If you want to be a resilient person, my first piece of advice is to be careful who you hang around. You will undoubtedly become like those with whom you spend the most time. You will begin to talk, think and act like them. Therefore, find friends who are encouraging, hopeful and resilient people.

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad Hoefs.

Brad Hoefs is a pastor and mental health advocate. He is passionate about coaching, inspiring, encouraging and empowering others with hope no matter what circumstance they may be facing. He is best known as the founder and executive director of Fresh Hope, an international network of peer-to-peer Christian mental health support groups and resources. Brad is also the author of two inspiring books, “Fresh Hope: Living Well in Spite of a Mental Health Diagnosis” and “Holding to Hope: Staying Sane While Loving Someone with a Mental Illness.”

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

In 1995, I was the senior pastor of the 13th fastest-growing Protestant church in North America. That spring, my life took a dramatic turn due to a manic episode which became public and ended my role as pastor. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, there was a blessing in this. The whole situation led to my getting three weeks of outpatient help at a hospital in Michigan, where I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder.

After my resignation, a small group of people who understood the gravity of dealing with a mental health disorder surrounded me and my family, expressing their unconditional love and support for us. They formed a church and asked me to serve as their pastor — but not right away. They initially asked me to spend time recovering with my family and experiencing healing in a safe place. We did exactly that. I spent the next two years recovering and healing.

Seven years later during a very stressful time, I relapsed due to a mix-up regarding my medication. My nephew had been seriously injured in a school bus accident, and the family was devastated. Subsequently, I found myself back in the hospital reliving the cycle. When I was discharged, I knew I needed a solution for how to live successfully in spite of having bipolar disorder.

I started attending support groups, only to find them not helpful. In fact, when I went, I would often feel worse because they were primarily “venting groups.” When support groups welcome participants to “vent” about their situation, they tend to get worse… not better. That’s what happened to me.

For three years, I complained continually about it to my doctor. I expressed my concern for this issue until I wore out his patience! Finally, he said, “Brad, if you want help, I’ll help you. But I think you should create the kind of group you want to go to.” And that’s how Fresh Hope for Mental Health came to exist.

Today, many people are searching for support that is hope-filled, whether they personally struggle with a mental health disorder or need encouragement because they love someone with a diagnosis. Seeking to alleviate the problem, I started Fresh Hope for Mental Health, a support group based on faith-filled hope. We have groups throughout the United States and fourteen other countries. I’ve written several books, the first of which has been translated into Spanish, and is currently being translated into Japanese, Chinese, and one of the dialects of India.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Running Fresh Hope for Mental Health has been the most exciting and rewarding part of my ministry for the last 15 years. I’ve been a pastor for 38 years now, and I’ve never seen lives transformed so easily.

It is incredible to see how strong the power of hope is. When I started Fresh Hope, I was unaware that hope had been studied clinically for 25 years. The impact of hope on an individual’s life is fascinating to watch!

Suppose you have a mental health diagnosis, and you are lacking hope in your own life. Someone close to you can be a source of hope, and eventually you’ll catch on to that hope! Hope is powerful and contagious. It is truly lifesaving. On the other hand, hopelessness kills, offering no solutions to our circumstances. While hope doesn’t give us all the answers, it allows us to continue moving forward, even when it’s difficult. Hope builds resiliency and helps us see the path in front of us. The first step is the most important one. Once the path forward is visible, the rest is only one step at a time.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Fresh Hope for Mental Health stands out as a leader within the peer-to-peer arena of mental health support groups. Our organization is unique, in that we are the only support group that is peer led and founded by someone with a personal mental health diagnosis. Additionally, we’re the only network of support groups for mental health that are faith-based, centered on 25 years of research regarding hope. We use what works regarding hope, built upon evidence-based research. Our groups are not venting groups, and we stand alone in the field of mental health support groups because of our use of principles of recovery.

We meet consistently year-round, just like AA meetings. Some mental health groups meet for a short time and are curriculum driven. Fresh Hope is guided by the recovery principles and focuses on how adults assimilate new information into their lives, especially during their recovery.

One of the most interesting stories about our company is that I did not set out to grow into an international organization. We have several Fresh Hope for Mental health support groups, including groups for teens. We have many resources including books, podcasts, videos and more. Our staff consists of 14 wonderful individuals, located across two different countries. Most importantly, our organization has touched the lives of hundreds with the power of hope. It all started from my own personal need. Yet, there were people worldwide looking for it, and they still are.

