It is certain that we all will walk through dark times in our lives. I have observed two kinds of people that walk through fire; those that get singed and those that get incinerated. They both get burned; one survives and the other is completely consumed by it. This is only a metaphor of course, but we all know people who have faced unspeakable trials who have survived and brought so much joy and wisdom that we are surprised that they could have such an attitude. We also all know of people who have faced unspeakable trials who have survived but were left an empty shell. Pain is pain, and yet, in my short years here on earth I have noticed a trend in others, as well as myself, on beginning again after a season of darkness.
The metaphor of the caterpillar, through struggle, turning into a butterfly is often quoted during hard times. Except I would like to amend that visual. Life feels like becoming a butterfly and then getting your wings ripped off and then going through the whole process all over again. Because if we are honest with ourselves, our lives end up going in cycles just at different levels. Abundance, trial, healing, learning/reevaluating, abundance (or something along those lines). In every trial I have faced both past and present, I have observed these four choices rise to the surface in the face of trial. It is not an exhaustive list, nor a text book on how to process the hard roads. It is merely an observation of these forks in the road and how our choices change the trajectory of the outcomes of our challenges.
Grieve it. Sometimes, you just have to cry over spilled milk. Many times, when I find myself in the valley of the shadow of death, I tell myself it is not fair for me to grieve. I haven’t lost a child. I still have my health. I still have a roof over my head. But I can remember when God so tenderly said, “It’s okay to cry. I know it hurts.” When we hit bumps in the road, its okay to grieve it. It may hurt like you’ve scraped your knee, or it may hurt like you stepped on a land mine. Either way, no matter how short or prolonged, it hurts! Your glass of milk got spilled. You really wanted that milk because you’ve had a long day, a flat tire, two screaming babies, a sick spouse, rude coworkers, an unkind boss, and fifteen bills you can’t pay. You cry over that spilled milk. Because sometimes that feels like the last straw. Grieve, but grieve well. Be angry but find a healthy outlet to let it out. Be upset but do not allow it to define the rest of your life. Be numb but do not forget to reengage with the loved ones around you. The times that I allowed myself to grieve over whatever hurts I was facing were the times that I felt more ready to see the bigger picture and move forward in my healing process.
Gain Perspective. Eventually, grieving must progress towards a process of healing. We go through our personal grieving processes at different paces and with different steps. Once we are able to get up off of the floor, we have an opportunity to gain perspective. This is a fine little phrase that I have added to my personal library. Gain perspective. It isn’t that personal battles are not hard and do not feel like the biggest knife in our backs at the time.Yet, it is near to impossible to cut yourself off from the world when you see the world through another pair of eyes. You may even be able to find something positive to come from it all. I am not a psychologist, expert, nor have gone through all things, but from those who have gone through the loss of loved ones, major rejection, and more, this is one common thread among those who come out the other side of dark places. They are able to zoom out of their situation and see more. Some are inspired to start organizations for those in similar situations and shepherd a community of hope. Some are able to find a new zest for life. By gaining perspective in our situations, it helps us to say, “This was terrible. And it hurt. And I admit that I am not okay. But I also admit that I will eventually be okay.”
Learn. This of course is the advice we hate the most. Because when our lives are falling apart, the last thing we want to do is sit down and take strategic notes as if it is some sort of quiz. Yet again, we can see those people around us who have walked through fire and made it to the other side always talk about what they learned in their darkest moments. Once we have grieved well, stepped back and gained a little perspective, we can also see lessons being shaped in us that we couldn’t see when we were on the floor. We have two options when we fall: to break or to become stronger because of it. We do not have to feel strong in it, but we can find, many times much later after the trial, that we are stronger because of it.
Always get back up. There is a phenomenal video of a college athlete participating in the women’s championship 600 meter race. Going into the last lap, the gal frontrunner fell flat on her face just moments after taking the lead. When you watch it, you assume the worst. There is no way that she is going to catch up. It is too late in the game and there is no way that she could come back and even place in this race. Without a second thought, she hops back to her feet and runs the full final lap and wins the race. Its truly a breathtaking video. Some people have had a rough go of it and have been knocked down more times than they can count. But we all know of someone who, no matter how many times they got kicked in the teeth, got back up to face the music. There is a powerful message in that. The application does not have to be easy to make it true. We have a choice when we fall or get knocked down. We can stay there, or we can get back up. The end of the race ins’t where you last fell; its in the final jagged steps you take afterwards.
There truly is an art to beginning again. These cycles of trials that we run through are different, and yet the same. Fire burns and pain hurts. Getting knocked down may feel like the end, but it is not. You would be surprised what you can endure and survive. Many people are hurting. As Jesus said, “The poor will always be among you”. There will always be pain in this world. But when it comes to be our turn to go through the fire, we can know that it isn’t over, no matter the depth of pain we feel. We have a choice when we walk through fire; to be consumed and destroyed or to become like forged metal. Here’s to beginning again….and again.