A life without difficulties is a classroom without lessons

Life is difficult, thank God. The problems we overcome allow us to experience the richness of life and its accompanying joy. Adversity adds spice to life and makes a wonderful teacher. Don’t the hardships we undergo create the ability to bear them? Is it possible to live through a disaster without growing stronger? I’ll let you answer these questions for yourself.

Before emerging from its chrysalis (cocoon), the young Monarch butterfly has a fat body and folded, limp wings. It is hardly an image of strength and beauty. It cannot free itself from the chrysalis without a long struggle. As it pushes, strains, and convulses, liquid from its body is forced into the veins of its wings. Bit by bit the wings extend and grow stronger. Bit by bit an increasing amount of pressure is placed against the walls of the chrysalis. At last, a slim Monarch with robust wings breaks free.

We are Monarchs. Our chrysalis is our comfort zone. Do you expect to break free without a struggle? Do you expect to fly before extending and strengthening your wings? Can you see how the obstacles we face are not our enemies but our friends?

Our physical eyes weaken as we grow older, but our spiritual eyes should improve with age. What was seen as a devastating disaster in our youth, later appears as a less threatening but worrisome obstacle. As we grow in experience and wisdom, worrisome obstacles become less fearful and are reduced to difficult challenges. Later, difficult challenges are viewed as valuable lessons. And valuable lessons become wonderful opportunities. At last, we reach the point where every ‘misfortune’ is seen as a blessing in disguise. Each obstacle that comes our way is like a delicious fruit with a bitter skin. We don’t complain that we have to peel it before we can enjoy it.

It is our attitude that determines whether we benefit from misfortune. The same furnace that melts gold also hardens clay. With each affliction, those who have a hardened attitude grow harder, more callous, and cynical. Yet, those who willingly allow themselves to be forged, hammered, and shaped by adversity, endlessly grow into a better person, endlessly bloom into a flower to bright to behold.

The greatest lesson suffering has to teach us is how others feel when tragedy hits. Our experience makes us more compassionate. Some learn at an early age. For example, the young girl who climbed the hill with a baby on her back. When someone said to her, “The baby is too heavy for you to carry,” she replied, “It’s okay; he’s my brother.”

More considerations on adversity

a) “Here is a rule to remember in the future, when something tempts you to feel bitter: not, ‘This is a misfortune,’ but ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune.’” (Marcus Aurelius, AD 121 ~ 180)

b) Adversity builds character. The challenges we face teach us resourcefulness, self-reliance, courage, patience, perseverance, and self-discipline

c) Struggles makes us heroic, for heroes and heroines are made by scaling mountains, not molehills.

d) Cold winters, heavy downpours, and scorching heat are unavoidable. So is adversity. So, why fight it? Accepting its inevitability and resigning yourself to it — before it strikes — is the first step in overcoming it.

e) Appreciate how much suffering as been averted by comparing yourself to those who are far worse off. If you fill your moments with thanks, you’ll have no time for moaning, whining and complaining.

f) Don’t try to avoid pain by wrongful means, as inappropriate conduct can lead to what you seek to avoid. For example, trying to escape poverty by stealing could lead to a jail sentence, making things worse by separating you from your family.

g) Live with hope, for to live without it is to live with despair. Resurrect yourself from the tumultuous storm as a glowing rainbow. Become a ray of hope and a beacon of light for others to follow.

h) Use the lowest point of your struggle as a fulcrum to rise above it. When you feel nothing could possibly be worse, you have nothing more to fear, so do whatever you can, for you have nothing to lose. Many alcoholics and drug addicts did not get motivated to change until they sank to the bottom. So, finding oneself in the gutter can be a blessing in disguise, for it may prove to be the way out.

i) Use the PPPP program. First, don’t PANIC, for all it does is immobilize you. To escape the clutches of fear, PLAN. That is, ask yourself what steps can be taken to improve the situation. Next, break down those steps into smaller tasks that are easier to carry out. Set a completion date for each task. Finally, work your plan by carrying out the action steps. As you do so, you will start making PROGESS. Keep building on your progress until you reach the level of PROSPERITY you desire.

j) It is often desirable to change, yet we may avoid doing so unless absolutely necessary. Soften the blow when calamity strikes by recognizing it as a call for change. It is not a suggestion, but an order. It forces you to change. Welcome its loud voice, for whom among us will not be strengthened by wrestling with adversity?

k) Tune out your imagination, which blows everything out of proportion, and focus on the real world. Remember, the misfortunes hardest to bear are those that never happen. And our fear of harm always exceeds the harm we fear.

l) Reduce the sting of hardship by studying the words of Henry Ward Beecher (1813 ~ 1887), “Affliction comes to us all not to make us sad, but sober; not to make us sorry, but wise; not to make us despondent but by its darkness to refresh us, as the night refreshes the day; not to impoverish, but to enrich us, as the plough enriches the field; to multiply our joy, as the seed, by planting, is multiplied a thousandfold.”

m) Adversity usually leads to loss of one kind or another. The greatness of our loss is determined not by what we have lost, but by our prevailing attitude, for they who despair after losing little have lost much. But those who remain courageous after losing much, lose little. After a disaster, it is not the amount of our remaining belongings that counts, but the amount of our remaining strength, courage, and determination.

n) Remember the words of Bias, a sixth-century BC Greek sage who was considered one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece: “The greatest misfortune of all is not to be able to bear misfortune.”

I’ll end with a poem for you to ponder. Although Australian Adam Lindsay Gordon died 132 years ago (d. 1870), his words remain as a monument: “Life is mostly froth and bubble; / Two things stand like stone, / Kindness in another’s trouble, / Courage in your own.”