REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- As Army Materiel Command turns to optimizing teleworking and social distancing in the workplace to combat the spread of COVID-19, it is also relying on employees to remain mission ready and capable in a time that is quickly being defined by stress, change, adversity and even tragedy.
Being mission ready and capable – being resilient – as an Army Soldier or civilian is visible to others through physical, mental, emotional and social well-being. But, a fifth resiliency dimension – spiritual well-being – is often more difficult to define and yet is considered by the Army at the core of resiliency. Spiritual resiliency is the foundation of beliefs, principles and values that sustain employees when families, institutions or society is in crisis.
“We need to remember ourselves, personally, at this time. Along with getting the right sleep, eating right and exercising, we most importantly need to stay positive,” said AMC Commander Gen. Gus Perna. “Attitude matters and it will go a long way to making sure everyone you interact with stays positive as we work together to successfully achieve our outcome.”
Like the other aspects of resiliency, building spiritual strength is a daily activity, an activity that helps employees understand the world around them, connect with community around them, and integrate the joys and sorrows of each day into their lives. It’s about not waiting for something to happen, but being prepared to be well-grounded when it does.
“This is a time for personal reflection for you, your families and even your profession,” Perna said. “Take advantage of this time to do some introspective thinking.”
The Army’s Ready and Resilient Campaign defines spiritual resiliency from both a religious and a values-based perspective, said Valerie Francis, AMC’s Health Promotion program manager.
“Some people rely on a higher power, on God, for their spiritual resiliency while others gain it through philosophical or ethical beliefs. As long as people have an inner sense of their purpose, core values and life vision, they can build spiritual resiliency,” she said.
Daily COVID-19 updates can seem pretty dire, but those with spiritual resiliency have the ability to overcome and even thrive through such a difficult time, Francis said.
“For those of faith, they may rely on God, knowing He is always there to provide comfort and strength during the COVID-19 crisis. But all individuals have an opportunity to draw upon their values and beliefs during this time,” she said.
Most telling of the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic are the churches, synagogues and other religious organizations that no longer welcome parishioners for community worship services, said AMC Chaplain (Col.) Michael Klein.
“No matter how dark, dour, hopeless and helpless it may seem, people of faith know God is still in control, and will guide and direct their paths,” Klein said. “Once, during a very dark period in my life when I seemed to be challenged by obstacles, after failures, after unfortunate events, all in succession, I read something that stays with me to this day – ‘Never doubt in the darkness what God has revealed to you in the light.’”
The Army defines the pillars of strength that build spiritual resiliency as: values, the code or ethical principles that guide people through life, define who they are and remind them of their importance; perseverance, the ability to keep going when things look bad or difficult; perspective, the ability to see things happening in a “bigger picture” so that they become a small part of a larger life; and purpose, the ability to remember goals and to make sure their life is connected to others and to events that make them uniquely important in the world.
While negative feelings – such as self-doubt, despair, anger and confusion – can cloud a person’s ability to be resilient during difficult times, there are ways to replace those feelings with positivity and strength, Francis said. Taking a break – going outside for a walk, taking a car ride or getting on the phone with a friend – is a quick way to shake off negative thoughts. There are also more introspective things people can do, she said.
“Reflect on what is your purpose in life. Are you making a difference? Do you have room to grow in your values and outlook? I believe we all have room to grow,” Francis said. “Use this COVID-19 crises to evaluate your life, and make changes that bring you and those around you more enjoyment. Spend more time thinking of others, and how you can be an encourager in their lives.”
Those who have faith in God, Klein said, know He is always working in their lives and uses adversity to build character.
“God is in the character-building business. Certain things happen in our lives – trials, hardships, difficult circumstances and situations – that build tried and true character in the face of adversity, and grow our faith,” Klein said.
Here are some ways to grow spiritual resiliency through the COVID-19 pandemic or any other tragedy:
· Read about those who have encountered horrific trials and learn from how they came through victorious on the other side. “While reading these materials, one can reflect on their lives, the hardships, fears and problems they encounter realizing, ‘Wow! I can overcome my problems, too,’” Klein said.
· Focus on the positive. Find ways to help others and make changes in life that will be of value in the long term, Francis said. Take on a new hobby, develop new interests and enrich life with new discoveries, use the internet as a valuable tool for learning and growing personally as well as professionally.
· Understand the GIGO Paradox (“Garbage In – Garbage Out”). Klein referred to the use of GIGO by computer programmers to explain that whatever programming or scripting is fed into a computer will result in same type of output. “We should all execute the same principle with our minds,” he said. “During this time of crisis, we should endeavor to feed our minds with helpful, useful, encouraging materials.”
· Connect with others through live streaming. At many installations and in several community churches, chaplains are live streaming worship services through websites and Facebook Live. “There are many communities of believers online that can help you have a better understanding of how God is working through this crisis and can give you a sense of being part of a believer community even when you can’t be physically in the same place,” Klein said.
· Establish an accountability partner. Having a friend or group to connect with on a regular basis can build spiritual resiliency, Francis said, especially if they share the same core beliefs.
· Reach out for support. There are many resources both on Army installations and in local communities that can help those struggling through a difficult time. At AMC, employees can reach out for chaplain support by contacting Klein at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-690-7596. In addition, information on faith-based programs are available by contacting Gail McCurley, email@example.com. For those who want to request support through AMC’s Wellness Program, contact Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the new normal, both Francis and Klein said. Rather, it is an exception to the norm that will make AMC employees stronger.
“Once we get through this, I challenge everyone to conduct a self-assessment of how they personally handled the COVID-19 pandemic,” Francis said. “They may ask, ‘Did I persevere, behave ethically and set a positive example by leading from the front?’ I hope we all can look back in six months and say we grew from this experience and became a better person. It is through life's challenges and adversities our character is built. Will you be pleased with the results?”
Klein urges believers to “focus on mitigating and neutralizing the GIGO principle through God’s word. Do not be lured by Facebook drama or extreme ‘Chicken Little-Sky is Falling’-type media reports. Everything will run its course, the sun will still rise and set, and there is hope on the horizon. Do not lose heart. Put your faith in God.”