“We try to avoid pain but actually it’s the only way we grow.”
A dear friend wrote that in an email recently, and I visibly deflated. Not in a bad way, but the wind whooshed right out of my sails as I winced in recognition of the profundity – and painfulness – of that statement.
Life is painful right now. And yet relative to real pain – the loss of a loved one, a terminal diagnosis, or all the unspeakably sad things that I am afraid to watch on the news – my life probably looks like a walk in the park.
It sort of is. Or at least it has been. But I’ve been carrying around a collection of menacing little fears for a while now and recently they’ve started to take their toll; weighing me down, dulling the colour of life’s brightest moments, and leaving me with that unmistakable nagging sense that there may be trouble ahead.
And then trouble did indeed present itself, as it invariably does in life. But it all got me thinking… in my rage and disbelief at the circumstances that have brought me to a place of sharp and sudden pain, am I missing an opportunity to grow through this?
Because if so, I’d like to get the growth thing over and done with right away so that I can get my pretty life back on the rails, please.
Except that’s not how it works, I know.
A quick backwards glance through the painful moments of the past reveals that good has indeed come from bad things before, and that even my darkest moments of despair have left a deposit of something golden and enduring in my soul.
Am I a ‘better’ person than I was before those moments? I can’t say for sure, but I know I wouldn’t trade who I am now for who I used to be. I am grateful for the way pain has etched itself into the nooks and crannies of who I am, because it taught me things I never could have learned in any other way. Pain sometimes has purpose, even if the circumstances that cause us pain seem utterly cruel and pointless.
If we can find a way to reach beyond the confines of pain, it can yield something priceless. I am choosing to believe that, hoping for a miracle, and trusting that there are sunbeams just beyond the edges of this particular storm cloud, which can’t last forever.
I’ve already learned to listen to my instinct well before it has the chance to prove me right. I’ve picked up some valuable life lessons, and I’ve discovered what it’s like to feel squeezed into a tight and hopeless corner. And consequently I know I am already different – softer and more sensitive to circumstances that have seemed alien to me until now.
And while I’m hoping for some swift respite from life’s harsher lessons soon, I’m also determined to lean into the fulness of this opportunity for growth.
As Henry Miller said: All growth is a leap in the dark; a spontaneous, unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.
It helps to remember that I’m growing, not just falling blindly through the darkness.