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Center for Action and Contemplation
Radical Resilience
Radical Resilience

Strength in Weakness and a Willingness to Change

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Richard Rohr observes how we grow spiritually through powerlessness and a willingness to change:

In Twelve Step Programs, there is no side to take. It is not a worthiness contest. There is only an absolutely necessary starting point! The experience of “powerlessness” is where we all must begin. The Twelve Steps are honest and humble enough to state this, just as Jesus himself always went where the pain was. Wherever there was human suffering, Jesus was concerned about it now, and about its healing now…. I do not really understand why God created the world this way. I do not know why “power is at its best in weakness” as Paul says, or “it is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).

Therapist Aundi Kolber writes about accepting our powerlessness as surrender and a way of “trying softer”: 

Surrender can lead us to be gentler with ourselves and others, and sometimes it enables us to ride through the waves of pain that life inevitably brings…. Paradoxically, when we choose surrender for the right reasons, it empowers us. A curious mystery comes from honoring the truth that surrender with gentleness can be its own form of strength. Our ability to hold our lives with a flexible, open posture allows God’s power to manifest in us.… When we give ourselves permission to try softer in this way … we remain attuned to our own experiences, which enables us to connect to our truest selves…. We are able to move toward integration, wholeness and peace, open to what may come. Essentially, we grow in our resiliency. [1]

Richard continues:

God seems to have hidden holiness and wholeness in a secret place where only the humble will find it. Why such a disguise? Why such a game of hide-and-seek?

I cannot pretend to understand God, but this is what I see: People who have moved from seeming success to seeming success seldom understand success at all, except a very limited version of their own. People who fail to do something right, by even their own definition of right, are those who often break through to enlightenment and compassion. It is God’s greatest surprise and God’s constant disguise, but we only know it to be true by going through it and coming out on the other side. We cannot know it just by going to church, reading Scripture, or listening to someone else talk about it, even if we agree with them.

Until we bottom out and come to the limits of our own fuel supply, there is no reason to switch to a higher-octane fuel. For that is what is happening! Why would we? We will not learn to actively draw upon a Larger Source until our usual sources are depleted and revealed as wanting. In fact, we will not even know there is a Larger Source until our own sources and resources fail us.

[1] Aundi Kolber, Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety and into a Life of Connection and Joy (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2020), 212–213.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, 10th anniv. ed. (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2011, 2021), xxiv, 3–4.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Keeping the Candle Lit (detail), New Mexico, photograph, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.

Resilience requires endurance – we keep watch to keep the candle lit.

Story from Our Community:  

I would like to share a way of praying that has spoken to me recently. When circumstances seem too overwhelming even to know how to pray, I start with one word. I settle myself and bring one word into focus. Words like: help, resilience, patience, courage, stillness, breathing, hope, serenity. Then, I sit with God and keep the word present in my mind. I hope you too can experience the centering sensation from a simple one-word prayer with God. —Coleen D.

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