I recently attended the ELCA's (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Northeastern Iowa Synod Assembly as a delegate for my church in Decorah. I was privileged to be joined by my daughter, who served as a youth delegate from our church and assisting minister for the Sunday morning worship service.
Such gatherings are important in the life of the church and provide a means for congregations to gather and meet one another as they engage in a weekend of worship, learning, and decision making. The Northeast Iowa Synod has three ELCA institutions of higher education located within its boundaries, including Luther, which hosted the assembly.
Our student congregation president, Menzi Nkambule, and vice president, Alex Aakre, were involved in the opening worship on Friday evening. Our campus pastors, Mike Blair and Anne Edison-Albright, were also highly involved throughout the weekend. Luther music faculty member Brad Schultz was the organist for the weekend, and Luther faculty, staff, and alumni were well represented in the delegations of other local ELCA churches.
On Saturday several educational opportunities were available, and one of the sessions I attended has profound relevance to the work I do at Luther. We talk often about resilience in the campus community and how essential it is for all of us, including students, to develop. The life of a college student is one of challenges and opportunities, successes and setbacks, celebrations and disappointments. How students are able to respond to those moments when something did not go as planned, when they were disappointed, or when they simply were not ready for what they faced is a key developmental task they confront.
I recognize students are not all equally equipped to confront such challenges, and indeed, some had the need to develop such skills prior to their arrival at Luther. For others, this may be the first time they may need to navigate such experiences while away from home. The good news is that such skills can be learned. With that in mind, I want to share some of the teachings from that important session I attended.
The session leader drew on her work from the recent Sheryl Sandberg book, Option B (which is on my summer reading list). She defined resilience as a "skill or capacity to be robust under conditions of enormous stress or change." And she noted that resilience is not perfection but the ability to move forward in an imperfect reality. From Option B, she shared Sandberg's definition of resilience:
"Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity–and we can build it. It isn't about having a backbone. It's about strengthening the muscles around our backbone."
She shared an instrument her organization uses to help individuals think about their own personal resilience skills. The first component is building a foundation on your "Islands of Competence." This includes knowing ourselves and relying on identified core strengths to handle challenges that we may face. We were provided a list of over 30 personal characteristics that included, for example: intuitive, optimistic, persistent, open-minded, and even-tempered (these are the qualities with which I identified).
Next we were asked to practice using our "Anchors of Stability" and responding to how we will refocus our energy and regain perspective. For this, we identified actions that keep us physically healthy, emotionally grounded, and spiritually fed, respectively. We were asked to identify someone who can remind us of our anchors. A key question is: What is one practice that keeps you moving forward when you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and how does it help you? The facilitator noted that practicing habits that keep us anchored in positive behavior are critical, as they help to keep us steady when winds of change/adversity blow.
Finally, we were tasked with making a "Smooth Sailing Strategy" and prompted with the following task: to develop a mantra that we will repeat daily to remind ourselves that we are resilient. We were reminded that resilience is about recharging, not enduring. She further explained how important it can be to achieve homeostasis and noted that it can only happen when the brain is not engaged in the events of the day or the activities needed to be done but rather in the space where there exists quiet, space for reflection, etc. In our current environments, this is particularly challenging but so necessary. Participants in the session shared their mantras, which ranged from scripture, to a song lyric, to a saying from a parent, to a yoga phrase.
We have several resources and options on campus for students to practice mindfulness and resilience. Our counseling service provides a solutions-focused brief therapy practice that is intended to assist students in navigating their personal lives. Students will find the "Zen Den" in Student Health Service, where they can take time in the massage chair and relax. This coming year the den is being expanded to provide space for mindfulness practice. College Ministries has available a 24-hour prayer room in the Center for Faith and Life and provides weekly silent meditation in the Buddhist tradition. The Regents Center, including Legends, provides ample opportunities for students to exercise. The Nena Amundson Wellness Program helps students to thrive at Luther through its many programs.
Beyond the above services, the natural areas in and around Decorah are a tremendous asset and can play a vital role in our well-being. From trails to waterways to community, our students can find an activity or interest that best helps them to achieve their own personal well-being.