“…I praise the LORD for what He has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?
I will fulfil my vows to You, O God,
and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for Your help.
For You have rescued me from death;
You have kept my feet from slipping.
So now I can walk in Your presence, O God,
in Your life-giving light.” Psalm 56:10-13
When I was first getting to know David’s full life story, I heard a Rabbi say that David had endured a very hard life. I have to agree. He left a life of obscurity to follow a promise from the Lord, but along the way suffered demotions, multiple assassination attempts, long-term separation from his first wife, many years in hiding fearing for his life, wars, the death of at least four of his sons, long-term serious health problems, three uprisings against his kingship, multiple persecutions because of his faith… plus all the usual popularity and approval issues, which go with being the leader of a nation.
Aside from those problems, he dealt with some of the most toxic forms of stress which are commonly considered to be killers. His sources of stress were: constant, unpredictable and uncontrollable. That he died in old age, having cleared the nation of it’s enemies and having achieved so much for the Lord, is nothing short of a providential miracle.
Or could there be more to it than that?
When the Psalms are being dissected and preached about, there is nearly always an admiring acknowledgement of David’s ability to bounce back up while appearing to be sinking. Here is another example.
“For the choir director: A psalm of David.
O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Turn and answer me, O LORD my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.
But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the LORD
because he is good to me.”
David often pushes himself from despair to hope, in a manner which has been said to appear bipolar. He isn’t bipolar in any respect. David knew how to pump up his morale and change a negative picture to a potentially positive one, by seeing the potential for the Lord to work for his good and by consciously determining to aim for a positive outcome. In some Psalms this took some time. For example, in Psalms 38 and 39 he appears disconsolate, however, in Psalm 40 that bounce appears. It’s a human, not an automatic, process.
David did this by reflecting on his past victories and by trusting the Lord, through prayer and praise. This determined action gave his circumstances new meaning. David also constantly turned to the Lord for direction, comfort and grounding and despite persecution from his own people over his unrelenting faith in God, he publicly praised the Lord and pointed the hearts of the people towards Him. David is inspirational.
As psychology has grown, researchers have spent more and more time looking at the positive aspects of human behaviour, rather than staying focussed on what can go wrong. Their findings help explain why David was able to keep his head above water, despite the forces that worked against him. In 2006 Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun studied post traumatic growth, which is exactly what David experienced many times. This growth results in a positive attribute termed resilience.
Resilience is is when you fall down, but get up, and are able to do that repeatedly, becoming stronger each time you arise. It means expecting positive outcomes, despite the risks and stresses that come your way. It involves an ability to adapt when you just have to make the best of a tough situation and clinging onto your purpose in life.
Tedeschi and Calhoun’s work beautifully describes how resilience is enabled. While at first people may show high stress signs and be depressed or overwhelmed by what they have been through, in time they can grow to come through with:
– “Increased perception of competence and self-reliance.
– Enhanced acceptance of one’s vulnerability and negative emotional experiences.
– Improved relationships with significant others.
– Increased compassion and empathy for others.
– Greater efforts directed at improving relationships.
– Increased appreciation of own existence.
– Greater appreciation for life.
– Positive changes in one’s priorities.
– Stronger religious/spiritual beliefs.
– Greater personal intimacy with God.
– Greater sense of control and security through belief in God.
– Greater meaning about life and suffering through religion.”
If David was writing this, I am sure that he would emphasise the last four points, as he repeatedly did in the Psalms. It was faith that gave him the greatest lift; however, his own personality traits of perseverance, willingness to take action, empathy, teachability and bravery, also had an important impact on his resilience. The Lord moulds us like a potter moulds clay, but the process works better if the quality of the clay is good.
To be resilient, David also needed supportive people around him such as Samuel, Nathan, Hushai the Archite and Jonathan; and resilient role models. His mother is mentioned as a role model in Psalms 116:16: “Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains;” and 86:16.
How David dealt with his mistakes was also a major factor in determining his success. A positive attitude to mistakes has been found to enable people to make better choices in the future, which in turn increases their overall happiness and ability to function in life. Belting yourself up with guilt only sends you backwards. David responded to corrections by Abigail and Nathan and was always able to get back up on his feet, no matter what hardship or grief hit him. [Refs. 1 Samuel 25 and 2 Samuel 12]
If you feel you are low on resilience, take heart. According to the research, resilience can be taught and role modelled. Studying David’s life has certainly helped boost my resilience. I am inspired by his courage, gently rebuked by his righteous responses to stressful situations and comforted by his trust in the Lord. He is a blessing that has never stopped giving.
– Post Traumatic Growth: http://www.posttraumaticgrowth.com
– Post Traumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence: Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun http://data.psych.udel.edu/abelcher/Shared%20Documents/3%20Psychopathology%20(27)/Tedeschi,%20Calhoun,%202004.pdf
– Resilience Videos on TED Talks: Search via https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=resilience+ted or enter “resilience TED” into search box.
– Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGyVTAoXEU
– Firdaus Dhabhar: The positive effects of stress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsc83N-Q1q4
– Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004, 2007.
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