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Posted by Aled Seago, 26 Sep 2019

Aled Seago reviews Kirsty Birkett's little book on Resilience.

RESILIANCE: A Spiritual Project

Kirsten Birkett
London: Latimer, 2016 55pp £5.99pb ISBN: 9781906327439

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:1). The trouble is, in ministry it can be only too easy to lose heart.

So begins Birkett’s short and incisive work that details her research into the idea of resilience and Christian ministry. This is much needed, given that burnout is all too common in ministry.

What sets Birkett’s work out from the crowd is that she is not writing a survival plan. She wants her readers to be able to bounce back more strongly. As a self-confessed sufferer of stress related depression, as well as her extensive research into this area, she provides a helpful read that needs to be returned to again and again to savour its flavour.

She begins by giving us a whistle-stop tour of the history of the concept and study of resilience. It is a far-reaching concept that is hard to define. Yet Birkett’s conclusion is helpful: “if resilience can be learned, then people can be trained against future stress.”

How does one acquire resilience? It takes time, and it takes training. For Birkett, the largest tool in the arsenal is to do with one’s outlook. The Christian is to be thankful; not in a glib or generic sense, but to realise our connection to a higher reality. We are in Christ, and we have much to be thankful for. A conscious effort to “count your blessings” is a trait of Christian spirituality and is helpful for building resilience. Positive outlooks help sleep patterns, savouring positive experiences, and less risk of depending on others for validation. Meditating on the goodness of God each day, whether you want to or not, is key for building resilience.

As such, Birkett notes: “Christian ministers … need to be taught to make spirituality central to their lives.” This must begin in theological college, and be nurtured for years to come.

At the time of writing, I am six months into ordained ministry, and as I write feel stressed and neurotic. I need Birkett’s reminder; I need to take heart, for being a Christian is good for me! I need to devote myself to godly living; I need to make spirituality a much higher priority in my life. It is training; I won’t want to do it, but it will be so helpful.

If you are in any kind of ministry, or supporting those who are, buy and read this book. And do not let it gather dust on the shelf. I need to read my copy again.

Aled Seago is curate at St George’s Church, Poynton.

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