We all have experiences when things don’t work out the way we want. The air conditioner breaks down, we have a flat tire on the way to work, we didn’t get the house we wanted. Sometimes we struggle with relationships as people hurt or disappointed us. Life hands us injury, illness, unemployment, divorce, and death.
We all have struggles, it is part of being human. No one escapes life’s challenges, though some people hide it better than others. Our Facebook feed may be full of beautiful people having the time of their lives, but there is no charmed life. It is what we do with our challenges that define who we are and who we become.
When things go wrong, it is easy to wallow in self-pity. We feel sad, discouraged, frustrated or angry. Sometimes we feel despair, depression and grief. We feel persecuted or put-upon. We have a right to our feelings and need to experience them. Then, we need to let go. Holding on doesn’t allow us to get on with our lives.
Letting go is hard. I had a friend once who I met just after her husband left her and she went through a bitter divorce. She was struggling with two teenagers and her self-esteem had been put through the wringer. She was an emotional mess. I was the supportive friend, listening and trying to help her cope.
She alternated between crying uncontrollably and screaming in anger. It was understandable, except she couldn’t move past it. She waved her victim flag proudly. A couple of years later she was still crying and saying that her ex had ruined her life and destroyed everything. She was bitter and resentful about the way her life was turning out. Her friends had moved on, her kids were distant and she was barely able to hold a job. Her ex may have been a catalyst in her downfall, but she held on to her grievances so tightly that there was no room for forgiveness, mercy or self -understanding. She was ruining her own life.
Writer Marianne Williamson says that while difficult and unpleasant, challenges and crisis can shake things up in a good way. When forced to develop a new normal, we can use the experience to improve something in our lives.
Our dark times can only be transformative if we let them. We need to look at ourselves and our issues, and take responsibility for our part. Pain, either physical or psychological, has a message for us- if we can listen for it. This is the free fruit my friends.
When we struggle, it is an opportunity to ask ourselves questions. What can I learn from this? What does it help me to understand? How can this experience make me stronger?
Life’s lessons might be little ones. When you run out of gas on the highway, you learn to keep a closer eye on the gas gage. Anyone can run over a nail and blow a tire- but it is more likely to happen when you’ve been driving on bald tires for six months. If you don’t put oil in the car, you are going to blow your engine.
We can learn from our failed relationships as well. Relationships are always two-sided. No one is perfect- and as difficult as it may be to face, it is likely that we are part of the problem. Bruno Mars shares this understanding in the song When I was Your Man:
I should have brought you flowers, and held your hand
Should have gave you all my hours when I had the chance
Take you to every party ’cause all you wanted to do was dance
Now my baby’s dancing, but she’s dancing with another man.
I ‘ve had many challenges in the past couple of years. My mother died unexpectedly, I quit my job, and we moved to a new city. We were barely unpacked when I watched my sister-in law die of cancer. I had four surgeries in 14 months. All of this was topped off in the past few months with my father’s lung cancer.
I struggled many times. I cried when I was alone, screamed at my physical therapists, and felt angry with myself. I was frustrated with my physical condition and impatient with my progress. Many times I felt inadequate because I couldn’t control or change the health of someone I loved. I felt a powerlessness that was new and foreign to me, and I was forced to surrender. It was unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
I came away a much more compassionate person. Having both given and received compassion, I understand the power of being kind and being present. Sometimes all you need to do is just show up for someone, which is both the simplest and most difficult thing to do. I find myself more understanding and accepting of people and much less judgmental. There is a gentleness in me that was not there before, a more sympathetic heart. I have learned to give myself and others grace and mercy.
Life is always going to give us challenges. It will be miserable, frustrating and painful, but if we try, we can come away with insight. That insight is wisdom, and wisdom will help us to survive and to thrive.
Have your struggles helped you to grow or be wiser? I would love to hear your stories in the comments below.