Do you ever look around and compare your life to someone else’s, thinking how easy he or she must have it? This usually happens to me when I see someone else’s Facebook life. When we compare our inside to someone else’s outside, we come up short. We also come up short when we compare the beginning of our story to someone else’s middle. Is there a part of your life you wish you could delete ? Do you wish you could protect your children from hardship? I know I do. But there is a different way to think about it: We all have problems, so we need to learn to deal with them as productively as possible.
First, it is important to acknowledge that difficulties are part of life and if you think someone has no hardship, you simply do not know what is going on. Yesterday when I was sitting in church, I was more aware of this than I usually am. I looked around and saw people I know who have unbelievable hardships: a man whose wife died of cancer and left young children behind, a couple of people whose spouses had affairs, a woman whose husband chose alcohol over their marriage, a couple whose son is in prison, a couple of teenagers with debilitating diseases, a mother whose child is a few months past daily meth use, a couple who want children and are not able to conceive, and a woman who fears she will always be single. The list goes on and on. Most of these battles are hidden. How would we treat others if we could see what was really going on in their lives?
Look for the Lesson
It is useful to look for the lessons hidden in our problems. One of the lessons of hardship is compassion for others and compassion for ourselves. It is easiest to be compassionate to another person when we can touch that person’s pain in ourselves. Too often we are judgmental. We think about the ways the person could have caused their own problem.
How are we alike?
I have worked with women who have been physically abused by their partners and went back again and again. This is hard to understand; however, I can remember dating a man when I was in college who did not physically abuse me, but treated me in a less-than-stellar way. I remember before the relationship ended how I put up with behavior that is hard for me to imagine tolerating now. When I think of myself in that relationship I am much more compassionate toward other people who tolerate unhealthy behavior in their partners. It reminds me of the story of the frog in a pot of water. Had the frog been put into a pot of boiling water, he would have jumped out. But when the frog is put into a pot of cool water and the temperature is raised slowly, a deadly situation sneaks up on him.
At times when we see someone with a progressive illness our initial response is to move away and avoid the person because it is painful to face the situation. When we are healthy, we do not want to think about losing the abilities that we take for granted. When my mother was dying I knew that if I were in her place I would not want to face it alone. I would want my children to be near me. It gave me the compassion to connect with my mother’s heart even when she could not longer use her voice. We all want to be seen and acknowledged.
Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. -John Watson
We each have struggles and sometimes forget everyone else is fighting their own battle too. Remembering that everyone is in the midst of their own battle helps us to treat each other with compassion. Sometimes there are things that even your close friends are not telling you about their struggles. Teach your children to be compassionate by modeling compassion. When someone is struggling, try to ask yourself what would I appreciate in a similar situation? If someone is seems preoccupied or irritable, consider he or she may be fighting a battle you know nothing about. You can always choose kindness whether for someone else or yourself.
Part two of “What to Do About Hardship” is coming soon.
What have you learned from hardship?