One thing to note about Fresh Hope for Mental Health is that we do long-term intervention rather than short-term. I’m only aware of one other faith-based ministry nationwide that has faith-based, curriculum-driven mental health groups. However, they focus on short-term goals, which means you typically meet for a specified period. Thus, our organization meets every single week on a long-term, ongoing basis. After all, you have to be there for people when they need you. We have recently expanded our availability during those times of the year when suicide rates are up, i.e., Christmas time.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

If it had not been for my wife, Donna, and the way she stood beside me when I went through the most challenging time of my life, I would not be alive today. A whole group of people loved me, cared about me and helped me when my life completely fell apart after my manic episode in 1995. But it was my wife who really was the one person who was critical to my recovery, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Because of my illness, I had caused our family a great deal of pain. One day, as she was going through this horrible time with me, she said, “I know who you are separate from bipolar disorder, and I love you, and I care about you. We’re going to fight this together. As long as you do what you need to do to stay emotionally and mentally healthy, I’m with you all the way, even if it gets more difficult.” It was hearing this from her that gave me the hope I needed. I figured at that point, I needed to do everything I possibly could to get better and to stay healthy.

Interestingly enough, that’s how hope works. When somebody has hope on your behalf and believes in you, you can begin to believe in yourself. That’s what happened. She could so easily have left me. Many people thought she should have. Many marriages end that way. But she did not leave. She only said that once, but I can remember that like it was yesterday.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is simply getting up after being knocked down by life. It could be your job, your family, or any situation in life that sets you back. Resilient people don’t stay down. They keep getting back up. Resilient people intuitively know, or maybe they choose to believe that they can get back up and that God can take what happened and make it work for their good. A resilient person understands that pain is gain. They know intuitively that we learn, and change based upon pain. One of the main characteristics of a resilient person is that they never give up.

Resilient people keep going. They have this bias that says, “No matter what, I know I can learn from this, that God can use this, that I can press on.” They have that mindset that says, “Aha, there’s pain here. Pain can be used for my good.” They understand something that all athletes understand. When athletes have pain, it means that they’re growing. Their body is getting stronger. People often think that life should be easy. When something unexpected and difficult happens, they are crushed by the weight of it. Resiliency is a mindset that says when things are difficult, growth is in the making. For me, resilience means that I know life is going to be painful. It’s going to be difficult, but God redeems the pain. The redemption of that pain becomes liquid gold for us, helping other people who are going through the same things.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

From my perspective, resilience is the kind of thinking that says, “I am going to get back up. I’m going to keep going. I’m not giving up.” It’s more centered on the way a person thinks about life in general. It’s filled with optimism.

Courage is more about intentionally getting back up when it hurts and when it’s hard and when you don’t feel like it. When you find that it’s extremely difficult, you keep pressing through it anyway. It takes courage to keep taking a step ahead, even though some might scoff at you or look at you and say, “You can’t do it.” “You’re not going to make it.” This is where courage comes into play. You must keep moving forward, with one foot in front of the other.

Hindsight allows you to see what you walked through; however, when you were walking through it, all you were doing was simply saying, “I’m going to keep putting one foot in front of the other.” I’ve heard it said that when you’re going through hell, don’t stop. Keep going. Otherwise, that’s where you are — in the middle of hell.

That’s what happened to me. I knew that God was powerful and able. Despite how ill my brain was due to my bipolar disorder, I chose to keep moving forward. It took me a long time to begin to move but taking step after step when you’re in the middle of a mess is courage and resiliency combined.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Nelson Mandela must be one of the most well-known resilient people in recent history. He could have so easily become bitter and angry when he was in prison. His experience could have filled his life with toxic hatred when he was released. But the exact opposite happened. Despite what happened to him, he was resilient. It was used not only for his good, but for the good of his country. That’s resiliency and courage and a miracle all in one!

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Yes. There was a time when not only one person, but several mental health providers told me that it would be next to impossible to live normally with bipolar disorder. They told me that I would have to learn how to live with bipolar disorder, and I would battle with it all my life. In my experience, I’ve learned that it is quite possible to live well and live a faith-filled rich, and normal life in spite of having bipolar disorder. It takes discipline and faith.

I think the key is to understand I can live well despite having a bipolar disorder. Being told that I’d struggle with it the rest of my life actually spoke hopelessness into my situation. I already was dealing with wondering if I could live a normal life, and they added to my belief that life could never be “good” again. Because of that experience, I always tell people I am the poster boy for hope because what should have stopped me, or maybe held me back, didn’t. What seemed like a hopeless situation ended up being a life filled with hope, and I am doing better than ever.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Everything I’ve shared in this interview is part of the story of my most significant setback. In 1995 if you would’ve asked me, I would’ve told you that my life, as I knew it, was over. I felt like broken merchandise and was convinced that God couldn’t use me anymore, or certainly couldn’t use me in any significant ways.

At that time, a pastor friend told me that he believed that the Lord would use everything that had happened in my life and turn it around for good. He believed I would end up touching many more lives than I had up to that point, but I just didn’t see how that was possible.

I did not feel courageous or resilient at that point in my life, but the hope of others began to stir within me. At that time, I was a very broken man, but their hope and encouraging words began to take a hold within my thinking. I didn’t get up right away. In fact, it took a long time to heal. But even when I didn’t believe in myself, they believed in me. That was enough to help me see a pinhole of light for the future.

