We often don’t know what to do, but we don’t give up."
― St. Paul the Apostle
Life is tough sometimes. Sometimes the unexpected happens and it feels as if the earth has fallen from beneath our feet. When those “take your breath away moments” happen, they can be scary, anxiety-ridden and perplexing.They can cause us to call everything into question.
The “what if” has come to pass. What if all of the other “what ifs” come to pass? Then what?
I have had to face this question recently and my response to myself has been: we keep going.
Please understand that I do not mean to imply that what it will take to keep going will be easy or pretty or comfortable. It almost assuredly will not.
What I do mean to say is that while we give all respect to the gravity of the difficult moment in which we find ourselves, we must soldier on. Those moments, no matter how gritty, ugly, hard and gut-wrenching they may be, do not exist in vain. They do not exist to wreck us emotionally and leave us eternally in ruins.
They will pass, and we will be better.
The real tragedy would be if we refused to let our hardest moments make us stronger, wiser and more resilient.
If we make it through to the other side of the seemingly insurmountable trials that we thought we couldn't, imagine what else we can do.
― Zac Ochsenbine
I admit it. I am goal-oriented. I am ever-working toward achievement. I am focused sometimes to a fault. I am in good company as many people who are successful in rigorous environments are wired this way. And while it serves us well to be task-oriented, we must be intentional about not missing the moments in life that happen in between the big accomplishments.
The other day, one of my daughters asked me to help her with an art project. At the moment she asked me, I was feeling extremely overwhelmed. My “to do” list runneth over. I had some research I needed to do for work. I had an upcoming speaking engagement for which I still had not gathered my thoughts. I had two parent board meetings for my daughters’ respective schools for which I needed to prepare. I was behind in my team manager duties for my younger two daughters’ soccer teams. And I still wanted to get a workout in that day. I had too much going on. I didn’t have time to color.
As I fixed my mouth to say, “No,” something gave me pause: her face. Her expectant, hopeful face made me stop and think. I had prayed for motherhood and the prayer had been answered; and unlike many of my accomplishments, this blessing was not a box to be checked. Parenting was not a task that was accomplished once and for all at one finite moment in time. It was an ongoing, moment to moment, day by day endeavor.
Yes, my “to do” list was important, but my daughter was more important. I decided to focus on the opportunity that I had in that moment: to put the “to do” list on pause and turn my attention to my young daughter who would be overjoyed to spend an hour on a Saturday coloring with her mommy.
As I told my daughter that I would indeed color with her, a feeling of peace came over me. I knew I was making the right choice. I was choosing to enjoy life with my daughter. This was a precious, sweet moment in her childhood that we would both remember.
Life is precious and it is short. It is imperative that we do not forget to embrace each of life’s moments as we strive toward our goals.
I don’t want to look back on my life and feel like I missed a moment of it.
― Andy Andrews
The Navy Seals are known for repeating the following phrase during training, “Embrace the suck.” While I will acknowledge that this motto isn’t exactly eloquent, the attitude behind it fosters the right type of perseverance.
It’s human nature to want things to be comfortable, easy, and as simple as possible. But we know that all things that come simply and easily to us aren’t always best for us, especially in the long term. Often our seasons of hardship are those within which we experience the most growth.
I often find myself encouraging my daughters as they navigate various challenges. Understandably, they would like for their respective trials to come to a quick and deliberate end, forthwith. I always hear them out when they share their frustrations, but I also often push back and share that in my own experience, my most challenging seasons have fostered and developed personal internal growth, the likes of which I would not have experienced outside of those tough circumstances.
Recently, I made it personal for my eldest daughter, reminding her of her first spelling test.
This daughter has always loved reading and has had strong language and verbal expression skills from a very young age, so when she started pre-kindergarten, we expected that this trend would continue. Well, it did, until her first hurdle. On the Monday of the second week of school, her teacher distributed a list of spelling words and told the class that they would be taking a spelling test at the end of the week.
When my daughter came home from school that day and pulled out her homework folder, she was in a full panic. She was not so concerned that she would not remember how to spell the words, but more so that she would only have a certain amount of time in which to write the words down legibly and place each letter properly within the wide-lined primary school paper.
She was stressed, and so was I. Not because I didn’t think she could do it, but because I knew this was a new challenge for her. She had never been asked to do this before and I did not want the experience to take a negative toll on her self-confidence. But despite my instinct to protect her from discomfort, I told her, “You can do this. You are smart. You are an excellent reader. You can do anything you set your mind to.” She wasn’t convinced. She begged me not to make her take the test. Much to her chagrin, her pleas fell on deaf ears.
Over the course of the week leading up to the test, my daughter dutifully practiced writing her spelling words every night, even as tears streamed down her face and dripped onto her paper. She tightly gripped the pencil with her small fingers, determined to form each letter properly, engraving into the wooden table with each linear and circular stroke she applied to the paper.
She took the test at the end of the week. She got all the words right, but she did get a reminder from her teacher to work on her penmanship.
With each passing week, she got stronger and stronger and faster and faster, and eventually got to the point where the words came so easily that she had to be given a more challenging vocabulary list.
After I finished recounting the story, I reminded my daughter that if we had allowed her to skip her first spelling test because she thought it was too hard and because she was afraid, she would have never known that she could be successful at it as she would have never tried. And she would have never known how many other more complex tasks she would be able to accomplish in the future because she would have quit before she took the first test.
Reader, whatever trial you are facing, whether it is personal, professional or academic, view it as an opportunity to develop perseverance and grit. It just might be preparing you for a future test.