As Thanksgiving approaches, the annual appreciation of people, places and possessions commences. My Facebook feed is filled with posts about thankfulness for family, friends, jobs, basic necessities, and even one about chocolate (bless…I’m beyond thankful for that decadence, and may I add coffee?). I love reading my children’s school-created lists of things in which they are thankful. They are always sure to include some oddity like underwear or big (permanent) teeth that make me giggle.
But, this year as I reflect about my personal list of things in which I want to give thanks I realize it isn’t filled only with tokens of happiness but rather heartache and struggle. Before I really dig into this thought I want to preface it by saying that I am no Mother Teresa. I am not a martyr and I am definitely not the most optimistic person that you will ever meet. My go-to attitude is actually borderline cynical and extremely sarcastic. I’m not a “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” kinda girl…more a “Who needs a freakin’ glass anyway? Diet Pepsi tastes better in a can.” Get the picture? I think this self-portrayal is important because it is a testament of the amazing heart change in which God is capable. If I am not just tolerant of struggle but appreciative of it, there has been some major shifts and adjustments going on internally.
I consider myself self-reflective, adequately acquainted with my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve said multiple times in my life that I am my most fierce judge and critic. However, one of the most shocking things that I have learned about myself while walking through struggle is that there are problematic behaviors, thoughts and actions that weren’t on my radar. Like, I DID NOT even realize existed. For example, how numb I had become to the suffering of others or my addiction to social media. I had written these behaviors off as necessary for job performance. I couldn’t connect emotionally with every student and family that I came into contact with because I would be emotionally bankrupt and I had to be on social media because I needed to stay up to date with current events. Lies. Lies. Lies.
Here’s the truth, I had become too selfish and wrapped up in my own agenda to really care about other people, especially people that were basically strangers to me. In addition, I bought into the hype that the real purpose of my life was to exhaust every entertainment outlet and pleasure-seeking activity I could. As time has gone by my passion for others was replaced with a passion for self and family indulgence. I mean, God would want his people to have money and be blessed right? Why would non-Christians want to become believers if all they see is sacrifice and poverty? I was happy to be the blessed example of Christianity to give others hope. And the more I became this “blessed example” the more the fire that once burned for Christ and others died.
However, here is the amazing thing, that fire is being lit again! I am not destined to stay the person I had become. But, in order for me to get here, to fix a few character flaws, to change my perspective, I had to walk through the struggle. Struggles like facing heart-wrenching confrontation, being misrepresented, being lied about, financial issues, and marital instability, to name a few. No one is writing these down on their New Years’ resolution list. These struggles are not the kind of thing we initially see as beneficial. Except without them and God’s divine revelation I would still be numb and self-medicating.
And just like a foot that has gone numb or “asleep”, it is a painful process to wake back up. Even the thought of the first movement to get the blood flowing to that extremity is painful. I literally pause before beginning to move my foot and take a deep breath because I know I’m about to become uncomfortable. But, soon after the initial movement it gets easier and then full circulation is restored. That is pretty much how this process of struggle and waking up has been for me. Full circulation hasn’t been restored, but it’s definitely less painful and uncomfortable.
I have artwork that sits on my desk that states, “The best way out is always through it.” I don’t think I really understood what that meant until now. The depth of this meaning is carved and ingrained in the very being of my soul. The best way to get out of a struggle is not to hide and pretend it doesn’t exist. The best way is not to run away when the obstacles are too big or too difficult to bear. The best way is to take a deep breath, pray for God’s help and march right into the middle of struggle with your eyes wide open so you don’t miss one lesson. Because who wants to take this course twice?
May you be enriched this Thanksgiving by both the blessings and the struggles and know that you are truly loved by your Creator.