I don’t know about you, but I personally hate to struggle. It seems we all are constantly coming face-to-face with some sort of struggle.
The struggle to pay bills, the struggle to lose weight, the struggle with spouses and children, the struggle with illness, the struggle at home, the struggle at work, and the struggle at… well, LIFE!
Although we can avoid some struggles by making wise decisions, many are just an inherent part of life. The struggles, over which we have little-to-no control, are often the most frustrating to deal with on a daily basis.
Many of us are tempted to just “throw in the towel” and essentially “check out.” Some choose to try and find some sort of good out of these battles in attempts to make them seem “worthwhile.” Most of us however, do everything in our power to avoid struggle, and what we can’t avoid, we put off until there is no other option but to face it.
But, what if experiencing struggle was a good thing, a healthy, and even necessary function of our development?
We are all probably familiar with the phrase, “No pain, no gain,” and we may even use this concept to motivate us to move through difficulties and achieve goals. But, let’s take a minute to think through this concept. What if, in the absence of struggle, we also lose something of great value, like the capacity for hope? For personal growth, perseverance, and connected-ness?
One of my favorite authors, Dr. Brene’ Brown, puts it this way, “Hope is a function of struggle.”
Research on the development of hope has found that hope is not emotion, but rather a way of thinking that is learned through experience of struggle and parental modeling, making hope something that can be taught.
When We Avoid Struggle, We Avoid Growth
What about perseverance? How do we develop a sense of perseverance if we never have anything to persevere through? What if our ability to connect with other people, to feel empathy and compassion is a result our shared human struggles?
Let’s park here. Can you really know the true joy of victory if you have never experienced defeat? If you have never struggled through a seemingly hopeless situation and come out on the other side a stronger, more independent person, can you really know what it means to have hope that you will overcome? How do we know that we can get through difficult situations, other than going through them and by watching others do the same?
Although most of us are aware that hardships can produce growth and maturity, we all seem to go out of our way to avoid them. Not only do we try avoiding it ourselves, we also do everything in our power to keep those we care about from experiencing struggle or failure.
By doing this, are we are not only stifling our own growth, but also the growth of those we love? By shielding ourselves and others from any form of struggle, we also block the growth, self-confidence, patience, hope, tenacity, perseverance, and empathy that naturally develops from going through difficulties and emerging victorious.
This concept always brings me back to the story of the butterfly emerging from its cocoon. For someone watching this miraculous event, they would undoubtedly notice the great struggle with which the butterfly emerges from its protective container. It may even be tempting to step in and help it along in the process. However, this struggle is necessary to strengthen the butterfly’s wings, and without this struggle, the butterfly would not be able to fly. Therefore, the person who steps in and eliminates the struggle is harming the very thing it wishes to help.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we go looking for struggle or encourage our loved ones to do this either. However, maybe we can look at those struggles that we inevitably will face a little differently.
Maybe we can do as James 1:2 says, and “Count it all joy,” because these struggles will develop a steadfastness in us that was not there before. Maybe instead of making ourselves crazy running around trying to shield everyone we love from experiencing any type of struggle, we can rest in the fact that God is in control, and that He is working all things for the good of them who love Him (Romans 8:28).
What if our job isn’t to avoid pain at all cost, but to learn from it when it does come? And, what if instead of “fixing it” for others, we can be a source of hope that they too can and will overcome?
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. For someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” – Cynthia Occelli