Living the Resilient Life

Resilient?: 3 Powerful Secrets From a Challenging 210 Day Ship-board Deployment

3 Powerful Secrets From a Challenging 210 Day Ship-board Deployment

3 Keys to Creating Resilience

During the last decade, my career trajectory has taken me toward the people helping business. For seven years, I have served on active duty as a Navy Chaplain. Before that, I spent several years ministering to the addicted in a faith-based, long-term recovery program. In both professions, I allowed people to take large parts of my heart and soul. I learned the value of self-care the hard way. In the early part of the past ten years, I did not do a good job of tending to myself. In the latter half of this decade, I’ve learned the value of caring for myself. Everyone in any people helping profession must master the art of self-care. We should minister to others out of our overflow. If we don’t take care of our self, we’re not effective in taking care of the needs of others. Several weeks ago I returned from my second six months or longer military deployment in the space of just over two years. I know what it means to practice self-care to improve my resilience.


On October 6, 2015, I and 767 Sailors and Marines left for a seven deployment in the Middle East as one of three ships in the Kearsarge Amphibious Readiness Group. We operated as a forward projection of American military power. On one of the ships, I served as the chaplain for the crew and the embarked Marines. I tended to the spiritual and personal well-being of the souls on board.

If I learned nothing else during my seven months deployed on the USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), I learned that at sea shipboard life is not for the faint of heart. Each day I had to choose how to react. I had to make conscious decisions to develop and keep the right mindset.

I believe that every person should practice self-care because of the value it has for developing resilience.

Over 150 days afloat, I learned many lessons related to how self-care connects to resilience. In this post, I will share three strategies for developing a deep well of personal resilience. The strategies are:

  1. Spiritual Fitness

  2. Intellectual Fitness

  3. Physical Fitness

I will cover each of them in order.

Spiritual Fitness

I am a Christ-follower and a military chaplain. Spirituality is part of my job. I could only practice enough spirituality to do my work. Prepare sermons and prayer and lead Bible Studies. While preparation for the professional parts of my work has personal value, to develop true resilience, I must apply spirituality to my personal and professional lives.

My Christian faith informs what I write on spirituality. You can tailor your spiritual practices according to your faith tradition.

Spirituality is tending to the soul. In my profession, I tend to others souls. To tend to my soul daily, I take the first hour available in the morning and practiced several things:


I have maintained a journaling practice for several years. On my deployment, it was a daily habit I rarely missed (I didn’t journal on Sundays due to my worship service responsibilities). I used to write journal entries by hand. I now maintain my journaling practice in Evernote.

My daily journal entries include:

  • Expressing thankfulness

  • Taking a personal inventory

  • Writing a prayer for a loved one

  • Writing a reflection on Scripture


Prayer has always been challenging for me. For the last year, the guided prayers offered in the PrayerMate app has been helpful. And I write out my prayers. I make it a practice to pray for my family members daily. Directed prayer and writing out my prayers does a two things for me:

  1. Both keep moving. I have specific topics and prayers chosen beforehand.

  2. Writing keeps me focused. When I pray, my mind wonders. When I write, my mind focuses on the prayer.

  3. Writing my prayers gives me a record of them. Answered prayer is encouraging, and I am reminded to continue to pray for needs that are unmet.

Bible reading

I listen to an Audio Bible and read from a Bible on my table. I do both to force myself to slow down and hear and read the daily passages. I’m reading the New Testament and I always read a portion from the Psalms and Proverbs.

Often, I respond to my Bible reading by observing, applying and then praying in response to what I read. This is a practice called Lectio Divina (divine reading). As I noted above, I include a reflection on Scripture in my daily journal entry.

Mental Fitness


I make it a practice to read for two hours each day. My reading ranges from spiritual, theological, cultural and philosophical reflection to personal development. I will often have four or five books going.

I do my reading on a tablet. It is much easier for me to carry many books with me when I travel. Moon Reader Pro is my reading app and I can highlight, make notes and export both to Evernote. I wrote about reading here.


