I believe that our seemingly disparate day-to-day life experiences, if taken careful note of, intersect in the most amazing ways which can uncover profound meaning.
I am currently reading and finishing the amazing biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian pastor who stood up to Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, and who stood solidly behind and with the persecuted Jews in the name of justice. Bonhoeffer was eventually murdered in a concentration camp for his beliefs and actions, and very shortly before his death, in the gruesome conditions of his prison cell he wrote:
“Pain is a holy angel who shows us treasures that would otherwise remain forever hidden; through him men and women have become greater than through all the joys of the world.”
I started to think: Do pain and struggle truly show us more than joy? Does this thing called “pain” that we avoid at every cost truly show us treasures that we would otherwise never see? Does “struggle,” the dark passenger that we are afraid to show because of our pride, truly uncover our authentic self?
On Monday, I went out on a long bike ride here in Colorado, and my legs started telling me after two hours that this long bike ride may have been too long. During the last few miles I hit a steep, long, and winding hill. It was about 90 degrees out, my lungs were burning, my legs were burning, and I simply wanted to throw the bike down and call for a ride.
Then, about halfway up the arduous (and seemingly never-ending) hill, I looked to my right and I saw a doe perfectly hand-placed underneath some low trees in a stream just staring at me. This was truly a postcard moment, but it was something more. In the midst of my body’s losing struggle with gravity, I witnessed this amazing sight. I thought to myself, “If I had not been here, in this pain, in this struggle at this particular time of day, then this singular moment of beauty and of profound reflection would have never happened. Maybe, on a quite literal level, Bonhoeffer is right.” (In fact, if I had not been there at that very moment in that terrible physical pain, you would not be reading this post at all.)
This morning, I thought more about pain and about struggle, and I thought more about that bike ride. Many people say they exercise to “clear their minds,” and I think that’s true, but I have to believe that the pain and the struggle of exercise is what helps us see ourselves in a clearer light.
When we are in pain, our insecurities vanish. When we are struggling, our priorities become clear. When we are trying to survive, our thoughts and doubts about our self-worth are erased, the nagging comments about being “too this” or “not enough that” vanish, and we find ourselves, in the midst of the incredible discomfort, in a truly rare state in life.
The layers of self-preservation, self-righteousness, and self-doubt begin to fall off and we find ourselves utterly exposed.
What a rare “treasure” this exposure is in our lives.
Swimming in a world that tells us who to be, what to do, and how to think, the currents of the world pull at us in every angle and we struggle to not get swept away and lose “ourselves.” In moments of pain we are forced to return to our anchor. Whether for good or for bad we have to face it, to look it head on and ask, “is it really you who drives me forward?”
In moments of struggle we can ask with rare clarity: Who am I? Who do I want to be?
In this life, there is pain. Pain will come into your life. You will struggle. We can not control it. As hard as it is to see, there is treasure in this pain. What is this treasure? What did you learn about your anchor? What drives you to keep moving forward?
In this life, there is also pain and struggle that we actively avoid as to not inconvenience ourselves. Whether in our personal lives, at work, or in the pursuit of our dreams, this avoidance of struggle and hardship may deprive us of the true treasure we seek: A purpose.
As we all work through another week in our lives ask yourself: What do I learn about myself in pain? What do I not pursue because I am avoiding the struggle? What treasures may I be missing out on?
I highly recommend “Bonhoeffer” for people of all faiths: http://www.amazon.com/Bonhoeffer-Pastor-Martyr-Prophet-Spy/dp/1595551387.)