“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ― Rumi
The first hours of daybreak are not my finest. On the very rare occasion I am forced into wakefulness as the big shining orb begins to rise, my surly attitude can be transmuted by a spectacular sunrise.
Do you know what it takes to see a beautiful sunrise? Clouds. It takes more than just a couple higher clouds. Fall and winter months produce the best sunrises because the angle of the sun is lower. More violet and blue light scatters, causing the sky to be very blue. The sun’s rays pass through the cloud layers for a longer time and this enables us to see those glorious melons, blues, reds and yellows.
Clouds, go figure. Without clouds, there is nothing for the sun’s rays to reflect off of, to show us the beauty in our world. Struggling and suffering are clouds in our lives that can propel us toward strength and growth.
If we spend our entire lives doing everything in our power to avoid suffering we miss completely the power we e-a-r-n from the process. People go to such great lengths to avoid pain and suffering that they end up with lives lived on the surface. You know them, people who avoid having difficult conversations and allow their relationships to remain superficial, are so afraid of a job interview that they stay in the same job their entire career, never learn to swim or ride a bike, or never speak up for themselves at work. You never get what you really want out of life like this do you?
I When I was a kid in South Dakota I was scared silly to graduate from the “Tadpole” swimming class to the “Minnow” class. When it came time for the next class I spent a second term in “Tadpoles” because I was so afraid of what might be expected of me as a “Minnow”. Finally I put my big girl panties on, tried the next class and turned into a Mermaid, jumping off the diving board, turning flips off the side of the pool, diving into the water, and swimming laps with confidence.
Had I not moved through the suffering I would have missed the joy of the process, not to mention the mermaid stage of my life and that little green swimsuit that earned me the moniker of “pear butt”! The only way to get to the other side was to suffer.
Look around you. Those who do the work, earn the gifts. They have learned the dire truth of letting go of the safety net or moving outside their comfort zone to gain something much better.
Cheryl is no morning lark either. In spite of this, for as long as I can remember, the first thing she does in the morning is stretch and do some light weight bearing exercise. She makes no big production of it and few know she does this. (Well, up to now, sorry Churl.) Her reward for this dreadful morning sacrifice is some fairly chiseled arms, and more upper body strength than most women her age and size.
Lorna forgoes spending on unnecessary household items. Her gift is enough discretionary money to travel all over the world, and wonderful memories to take with her. She just chooses memories instead of things.
There is pain involved in good decisions more often than not. These decisions make our lives better, markedly better.
The safe way we have always done things is not always best. I might have remained in just one career and perhaps been closer to retirement than I am now. In no way do I regret the changes I have made. The gifts from my tenure at ten or so post college jobs over forty years are tremendous resilience, courage, friendships, communication skill, travel, an expanded world view, expertise in various fields, and the confidence that I can do most anything I intend to do.
Fear generally is the thing that halts the growth process, fear of suffering. We fear failure, rejection, embarrassment, financial trouble, loss, physical pain and the unknown. And yes, we have all experienced these. They are the real deal. Being rejected is humiliating, failing is frustrating, having your heart broken is devastating, changing jobs can scare the blonde off your hair, but suffering is the place we begin to earn the gifts.
Not particularly to my liking, suffering is also one of the ways we gain self-knowledge. We all know folks who have allowed themselves be taught by suffering, instead of immobilized by it. In her memoir “The Hiding Place”, Corrie Ten Boom recounts being held in Ravensbruck, a notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp as a Dutch Jew who aided other Jews during World War II. That desperate time taught Corrie who she was and who she was not. Most of all, it taught her gratefulness. What she had suffered during the war gave her the knowledge and empathy to run a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors after the war. Like Corrie, we also learn reliance on God from suffering. Corrie was able to share with thousands how God’s love brought her through the ordeal.
A different type of suffering is that which we must allow. When we do not allow these sacrifices, not much life happens either. Want energy? Exercise. Want financial stability? Do your homework, seek the advice of a financial advisor, and follow it. Want to meet someone wonderful? Do the interior work to become someone wonderful. Want to love your work? Quit that job that sucks you dry of creativity and do something you have passion for!
Our spiritual lives are no different.
We want to feel close to God, to have discernment in our choices. But will we do the spiritual work to know God? I love my church, but just going to church on Sunday morning and expecting to grow in spiritual wisdom is like standing in the kitchen each day and expecting to become a great cook. We all know how that turns out. . .
You have heard the phrase “fruits of the spirit”. I believe those fruits of the spirit are earned gifts developed over time with consistent effort.
When I was a kid I turned to absolute stone when my Dad used the word “discipline”, the dreaded “D” word. Oh, he wore that tired word out! Talk about suffering, I wanted to just lob off my ears as he yammered on. As I have matured however, I have come to understand that applied discipline yields growth. This is also true in our spiritual lives.
Spiritual practice takes so many forms, prayer, meditation, reading and studying spiritual material, writing, sharing our faith lives with others, attending church or spiritual groups, going on retreats or quiet time in nature listening to God. We utter a litany of prayers but we do little listening. Whatever path we choose, growth takes place when it is done with intention, consistency and discipline.
Here is the dismal truth folks; we must suffer to get to the really good stuff in life. Yes it is generally uncomfortable, painful, and sometimes downright frightening but the sweetness on the other side is like no other. Pain and sacrifice can mean a step closer to our dreams. People who do not make the leap suffer too because of their indecision; they just never reap the reward.
“Thirty-nine years of my life had passed before I understood that clouds were not my enemy; that they were beautiful, and that I needed them. I suppose this, for me, marked the beginning of of wisdom. Life is short.” ― Iimani David