“Those things that hurt, instruct.” — Benjamin Franklin
Life is difficult.
I remember when I first read those words decades ago at the beginning of Scott Peck’s best-seller The Road Less Traveled, I was shocked. I mean, everyone knew that life was hard. But no one had actually said it before. Out loud.
It was like this well-kept secret that everyone had consented to in the hopes that, well, it just might not be true.
You find that some days bring an annoying caravan of inconveniences — the refrigerator breaks, the dog gets sick, your boss calls an unexpected late meeting.
But sometimes, life is filled with genuine suffering and you shake your head in despair. You lose a job, a child, a parent. Hope. Or globally, witnessing children who are starving; people who have been displaced from their homes; women and children being sold into human trafficking.
You weep. Or ball your fists in anger and shout to the heavens like some wounded animal.
Sometimes life seems to be a roller coaster ride of challenges with a few high points of exhilaration that keep us going.
But why? Ah, there’s the eternal, cosmic question.
I don’t purport to be a theologian or philosopher, but for whatever reasons, life presents challenges that evoke within us a myriad of feelings, from frustration to anger to denial.
But they also evoke other amazing and miraculous qualities, such as wisdom, insight, courage and more. It is only BECAUSE of our problems that we grow, spiritually, emotionally and mentally.
In other words, life may be difficult, but in that difficulty are great gifts. If we are open and can accept them.
For some reason, I feel called to write about Dorothy, and her story. When I was in my early 20s I lived and worked in South Georgia as part of a mission group serving the poor in that area. Once a week I visited a nursing home where many physically and mentally challenged youth were also living.
At that time, I played the guitar and gathered whomever was in that lunch room to come sing with us. Dorothy always sang. Beautifully. And her favorite song was Lean on Me. Dorothy had had a difficult life, no real family and no one visiting her; she was unable to do much for herself. Yet, she was joyful. I never heard her complain.
I share this story because Dorothy had accepted a painful life challenge — with grace. She didn’t question the mystery of WHY it had all happened, but simply lived it. She knew the truth that life was hard and accepted it.
And in accepting it, she transcended it. Even as she sang, I could feel the resonance of her truth, that she KNEW she could always lean on the Divine Spirit within her. All the time.
I’m sure you’ve met people like Dorothy in your life. I have. Many times. And in their presence, I am humbled. They are my teachers.
They show me that problems don’t go away. That we can choose to work through them and accept them. Or not.
And if we choose to face and accept those life challenges, it’s going to take courage and spiritual maturity.
In my own life, I find that some days — when I have a healthy reserve of self-love and discipline — I can accept whatever problems life sends me. At other times, when I am not centered or depleted, I can be the child throwing a tantrum, wanting it all to go away. And sometimes, I need to step away and rest, finding I don’t have clarity of vision and heart unless I can first restore my physical body.
In that process, I am also learning this: To be kind to myself and not judge myself. I am aware that it is all part of the unfolding of who I am becoming, growing into the fullness of my humanity AND my divinity.
So yes, life is difficult. It always has been and always will be.
But life can also be filled with ease when we choose to accept what is presented and then assess what we need to do or not, in any given situation.
Most important, we are never alone in that journey on the “road less traveled.” We can lean on each other. We can also lean on that power greater than ourselves who loves us. In every breath. Heartbeat. Through every challenge.
That great Force of Love will be our friend — will help us carry on.