Spirituality of Coping

“Let’s play well the hand we have been dealt” has become my rallying cry these days. This is my mindset to the ever-evolving situation that exists today. Maya Angelou said it well, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

Building from my recent blog post Don’t Worry, Be Happy there is the topic of coping. Coping is a verb meaning to face, struggle, or deal with responsibilities, problems, or difficulties successfully or in a calm or adequate manner. Synonyms for coping are words like wrestle, strive, and persevere.

Coping beats hoping. To hope is not a strategy, but to cope is. Our current environment is changing at a pace we have never seen before. Such rapid change burns out many people who feel they can hardly handle it, can hardly cope with life. They become reactive and essentially give up, hoping that the things that happen to them will be good and that the bad things happening to others skips over them.

The key to any journey is that we own it. It is ours, so act, take charge, and work on what you can control. Wayne Dyer has the quote, “You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.” In addition, Stephen Covey discussed the circle of control as well as a larger circle of influence. There are things we cannot control, but we can influence. Influencing those areas around us is a positive way to cope.

Recently, I saw an uplifting example of playing well the hand they were dealt by the chamber choir at Chino Hills High School in Southern California. Their annual Choral Festival was cancelled due to the coronavirus. But the choir, in an awesome show of resilience, decided the show must go on. Each member of the choir recorded their a cappella portion of the song at home. Then each of their vocals were put together to create the performance in the video. It was a much-needed lift. Their positive energy is exactly what the world needs.

“It is always easier to want things to be different than they are. It is always better to make the best of whatever is. To deal well with what we have is within our control. To change what is not within our control is impossible. To let it control us is a tragic and serious mistake.” – Benedictine nun, Sister Joan Chittister.

A coping mechanism is an adjustment we make that enables us to deal with a difficult environmental stress that we cannot change or eliminate. The adaptation we make causes us to gain control over the way we feel and behave. We react to stress in the form of a thought (“I can’t handle this”). This then converts into an emotion (panic). This causes us to have a physical response (heart racing, sensation of unbearable constriction). This then converts into a behavior (drinking alcohol or sleepless nights). Coping mechanisms are strategies that interfere with any part of this flow of reactivity. We want to cope. We want to get out of the stress and the pain.

Being grateful is a coping mechanism. It enables us to savor positive experiences and cope with stressful circumstances. People feel grateful when they benefit from assistance, kindness, and support from others. Volunteering and helping those that need aid is a coping mechanism. Thinking positively and being happy is a coping mechanism. Research has found that positive, optimistic thinking can aid in coping with stress, reduce anxiety, be more resilient, be more courageous, and play a role in improving one´s health.

Having faith that your efforts will pay off and just putting one foot in front of the other is the most basic aspect of perseverance. “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.” – Walter Elliott

“I’m Still Standing” by Elton John, with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, is often seen as a statement of Elton’s resilience, an anthem based on Elton’s strong sense of survival in the face of adversity. For King & Country have a song, “It’s Not Over Yet” for those who feel that life has passed them by, or that God has forsaken them. It reminds us that our stories are not yet fully written – and to hang on!

Greater spiritual health and coping with stress have been linked in several studies. Individuals who expressed spirituality through religious beliefs will focus efforts at solving the problem and seeking out social support as a means of coping. However, too many segments of today’s society are spiritually undernourished. Materially, scientifically, and technologically we are accelerating every day, but spiritually our society remains an infant. Society will only grow in spirituality as its individual members seek this growth. With virtuous spirituality, individuals influence everyone they touch and contact in a positive way. To realize how an individual can cause this spiritual growth within a society, remember that Jesus only started with 12 followers.

Sometimes God helps us cope by removing the cause of our suffering. God freed Peter from Herod’s prison (Acts 12) and Paul from his Philippian jail (Acts 16). Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. At other times, God helps us cope by sustaining us. Rather than sparing Joseph from slavery and prison, God used his years in Egypt to save the Jewish race. Rather than transporting John from Patmos, Jesus visited his beloved disciple on his prison island and gave him the book of Revelation. In the book of Job (36:15), there is a remarkable phrase that God “saves the afflicted through their affliction.” It does not say that God delivers the afflicted “out of” their affliction, but “through” it.

Positive religious and spiritual coping strategies are frequently employed and helpful. Prayer, Scripture, attending church services, seeking the support of Priests, Pastors, and Ministers can lessen depression and anxiety. They can improve the quality of life. Scripture is alive and straight from God. Prayer is our conversation with God. Both speak directly to our hearts in the way we need. No psychologist, or marriage counselor, or newspaper advice column knows more about life than God does.

God’s got this.

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