The Gift of Struggle

Do you find some of the reactions to the current lockdown measures somewhat bemusing? I mean, I get it. Nobody likes to be confined indoors. Nobody likes to be cut-off from society or out of work. Willingly volunteering for a game of Risk or writing your social media updates in the form of haikus paints your mental state in something of a negative light.

Yet the angst and complaints over the injustice and cruel torture of social distancing and the cries to ‘get back to normal’ (after a short stint of isolation, on the whole) testify to our strong aversion to any kind of struggle. Perhaps our fat years have become too fat and our lean years haven’t come round often enough.

Over time, I’ve learnt a lot from struggle; in fact, I’ve probably learnt more from struggle than from much else. Back in 2007, a few months before my youngest son was born, I had some issues with insomnia – waking up at midnight, unable to go back to sleep for several hours. That was the start. Those lost hours bothered me so much that, before long, I wasn’t really sleeping at all. I prayed very tearful prayers asking for relief, but God didn’t seem to agree with me that I was in serious danger.

Suffering through a week like this earned me the following week’s accomodation and food, and the company of lively and fascinating people, at a fabulous resort destination.

O.K., it was more like a hospital.

O.K., it was more like a special enclosed wing of a hospital.

O.K., it was the psych ward. But seriously, if you go, be sure to order the pudding for evening dessert. It’s breathtaking.

The week spent in a medically-induced fog, barely able to function or think clearly, diagnosed with a number of psychological conditions, then re-diagnosed without any of those conditions, then undiagnosed without any definitive conditions, forced to watch episodes of Dr. Phil, because that was what the very unstable guy in the next room wanted to watch…well, it all broke me. I had reached my lowest point. Though I did watch Grown Ups 2 with my son the other day and that’s a close second.

Ah, but what did I learn? Many things! I learnt, in the ensuing weeks and months,  that I was simply wrestling with anxiety. I learnt that my fear of personal imperfections was the culprit. I learnt that my habits of mind were causing my problems. I learnt that perfectionism is not a positive character trait. I learnt that I would have to confront and alter my thinking patterns. I learnt that I needed far more emotional resilience than I had at that point. I learnt that the brand of pudding used in the psych ward was extremely difficult to locate.

Maybe you’ll ask me, where was God in all this? Funnily enough, I asked God many times to remove this affliction and perform a miraculous healing, to get me quickly ‘back to normal’. But alas, God was willing to allow me to struggle with repeated bouts of anxiety, and with deconstructing and reconstructing my habits of life. For years, in fact.

Would I change that? No. Because struggle is a tremendously effective teacher. It alters your perspective. It trains you to recognise more clearly what’s important and what’s not. It develops your perseverance and resilience. Yes, God healed me – and God did that by permitting me to learn a new mode of living through struggle.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” says James, ” because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  (James 1:2-4)

‘Pure joy’. Those seem like strong words in the face of mental and emotional strain. But I think James is on to something here. Struggles are a gift. Don’t be in too great a hurry to escape them. Don’t be in a rush to ‘get back to normal’.

 


 

Image Credit: ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ from Business Insider, found at https://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-surprising-history-of-keep-calm-and-carry-on-2015-6?r=US&IR=T

 

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