I began to see that what the Lord was doing through Fresh Hope was already touching more lives than I had ever touched before. I was a stronger and better leader than ever before. Today I see that the Lord chose to use a broken vessel for the good of many others.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I want to be clear — I am not resilient and courageous in my life due to my own efforts. By God’s Grace, my ability to be resilient and courageous has come from my faith. The Lord gives me the resiliency and the courage to go on when I’ve had setbacks. My faith tells me that God can take all things and make them work together for my good (Romans 8:28). I believe that with all my heart, because I’ve experienced it time and time again.

Every time I went to church or had any encounter with God’s people, it was cultivating resiliency and courage in my life to believe more and more deeply that I could do all things through Christ who gives me strength. There was nothing that could destroy me, and nothing could overcome me. I could overcome all things. That played out over and over in my life. I suppose in my younger days, it played out by seeing how my parents pressed through life despite the difficulties. When I was in high school, I lost three grandparents within eight weeks. I lost a great-grandfather; two weeks later, I lost a grandfather; and I lost my grandmother six weeks after that.

As I watched my parents walk through tragedy, their values were instilled in me. I remember it being a tough time, but we continued to press forward. Amid all the pain and the difficulties, my parents could see that there were good things happening. When my mother-in-law died from suicide many years ago, all three of my brothers-in-law, not long afterward, came to faith in the Lord. Donna and I could see that despite how horrible and horrific the pain of losing her mother that way had been, there was an incredible silver lining amidst all that pain. From a young age, I’ve been taught that through Christ, we can overcome all things, and Christ takes all things that are difficult and painful and makes them work for our good.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

If you want to be a resilient person, my first piece of advice is to be careful who you hang around. You will undoubtedly become like those with whom you spend the most time. You will begin to talk, think and act like them. Therefore, find friends who are encouraging, hopeful and resilient people.

Second, don’t expect life to be easy. Adjust your expectations. In fact, have low expectations. Life is not easy, it’s often quite difficult. Don’t be shocked when you run into all kinds of difficulties and problems. I think that’s very biblical. Many times, people get themselves into trouble when they somehow expect life to be easy or not filled with too many difficulties. Many Christians seem to think that if they are morally good, love the Lord and do all the right things, life will be easy. That’s not necessarily the case. In fact, sometimes life becomes more difficult because of that.

Third, don’t waste your time asking why. I really didn’t spend much time in 1995 asking, “Why did this happen, Lord? Why did you let this happen?” Sometimes, people will ask, “Why, why, why?” Sometimes we don’t know why. Other times, it’s obvious why.

I was too stubborn to get help, yet I was asking God to intervene. So, when he intervened, I couldn’t ask why because I already knew that he had answered my prayer. Sometimes you just have to say, “It is what it is, and I need to pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep moving one step after another.”

Fourth, I think you must know that God is in the business of redeeming all things, including any pain in life. We need to be looking for what God is doing even through our difficulties. So, be on the lookout for an unexpected blessing.

For me, the fifth step has two aspects. Spiritually, you must learn to cultivate faith and the ability to trust God. There must be an inner knowing that God loves us unconditionally and always has our best interests at heart. He does not leave us to walk through difficult situations alone. As I grow in my ability to trust the character of God, I’m able to rely on my inner resources and faith-filled hope that comes from Him.

On the lifestyle level, you must cultivate changing from a pessimistic to an optimistic mindset. There’s an excellent book entitled “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life,” by Martin E.P. Seligman. While this is somewhat of an innate personality trait, there’s also an element of intentionality involved. Practicing optimistic thinking will build inner resiliency, that gives you the courage to act when the time comes.

Many years ago, I heard the story of a little girl whose mom was throwing her a wonderful birthday party. The decorations were gorgeous, and the table was beautifully set. She brought her little girl into the big hall they had rented to celebrate her birthday, and right in the middle of the room was a massive pile of manure that smelled terrible. It looked awful, and the mother was frustrated and upset when she saw it. The little girl said, “Mom, where’s the pony?” So, when you run into manure in life, look for your pony!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would like to inspire a movement of hope. Our world, especially young people, needs hope like never before! (Suicide attempt E.R. visits for teenage girls have risen by 51% during the pandemic.) People are feeling hopelessness in greater numbers than ever. I want to inspire people who think that they’re too broken to be used, too broken to move on, too broken to have hope, that their situation is too dire. I would love to teach how those around them could become hope navigators. I would see their world become a world of hope, not hopelessness. There is hope regardless of what we see and hear. It’s real. It’s certain. It can’t be taught. It can only be caught. I would fill this world with people who can help navigate friends from hopelessness to hope in spite of whatever is happening in their lives.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

I’d love to have lunch with Brene Brown. Her research on shame is fascinating to me. I’d love to chat with her about the power of hope and the power of peers helping peers with mental health recovery.

If we could arrange it, I’d also love to have lunch with Elon Musk! I’m fascinated with innovative thinkers who face life with such optimism that they become nearly unstoppable. His optimism speaks to a high degree of resiliency.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Our website is www.FreshHope.us There you can read all my latest blogs, listen to the latest podcasts and watch a weekly program entitled “Living Well.” You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.