Rethinking Resilience, speech to the C of E Education Conference at Methodist Central Hall
Location: “Rethinking Resilience” Methodist Central Hall, Education Conference
When I ask people, “Who’s had the most significant impact on your life?” teachers are often cited. I hope that those involved in education do not forget the impact that they have to inspire others. What students will not always tell you is how your enthusiasm for a subject has enthused them, how your stability in the midst of an unstable world has held them and how your belief in them has formed them. I am very grateful for what all those in our schools do – thank you.
What brought you into education and keeps you there is your passion often to make a difference but that can come at a cost.
The Teacher Wellbeing Index published last year showed that most educational professionals described themselves as stressed: 29% of all teachers work more than 51 hours a week on average. Working long hours and stress appear to be closely linked. 74% of education professionals consider the inability to switch off and relax to be the major contributing factor to a negative work/life balance, and teachers and more than half of all education professionals have considered leaving the sector over the past two years as a result of health pressures.
Although some degree of stress can be considered motivational and helpful, those in education are particularly vulnerable to accumulating excessive stress levels because of the nature of their job, which includes multiple roles and responsibilities – and sometimes unrealistic expectations of others.
When people talk about being stressed they usually mean they feel that things are getting on top of them. The ordinary pressures of life accumulate and there may be some extra demands which make it impossible to keep up, and harder and harder to cope.
Over time, if the pressures do not ease or changes are not made then there is an increased risk of experiencing stress related symptoms which may develop into physical illness and / or eventually burn-out.
Therefore we often speak of the need to develop resilience. Andy Wolfe (deputy chief education officer for the Church of England) spoke last week about how so often seeking resilience means coping until we retire. It is unfortunately seen as just getting through.
I, like Andy, would want to rethink resilience and suggest that rather we should be talking about flourishing – finding God’s purpose for our lives, an embodied existence, where mind, body and spirit are united and where we can express our vocation. This allows us to be in that place where we thrive. To flourish requires us to take responsibly for ourselves, develop strategies and patterns and rhythms of life which help us to maintain a balanced life of service, rest, prayer and recreation.
In reflecting on how we could do this I would like to focus on where we find our confidence which is our foundation on which we can flourish, and how we can develop the rhythm of rest.
Foundation for Confidence
We have just ended the epiphany season. One of the readings for the season was that of the baptism of Christ. There Jesus standing in the River Jordan with the water up to his waist, his feet in mud, and as he came out of the water the clouds opened and a voice said, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’
It was in this clear knowledge of who he was that Jesus then went out and was tempted in the wilderness and was rejected in his own town.
I wonder from whom we find our identity? It is usually the world; for me my identities come from being a mother, priest, bishop and it is often the voices of the world which tell us how good we are at it or not. It is often these voices which question our ability and undermine our confidence. For us to thrive and flourish we would do well to know that we too are children beloved of God in whom he is well pleased. And as that Christmas reading from the beginning of John tells us, not because of blood or the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God.
Not through our works or success but though the love of God in Christ Jesus, and this is the hope we have that hold us firm and secure in the midst of a changing world.
Paul in 2 Corinthians tells us that our confidence comes through Christ. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God.
For me in a ministry, which has brought its stresses, I know that I am more likely to thrive if I then pay attention to my relationship with God, so above all my confidence is in him and not the measures of the world. So I have to tend to this relationship.
The vine in John’s gospel is a good image. I am not a gardener but my husband is. When we lived in Salisbury we had a vine which, when we arrived, was a straggly thing flapping around in the wind. For a vine to bear fruit it needs to be rooted in the ground and the focus needs to be on the roots and the branches and not the fruit. Be rooted and ground in God, attached to the vine Jesus Christ, and we will bear fruits.
That passage in John uses the word abide – we need to abide in God. Moses when he encountered with God in the burning bush in the book of Exodus and the fact that we are told twice that Moses looks at the book.
‘Moses looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ (Exodus 3:2-3). Firstly he looks then he goes over and looks again, turning aside from his intended path. Once turned aside God then addresses him and he hears his voice and he sees God.
If we want to encounter God we need to turn aside from our path and look and wait, then we have sight to see. Take time to abide and wait with God.
Paul a leader and early church planter was deeply rooted in God with a clear sense of vocation, strategic intent and passionate resourcefulness. It is clear from his journeys that he faced unexpected turns and twists, yet despite this he was never overwhelmed.
