Embracing Spiritual Resilience
Recently I gave a keynote speech to a group of 650 first responders of Ventura County at the Master the Disaster Annual Conference. It was an honor to get to speak to this amazing group of individuals who give so much of themselves to serve the community every day. This tight knit community has been through quite a lot this past year between the Woolsey fire and the Borderline bar shooting. And all had gathered on this beautiful spring Wednesday to spend a little time with their community, to reflect on the year's achievements, and to receive some social nourishment and food for thought before returning to their high-pressured jobs the following day.
Unsurprisingly, this group of highly accomplished problem solvers tended to deemphasize or even neglect caring for themselves. When I asked why self-care goes out the window, I got a variety of answers including "there's no time," "I feel guilty focusing on myself when others are in need," and "I don't know what self-care looks like." I also heard over and over again that people found it difficult to identify with techniques that truly helped to restore them. So many had all but given up and wrote off self-care as some new-age luxury item rather than something that is essential for their mental and physical health.
When I sat down to write my speech for this event, I knew I wanted to contribute something that would be helpful to this community. My pre-interviews with key staff members suggested that they might benefit from being encouraged to develop time for self-reflection and moments in their busy days to breathe, take things in, and focus on what brings them deep meaning. Given their demanding lives, my thought was to help them get to the low-hanging fruit and to take the path of least resistance. So, my talk focused on helping them to develop "burnout busters" for their personality type. I spoke about playing to one's innate strengths especially when one is running on empty. I harped on the importance of refueling one's tank so that they can continue to serve with passion and purpose. I gave an example of traditional meditation practice and how that just does not work for me no matter how hard I tried. When I tried to meditate because of all of the research proven benefits, it just stressed me out more! The more I tried to focus on the meditation method, the more I became distracted. I found myself making to-do lists in my head and judging myself for how bad I was at meditation. But when I finally threw up my hands and decided I wasn't going to keep trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, it allowed me to go outside the box a bit and shift focus. I recognized that perhaps traditional meditation didn't really work for who I was, so I came to adopt different versions of mindfulness that brought me gratification and gave me a space to appreciate the present moment such as mindful exercise and mindful cleaning.
Personality can be thought of as the combination of enduring qualities that form an individual's distinctive character. Since we are all unique created lovingly by God, each of us have different needs, desires, likes, and dislikes. Personality types determine, in part, who you choose to spend time with, how you undertake challenges that come your way, and direct the ways in which you like to work, play, and pray. As a clinical psychologist, I have always been deeply interested in how personality interacts with environment in one's development throughout the lifespan. And I believe it has a place and important influence in the trajectory of our spiritual growth.
Apparently, others have given this idea some thought as well. Yesterday, I sat down with a dear friend and priest at my parish to discuss a homily he gave just a couple of weeks ago which incorporated the idea of personality types and its interactions with spiritual reflection and action. As a clinical psychologist interested in personality theory, his homily definitely caught my attention as I reflected on how it applied to the week's readings. When I arrived home, I did a quick search online for personality and spirituality, and it revealed that other Christian bloggers and spiritual leaders have provided suggestions on how to approach one's spiritual life based on personality typology. Some have even conducted a thought experiment about what Jesus' personality type would be.
When I consider the idea of spiritual growth for one's personality type, I can see some practical applications. Much like my talk about burnout busters for one's personality type, it may be a way to not go against the grain, go with what feels natural, and take the smoother road to spiritual activity. But, is it possible that you can then get into a kind of spiritual rut where you aren't working to challenge yourself beyond what is simply comfortable for you? Perhaps you are the go-getter, goal-oriented type – and you choose to read short snippets of Bible verses daily as a way to deepen your faith. At first, you feel accomplished (checked off on the to-do list!), but over time, is this practice teaching you something new? Strengthening your faith at a foundational level? Causing you to ask important questions that deepen your reflection about God and His works? If you are honest with yourself, maybe the answer is no. It's not that activities that feel easy, natural, or inherently satisfying to you shouldn't be part of your spiritual repertoire - they certainly can have an important and helpful place. But, our human brains acclimate quickly to repeated stimuli, and can begin to interpret similar stimuli as mundane and inconsequential. And nothing about our relationship with God is ordinary. This beautiful, life-sustaining bond deserves proper nurturance and attention. It deserves our dedicated efforts and a seeking of nuance and novelty, because there is always something new to discover.
So perhaps when it comes to spiritual development, we shouldn't always look for the smoothest path. We shouldn't just develop the ways that are congruent with our personality type. Instead, we might strive to switch it up, continuing to challenge ourselves to find new ways to engage in dialogue with Jesus, to discover novel ways to reflect on his teachings, and to find fresh ways to serve his people and do his work on earth. This might require you extending yourself to the uncomfortable and to reach outside of the cozy confines of your longstanding preferences. And it is precisely in these uncomfortable times, when we find ourselves feeling awkward and without a script, that God refines us, makes us dependent on him, and nurtures our weaknesses.
There are many ways to step out of your comfort zone. This might mean proclaiming your love for Jesus out loud to a person who hasn't known or acknowledged him. It might mean going to a new parish community or jumping into lay ministry. It might mean that you invite a neighbor over for dinner or spend quality time with a co-worker who has been struggling lately. It might mean letting God be the true leader in your life – allowing God to give you the instructions he has for the next phase in your life. God wants you to work with him in bold new ways and wants you to be part of the process.
With that in mind, I am going to carve out a period of open reflection tomorrow. I will not be scheduling a beginning or end time, which I anticipate will be a little bit of a shock to me since my default is to schedule everything in advance down to the minute. I won't have a preset agenda and no goals (like read 5 pages of the Bible). And I'm just going to see what comes in that stillness which I hardly ever create for myself. It will likely make me feel like a fish out of water, and I can't wait to see what I might learn.
How will you go against the grain and bust out of the rut this week to further your own spiritual development?
|Dr. Judy Ho is a Licensed and Triple Board-Certified Clinical, Forensic, and Neuropsychologist,
with a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She specializes in comprehensive psychological
testing and evidence-based treatments. She is a tenured Associate Professor of Psychology
at Pepperdine University, where she houses an active research program, and maintains
a private practice in Manhattan Beach, CA.
Dr. Judy received her B.A. and B.S. degrees from UC Berkeley, M.S. and Ph.D. from San Diego State and UCSD Joint Doctoral Program. She completed an NIMH sponsored postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA Semel Institute.