Where did the idea come from that things should be easy?
I can’t remember ever believing that myself, although that doesn’t mean I haven’t caused myself a great deal of anguish wishing things weren’t so hard. I absolutely have. Yet, I’m pretty sure I also always knew that struggle was just part of the package deal of life.
I grew up in an old house on the top of a mountain. Some summers, our well ran dry and we had to take containers to a spring in town and bring back water to drink and cook. We took our clothes to the laundromat once a week because a washing machine was not possible with the precarious water situation. In the winter, our driveway was often too slippery to safely navigate, so we would carry groceries and the aforementioned laundry the quarter mile uphill to the house. It was hard, but it was just a part of my life, and doing hard things taught me that I could do hard things.
Yet there seems to be a changing view of struggle. That things shouldn’t be hard. That if something is too difficult, it means either there is something wrong with you or, at the very least, you are doing something wrong. I blame this to a great extent on advertising and social media. Ads everywhere tell us that if you buy this product, you will be happy. If you buy that product, you will be thin or pretty or successful. Poof! Easy peasy! People display the highlights of their lives on social media, and so there is an expectation that your life should be one big, smiling highlight reel, just like everyone else’s (even though no one’s is!). And then there is a generation of well-intentioned but misguided wanna-be supermoms who strived to prevent their kids from experiencing hardship rather than helping them learn to expect it and deal with it. We always had snacks on-hand so they wouldn’t be hungry and activities ready so they wouldn’t be bored, depriving them the opportunity to learn to tolerate distress.
I listened to Glennon Doyle’s We Can Do Hard Things podcast with Cheryl Strayed this morning on my walk. Cheryl’s variation on Glennon’s catch phrase is “bearing the unbearable,” and they were both talking about how hard, unbearable things are going to happen. That’s a given. The only thing we can do is accept and surrender, then journey on. We can do hard things. We don’t have to believe we can do them. We just have to do them, experience the doing of the hard things, so we can grow the faith in ourselves that we can do it.
The doing comes first, not the believing we can.
I took a hike in Kauai this summer on the Kalalau Trail. Five hours climbing up and down over uneven terrain. It was not easy, but every single person who did it felt great at the end. We accomplished something. We saw beautiful things that we wouldn’t have seen if not for the effort of the hike. We were hot and tired and sore, but it felt good because we met the challenge.
I’m celebrating thirty-one years of marriage this week. Regardless of what it looks like from the outside, regardless of the smiling pictures in my photo albums and on Facebook and Instagram, being married for thirty-one years is hard. Lots of love and happiness, and worth every struggle, but let’s be clear that there have been plenty of struggles and plenty of surrender.
So let me wrap this up by talking for a minute about surrender. At the beginning of 2022, there was this thing I heard about finding a word for the year, and I was trying to come up with one around which to build my intentions for the year. One word that kept coming up for me was surrender, but I didn’t like it. It felt right but it also felt yucky. It felt passive and weak…yuck! Yet is still kept popping in my head. So I gave up on the whole idea of a word, because I didn’t like the one I actually needed.
Lately, I’ve been doing a mindfulness practice by Sarah Blondin (on the awesome Insight Timer app) called “Learning to Surrender,” and I understand now that my perspective of the word was flawed. Surrender can actually be a powerful choice to let go of things over which you have no control and gain the freedom to engage in those things we can actually do something about, to make choices that actually matter. It’s the serenity prayer all over again, which I’ve come back to so many times in my life…oh, right, that again…still on the journey to find acceptance, serenity, and wisdom. To surrender.
If I was to wait until I knew for sure I could write an amazing book, or until writing came easily to me, I would never write a word. Instead, I surrender to the doubt and difficulty, and sit down at my computer and start typing. If I waited until I knew for sure that I could help every client who enters my therapy office, I would not be a therapist because I never know if I will actually be able to help anyone.
Instead, I surrender to the struggle. I see it and acknowledge it. I never like it. But I do it. Occasionally, I even believe I am up to the task.