The lesson of the vine is that for it to bear fruit it needs to be pruned. Too often we do too much; believing that for us to be successful we have to do everything well. Sometimes we have to cut back – to prune, to decide on what is important.
Paul tells us that we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
And in a world which is ever changing in which we are being required to do more, Paul encourages to reflect more on what is unseen than seen.
I often reflect with clergy that much of what we do as priests is unseen, which is why I believe so many of them build halls – you can see that. But the pastoral visiting, the encouragement of someone in discipleship or the ministry of bereavement is often unmeasurable.
You may never know the real impact you have as a teacher – your support, belief, enthusiasm may bear fruit years later. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:8) and we are told not to lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:6).
So what of the rhythm of life?
Abraham Joshua Heschel in The Sabbath said:
The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.
So often we think we need to have time off because it will help us in our work – however, if we are going to flourish and thrive we need to find a rhythm of life and of rest not for the sake of our work but for the sake of our lives.
In his book Paul for Everyone, NT Wright writes:
“The energy to get up and go on as a Christian, as one who works for the gospel, therefore, comes not from a cold sense of duty, not from a fear of being punished if you don’t do your bit, but from the warm-hearted response of love to the love which has reached out, reached down, and reached you.”
The best work-life balance for each person is unique as we each live different lives and have different priorities. There is no perfect, one way that suits everyone and what works for you today may not be appropriate on another day or in another phase of life when circumstances have changed. Achieving work-life balance means you need to develop attitudes, skills and behaviours that support this in your personal life.
It has been suggested that the following steps might help:
- Reflect – ask yourself when you last achieved and enjoyed something at work, with family, with your friends and for yourself. Think of activities in each area that give you both achievement and enjoyment.
- Change – put into action one of the activities you have thought of and plan to continue this so as to create your own best work-life balance. Making sure that every day you are choosing to focus on things that not only give a sense of satisfaction, but that also reflect the joy of living, will help steer you to a healthy lifestyle that nurtures you and protects you from stress.
- Remember – what is motivating you and what holds meaning for you. Knowing your underpinning values and why you are doing something helps to keep you focused on your priorities and what is important for you.
- Support – pastoral supervision, regular continuing professional development (CPD), retreats and spiritual accompaniment are all ways to reflect on your experience and have personal input where someone else is available for you. Creating and using a strong support network of people who will listen rather than fix things is an important aspect of sustaining yourself.
- Protect your personal time by taking regular short breaks, being unavailable to others at least some time during every day and at least for one day every week. The ability to switch off and relax is a vital skill for maintaining a healthy balance.
- Laugh a lot and don’t take yourself too seriously. Take time out to invest in things you know will lighten your mood and enable you to connect with your humour – perhaps simply even from watching TV or reading.
Sabbath has its roots in Jewish faith – it affirms both identify and faith, and is about mindfulness of God. Walter Brueggerman speaks of how the Sabbath resists the world and highlights our need to say no in the culture of now.
The Sabbath is not just about rest and recreation, it is about resisting that our lives are defined by production and consumption which devours our rest time. It is time about time for the weary and heavy-laden.
Being able to find the right pattern and rhythm of life requires wisdom. Wisdom is more precious than rubies, better than fine gold and surpasses silver says the author of Proverbs who goes on to tell us that wisdom will give us a garland to grace our heads and present us with a glorious crown and an adornment around the neck.
Wisdom it has been suggested only comes about when we find time not just to gain knowledge but to find time for idleness.
idleness in the true tradition of the contemplative – finding time for reflection, for freedom of thought and creative wonder, finding the Newton moment under the apple tree. Wisdom comes not through human endeavour but by lives rested in God.
Do not underestimate the impact that you have on the young people of today who will shape our future. But also know that you are of value not because of them but because who you are and you deserve to flourish. I will finish with a passage from Isaiah.
55 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Photos Max Colson
The Rt Hon & Rt Revd Dame Sarah Mullally is the 133rd Bishop of London.
In 2012 she was installed as Canon Treasurer at Salisbury Cathedral, before becoming Bishop of Crediton in the Diocese of Exeter in 2015, primarily serving North and East Devon. She is a member of the Church of England's National Safeguarding Steering Group.
Bishop Sarah was a senior civil servant in the Department of Health before ordination. A trained nurse, she became Chief Nursing Officer for England in 1999, the youngest person to be appointed to the post.
Read more from Sarah Mullally