Enduring the Unendurable

Sometimes Life Crashes

Tsunamis destroy. Diseases ravage. Terrible accidents happen. We make mistakes. We age and wrinkle and fall apart. Governments oppress. Wars rage. Economies falter. People disappoint. Marriages fail. And parents are sometimes horribly, horribly flawed.

There are times, I’m sure, when it feels like life is crashing down on top of you, smothering and choking you, breaking and thrashing you about as it scrapes and gouges at the soft flesh of your heart, burying you deeper and deeper under the rubble and debris of a life that seems at the brink of collapse.

Does this sound familiar? Have you been there? Is it happening now?

It hurts! There is an indescribable ache that throbs in every beat of your lonely or troubled heart. It sometimes feels like you want to just throw in the towel and call it quits. We all understand the desire.

All I can ask of you is please, don’t. There is hope. There is hope. Please believe me when I say to you, straight from my heart through this page to your soul, there is, in fact, hope that lingers in the reality of what life was meant to be and who governs the process we experience living it.

Whatever the specific trial you happen to be going through right now, however much pain you’re having to endure, the sorrow can recede, the heartache can fade, the personal trial can be given meaning and purpose and can start to make sense no matter how dark and despairing things seem to be right now.

When Life Smacks You Upside the Head, You’re Left with One of Two Very Stark Choices

  1. Lie down, just accept it, be a victim, give up, curl into the fetal position and let circumstances run over you again and again and again as you wait for the end. Or …
  1. Scramble to your feet best you can, stand as tall as you’re able, look your trial in the eyes and persevere while taking steps to overcome and transcend, to learn and grow from the experience.

I invite you to begin that process today, right now, with this article, if you haven’t already started that journey. You will learn how to better overcome, endure, and transcend your challenges and trials and begin living once more.

Inspiration for this Article

I recently spoke to a group of 46 + year old single adults. Some were widowed. Others never married. Some were disabled. Some, divorced. Most were in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Some were in their 80s. One was in her 90s.

This post is the nuts and bolts of what I shared with them that evening. I was told by many in attendance that it was tremendously helpful. If you find yourself in such circumstances, I hope it will help you too. If you are not yet in such circumstances, the Boy Scout motto will prove a blessing to you one inevitable day: Be Prepared!

5 Ways to Endure the Unendurable

1. Create Meaning

Dr. Victor Frankl, had the misfortune of being a Jew in 1942, Nazi Germany.  It was that year that he and his family were rounded up and shipped to a Nazi extermination camp. He would end up in 5, including a short stint at the infamous Auschwitz.

In all, he spent 3 years as an inmate in the most horrific experiment in evil ever perpetrated against humanity. The isolation from loved ones, the fear and anxiety, the severe deprivation and hunger, the random brutality and systematized horror, the insanity and inhumanity of it all is beyond comprehension.

And yet, after being liberated, he would write a book called, Man’s Search for Meaning, and make this statement in it:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances…

“And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate…

“Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.”

Out of the experiences he lived and witnessed as a survivor of the Holocaust, Dr. Frankl developed a new form of therapy he called logotherapy. Logotherapy operates on Nietzsche’s idea that all we need to endure any hardship is a big enough reason why. In other words, if significant meaning can be attached to the thing we suffer, then the thing we suffer can be endured.

What meaning can be attached to your suffering?

Following are 6 questions you can ask yourself as you create meaning and purpose for your trials. Other questions can be asked to direct your thinking too. But these are a good start:

  1. What is this challenge trying to teach me?
  2. What can it teach me about life?
  3. What does it teach me about me?
  4. What weaknesses does it reveal?
  5. What lessons am I being taught about my values and priorities?
  6. How can my pain be used to help others?

In this way, question by insightful question, meaning and purpose can be created for why we are called to so struggle with life.

2. Discover Meaning

There are two ways to approach making sense of your trials and pain. One is to attach meaning to it (as mentioned in #1). The other is to discover its inherent meaning by backing up a bit and viewing your trial with a more eternal perspective.

“With celestial sight, trials impossible to change become possible to endure.” ~ Russell M. Nelson

C.S. Lewis explained that our trials and suffering are ways God reaches down to build something better than the raw materials we were to start with. I think his explanation will have value for many of my readers. Here’s what he said:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps you can understand what He is doing.

“He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you know that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make much sense.

“What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.

“You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage; but He is building a palace.”

Such an understanding of our trials can lead to renewed perseverance as we contemplate the person God (or life) is making out of us.

The purpose of life, then, is to learn and grow. The purpose of our trials is to get us to fulfill the purpose of life.

“Rather than simply passing through trials, we must allow trials to pass through us in ways that sanctify us.” ~ Neil A. Maxwell

Life is meant to test us and help us grow. That can’t happen on the cool green of a grassy knoll. It only happens in the sweat and challenge of the uphill climb. It finds us and yanks us around a bit to see what we’re made of, or, more accurately, so we can discover what we’re made of ourselves.

