. Here in Australia, we have the cumulative effect of drought, bushfire trauma, coronavirus fears, and now feelings of isolation and grief (not to mention our individual struggles and broken relationships). Additionally, our fast-paced life has slowed, leaving room for all sorts of emotions, thoughts, memories and reactions to surface.

So, what might it look like to thrive in this season? Here are SIX thoughts to live well in this season, to maintain our wellbeing so we can not only persevere but offer hope and support to others.

1. EVERYTHING has changed, and NOTHING has changed

It’s human tendency to want to put things into one basket (black or white), but it’s both – everything has changed, and nothing has changed! This ambiguity can lead to complicated feelings. When we are overwhelmed by stress, we can alternate between feeling totally overwhelmed or acting as if nothing is happening, which can leave us struggling to cope. We need to be okay with both – okay with holding the ambivalence.  Change is an essential component of life, but sometimes we are not ready for a sudden change. It takes courage to learn to be flexible and walk amidst uncertainty during these times.

2. Grieve the losses

World expert in grief, David Kessler, says it’s important to acknowledge and process the grief you may be feeling. Don’t minimise your grief because others are worse off or shame yourself because of what your feeling. Everyone is experiencing grief of some kind in this season.

Grieve the losses – whether that be the loss of a child’s sport, cancelled holidays, reduced human touch, missing the joy of hospitality, precious time with grandkids, companionship, personal space or the devastating death of a loved one. We can only love others as we love ourselves: if we can’t grieve our own losses, we will not be able to empathise with others who are struggling. How are you being kind to your heart and managing and processing the griefs of this season?

In order to grieve well, we also need to find meaning in the loss. Victor Frankl, concentration camp survivor, said people who find meaning in their day-to-day lives are the ones who survive overwhelming circumstances. Ask yourself – what meaning can I find in the midst of this crisis?

3. Anticipate and plan

Modern-day resilience studies show that merely being optimistic about the future is actually an impediment to success. If we are to endure and even thrive in challenging seasons, we must consider the likely obstacles ahead and plan for them.

We’ve already learnt how to overcome some of the current obstacles: we can wash our hands, keep a safe distance, learn how to work remotely; and whilst the future is unknown, we can anticipate and practice how we might overcome future challenges. This means having a clear view of the likely obstacles ahead of us so we can anticipate and plan how we may rise above them.

4. Problems present possibilities

It is counter-cultural to say that suffering might cultivate something good. Our western culture seeks comfort, pleasure and instant gratification. But if we recall the challenging times in our lives, these were often the places where we experienced growth and change. This is not to undermine the devastating effects caused by a relationship breakdown, losing a loved one, financial stress, business failure and unemployment which are very real and hard to endure.  The posture towards the problems in our lives, largely determines whether we will mature or remain unchanged. As scripture in Romans 5:3-5 affirms “Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.” A framework for hard times considers the possibility that suffering might strengthen our character, and even deepen our hope in something beyond ourselves.

Whilst we cannot change our circumstances, we can explore the internal patterns that may be triggered during this crisis and seek to co-author our stories with God. Science proves we can change and create new patterns. Neuroplasticity refers to the brains ability to change throughout life. The human brain has an amazing ability to change through laying down new neural pathways or patterns. So, ask yourself:

  • What internal patterns are being revealed in this crisis?
  • What daily habits can I implement that can create the possibility for lasting change?

5. Other focus

What’s the larger story we are living for? How can we live this season for someone beyond ourselves? Social psychology research consistently shows that intentional acts of daily kindness actually make us happier.

  • Who do you want to be in the midst of this crisis?
  • What values do you hold that you want to live out of in this season? AND Live your daily habits out of these values.
  • How can I be generous with my resources: time, pantry, toilet paper, emotional resources?

Generally speaking, people who live from an ‘other focus’ have a greater sense of purpose and general wellbeing.

6. Our focus determines our reality

What we focus on largely determines how we experience the world around us and what we become. Interpretation is powerful and affects how we view the world around us. So how are you interpreting this season? DON’T engage in speculation, catastrophic fears, threat of scarcity, victim mentality or blame. But DO be self-aware and intentional.

What is the story you are telling yourself?

Ask yourself:

  • What is being formed in me during this time?
  • What has been exposed in my life during this crisis?
  • How do I want to be on the other side of this?
  • What habits, beliefs and patterns are best left in past?

Additionally, we can focus on having a thankful spirit. We can be thankful for the technology that allows us to still connect, for the beautiful weather, the beauty around us, the free resources offered by so many organisations in this season, and the opportunity to exercise outside.

Social psychology research has also found that writing down three things you are grateful for every day can increase your happiness by 25%.  So why not celebrate the unique opportunities that present for you in this season: making family bonding fun and creative, time as a couple to actively work on relationship goals, or to simply read a good book and catch up on your favourite shows!

Considering these thoughts will help you to live well in this season. That is, for us all to aspire to live from a place where we are more integrated, whole, able to be innovative and positively impact the lives of others around us.


Vanessa Ong

Hillsong CityCare Counsellor