For me, writing is cathartic. I put on my noise canceling headphone, set my timer for two twenty-five minute blocks and write. I keep a list of writing topics in Evernote. When I am ready to write, I’ll either pick a new topic or work on an ongoing writing project.

Daily Rhythm

On a deployed war-ship, the days are long. The ship operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Most of the time, my ship was conducting routine operations. This means we were floating around a large square in a body of water ready to respond to anything that required military action. To put a fine point on this – the days were long. An established rhythm made getting through them easier. My daily rhythm included a specific time to wake up, meetings, meal time, personal reflection time, exercise, reading and conversation with others.

By establishing a daily rhythm, I had a sense of what was next. The hours were long. An established routine helped me to deal with the long day.

Physical Fitness


Since I turned forty and reentered active military service as a chaplain, I have taken a great deal of interest in my fitness. Over the years since my first round of military service, I enjoyed running. In the last few years, I have taken a greater interest in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and kettle bells in my fitness routine. I call both functional fitness. Included in HIIT are such workouts as Cross Fit, P90X, Insanity 30 and Delta Fit: Speed Shred. As I get older, these types of workouts have been helpful in maintaining an excellent level of fitness. I developed camaraderie with several other people as we did two of these programs together throughout the course of our deployment. Physical fitness is essential in our life. A fit body helps us keep a sound mind. Click To Tweet

My eating habits were only okay on deployment. The galley staff fed us well. Our meals included a variety of desserts, fried foods, chicken wings drenched in sauce, and most of the time, more wholesome foods. By committing to working out several times per week, I lost two pounds.


The military is full of people who don’t get enough sleep. This is due to a variety of circumstances, professional, duty requirements, and choice. The fact is that adequate sleep impacts on our quality of life. In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown quotes Mahatma Gandhi,

Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.

This has been my experience. Throughout the deployment, I ensured that I slept eight hours. And I napped for an hour each afternoon as part of my lunch break. Sleeping well ensured that my mind could take a break, my body could rejuvenate, and that I had energy for the long days of deployment.

McKeown writes our best asset for contributing to the world is ourselves. Proper sleep is one of the best ways we can invest in ourselves. It helps to refresh and reboot our minds, our bodies and our spirits.

I know that I could not make my best contribution to others if I did not invest in adequate sleep. Each of us must decide to make sure that we get the sleep required to help us to make our best contribution to the world.


In this post, I have written about my three keys to resiliency while deployed. They were:

  1. Spiritual Fitness

  2. Mental Fitness

  3. Physical Fitness

These three keys made it possible for me to well in my role as a chaplain. When I practiced these three areas of fitness, I did better in my work and in my relationships. When I allowed my attention to any of the three to wane, I paid a price in my attitude. The effect was cyclical. When I invested time in each area of fitness, I felt better in every way and did better in my interpersonal relationships. When I did not invest adequate time in these habits, I did not do as well personally and inter-personally.

I believe these ideas of self-care will resulting in resilient living. In future posts, I will address each in more detail. Make resilient living a goal. I urge you to develop your own list of keys to resilient living. This will help you be more strategic in using your time so you can give your best contribution to the world.

Take action today. Reflect on what your key aspects of resilient living are. If you were to write your three keys to resiliency, what would they be? Join the discussion in the comments.

About Gregory

I am a Christ-follower, husband to Vicki and father to Liahna & David. I serve in the Navy as an active duty Chaplain. In my work, I offer spiritual care and religious support to military members. I am a writer, an avid reader, enjoy staying fit and living an active lifestyle. Follow me on Twitter: @chapswoodard. I post once each week here at

3 Replies

  1. Cori-Leigh

    Great post Gregory! For me 1. Attitude of gratitude – with a thankful heart the day always looks brighter! 2. My faith – keeps me grounded and centered on what is really important 3. Proper rest, good diet and exercise 4. Being mindful of stress – how much I allow and how I cope with it.

    1. Gregory

      Cori-Leigh, thanks for your considered response to my post! Your list includes great ways to grow resilience.