November 25, 2020

Resilience in a Time of Crisis

Gabor Mihalec is a Hungarian pastor, counselor, author, and family ministries director. His presentation called “Resilience in Time of Crisis” was the centrepiece of the Trans-European Division (TED) Year-End Meetings, requested specifically to give church leaders coping mechanisms in these unprecedented COVID times. Mihalec’s message was deceptively simple, just seven steps to building resilience.

Resilience can be illustrated by the story in Matthew 17, Mihalec said, where Jesus, fresh from the transfiguration, is confronted by a man with a demon-possessed son. The disciples had not been able to drive out the demon, but Jesus did. When the disciples later asked Jesus why they could not heal the boy, Jesus told them that it was because of their lack of faith. In Mark’s account of the same story, He says, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fast=ing.” “But,” said Mihalec, “where were the prayer and fasting? There is no record of this in the text.” The answer must be that Jesus had built up a “stockpile” of prayer and fasting, which then gave Him the ability to deal with the situation.

The concept of “stockpiling” is key to an understanding of resilience. It is not something that people have naturally, but it is a skill that can be learned and a resource that can be developed. It comes from the Latin root meaning to bounce back — but bouncing back is not enough. We don’t just want to recover the position we were in before; we want to move forward and improve.

These principles are particularly applicable during the COVID crisis. Studies have shown that resilient people are better at teamwork, problem solving, coping with difficult emotions, and adapting to unexpected events. They have better physical health and are generally kinder and nicer people. If this skill can be learned, we certainly need to learn it.

“Resilience is not what happens, but the way we react,” Mihalec said. Quoting Viktor E. Frankl, who survived four concentration camps, he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances; to choose one’s own way.”

Mihalec’s presentation is also the subject of his latest book, available in Hungarian in February 2021. It will also be translated into other languages. Following the extensive research that he conducted during the COVID period, his seven steps to resilience are:

  • Communication. We need to understand each other’s feelings and not put other people down.
  • Conflict resolution. We need to learn to disagree without becoming enemies. Keeping calm in these circumstances is essential — even our pets can detect our emotions!
  • Affection and intimacy. People react in different ways to stress, and if this affects your ability to be intimate, you need to discuss it with your partner. We should look for deeper needs. 
  • Financial management. Having a stockpile of savings gives you a buffer to help in difficult times. Stewardship is not just about tithe and getting people to give more; it includes teaching people how to manage their resources. 
  • Personal hygiene and order. During the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, the people who didn’t bother to keep themselves and their homes tidy found they were less able to cope with other challenges. “If something happens that you can’t control, start regaining power over your life by controlling what you can.”
  • Emotional availability. Responding to a partner’s emotional needs, showing that you care about their joys and fears, builds resilience.
  • Spirituality. A faith that is real and shared, not just a religious formality, can sustain us in a time of crisis. We need to ensure that our members are not just spectators in our services but participants. 

A lively discussion followed Mihalec’s presentation with questions such as, “What about single people?” “How can we include this in pastoral training?” “Where can we get resource materials on this subject?” and, “How can I put these principles into practice without them coming across as artificial and provocative?”

The original version of this story was posted on the Trans-European Division news site.