“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it” (Helen Keller)
Many of life’s difficulties are short-term and swiftly come to an end as we get re-employed, or sort out an issue with a friend, or resolve an argument or recover from some illness. Other forms of adversity, however, are long-term, like the death of a family member, a terminal illness, the loss of a limb – these are not so easily resolved, and the pain caused is often long-lasting. The power of confronting any adversity, however, releases hope and promotes healing.
Though some people allow adversity to bend or break their spirits, others seem to adapt swiftly to their contexts and overcome the opposition. Edward Ziegler (Message of the Maples, Everyday Greatness) tells the story of a wise man, Edgar N Jackson, who had suffered a stroke and now battled with partial paralysis. Experiencing some setbacks himself, Ziegler decided to go and see the man on his farm in Vermont and explained some of what he was facing to Jackson.
“Then, in a sense, you’re grief-stricken,” he said.
“But I haven’t lost anyone close to me,” Ziegler protested.
Jackson answered: “Nevertheless, what you’re going through is related to grief. What’s essential is to mourn your losses fully and find solace by learning to live with them. People who don’t, wind up bitter and disillusioned by sorrow. They’re unable to find solace. But others who creatively use the act of mourning can gain new sensitivity and a richer faith. That’s why you so often hear that we have to talk out our feelings, express our emotions. That is part of the mourning process. Only then can healing follow.”
Jackson took Ziegler outside to show him some maples. The original owner of the land had saved himself the trouble of digging holes for poles to erect his fence and had used the line of young maples as the poles. It was a trauma for the saplings to have barbed wire hammered into their bark. Some fought it (and became gnarled and broken), but others adapted (the barbed wire has been accepted and incorporated into the life of the tree).
Jackson concluded: “What internal forces make it possible to overcome an injury like barbed wire, rather than allowing it to distort the rest of life? How can one person transform grief into new growth instead of allowing it to become a life-destroying intrusion?”
To get to a place of healing, and the subsequent release of hope, one must be authentic with feelings, loss and pain, and deal with them appropriately. We all experience adversity in our lives. Dealing with this adversity is a skill which can be learned and includes being honest with yourself, acknowledging your pain, being kind to yourself by seeking help, getting ideas on how to adapt and implementing those ideas that will have significant impact, being less critical of yourself by cutting yourself some slack, forgiving yourself for any dumb decisions that you have made, etc.
As Jackson said calmly to Ziegler before he left the farm: “We can use our painful experiences as excuses for retreat. Or we can accept the promises of resurrection and rebirth.”
Hope is generated and healing is accomplished when we overcome adversity by authentically dealing with our loss. “Everyone at some point is going to have adversity. I think if we don’t learn from that, then it was just a penalty. But if you use it, then it becomes tuition.” (Dr Phil McGraw)