That uphill climb provides us with opportunities to build moral and emotional muscle as well. No one ever built muscle lifting air. There has to be resistance. What happens when we lift weights is that we are actually damaging muscle. The body overcompensates as it repairs the damage making the muscle bigger and stronger. We experience that process as larger biceps and broader shoulders … and more physical strength.

Life does that too as we climb our mountains of trial and difficulty: we build moral, spiritual and emotional muscles in the processes. So you see, the trial you are going through, while maybe not of your choosing and maybe not even necessarily the will of God (or life or the universe), it is nonetheless an opportunity for you to lift heavy weight and build your muscles of character and compassion and forgiveness and perseverance.

3. Stop Staring so Close at the Rock in your Hand

I brought a black stone from my garden to that singles conference I referenced above. It was in my pocket as I spoke. About 10 minutes into my presentation, I took it from my pocket and gave it to a woman sitting in the front row.

I asked her to hold it at arm’s length and tell me what she saw.

“The rock,” she answered matter-of-factly. The crowd laughed. I did too. I asked her why that was all she saw.

“Because I’m looking at it,” she said just as matter-of-factly as before and we laughed again.

“But what do you mostly see?” I pressed.

“The rock!” she insisted.

“Why?”

“Because that’s what I’m focusing on.”

“Exactly!” I said, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. “Now keep the rock in your hand and focus on me,” I continued. “What do you mostly see now?”

“You.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s where I’m focusing.”

“Ahhh!” I sighed. The look in her face said she was starting to see where I was taking her. But I wasn’t done. “Now, close one eye and start pulling the rock closer and closer to your open eye until it either touches your eyebrow or the bridge of your nose.” She did. “What do you see now?” I asked her.

“Nothing but the rock,” was the quiet answer. I heard someone near the back groan, “Ohhhh!”

And that is what we do, my dear friend. If you incessantly think about your trial, complain about it, pray on it, cry over it, tell others about it … all … the … time … it is no different than doing what the woman did with the rock. And you will see what she saw: Nothing but rock. Nothing but pain.

If you go around wearing dark sunglasses, everything will look dark and dreary. If you focus only on the pain and suffering in life, life itself will eventually take on those same characteristics.

So take off your shades and put your stone away in your pocket and begin to notice the rest of life still buzzing around with activity and vitality … and start living yours too!

4. Don’t become your Pain

You are not your trial. You are not your pain or sorrow. Some so strongly identify themselves with their particular set of challenges that the trial becomes an extension of the personality and character of the individual.

Words are very powerful things. They not only reflect our thinking, they help shape it. The words we use to describe ourselves also tend to lock us into a role or free us from it.

“I am a cripple.”

“I am a widow.”

“I am a sinner.”

Such words lock and trap us into an identity and attitude that reflects that role. Instead, disassociate the obstacle from who you are. Think of yourself this way:

“I have a disability.”

“I lost my spouse.”

“I committed a sin, or made  a mistake.”

This way, your pain loses its ability to define who you are. It becomes something that has happened to you or that you did, rather than a reflection of who you are. Overcoming outside conditions or external obstacles is a lot easier than changing the very nature of your being – even if it is only artificially true by the identity we create and assume.

5. Get on with Living!

Don’t get stuck in the rut of your difficulty. The rut you get stuck in can quickly become its own trial. You don’t need to add fuel to an already consuming fire! So get on with life!

Does it hurt to be out with others? I’m so sorry. But get out with others anyway! Do you feel overwhelmed by the pain, whether physical or emotional? Watch a movie and laugh out loud anyway. Go to a concert. Sit on the beach. Read a book. Do some gardening. Learn a skill or pick up a hobby. Paint or play piano or write poetry or swim. Anything will do.

Don’t wait for the perfect thing. Experiment. Explore. Learn. Develop. That is the stuff of life. So stop sleeping past noon, turn off the TV, and get outside and live! Take the first step toward life and living.

The only time you’re allowed to stop living is when you’re dead. If you’re reading this post, you’re not yet. So stop acting like you are and get off the couch and go do something!

Afterthoughts

We will All have Mountains to Climb

Some have climbed them already. Some are climbing them now. And some haven’t even spotted mountains anywhere on their horizons yet. But mountains are there and will have to be climbed eventually.

If you feel like you are all alone, like there is no way out and no way around and no way you could possibly go through your difficulties, please just take it on faith that you are not, in fact, alone. Others have successfully walked where you are walking now. There can be a measure of strength for you in knowing that.

All of us will, at some point and to some degree, feel the stab of pain and sorrow. We will have mountains to climb and burdens to carry and roads to travel that are difficult, long and sometimes lonely.

But as we find meaning to our trials, keep them in proper perspective and keep living a life of purpose and significance, our trials will shrink to a manageable size as we learn and grow and become in this life.

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