Recently I heard the idea that we should look at hard times in our lives as allies because they help us to become the people we are meant to and want to be.
I know it is common for us to sometimes advise people to “look on the bright side” or to consider that “every cloud has a silver lining,” but these platitudes are cold comfort and feel, well, just lame.
They feel that way because we have a larger, more important idea about hard times that shapes our underlying understanding of the role that hardship and challenge play in our lives.
In modern Christianity, at least in some denominations (particularly the megachurches and fundamentalists), there is the idea that if one lives in a way pleasing to God that one will prosper because God, being happy with you, will reward you with material comfort.
This idea isn’t only embedded in Christianity. It is part of our New Age understanding of the world, too. We have ideas like “if you are on the right path, things will open up and be easy for you.” The Law of Attraction is another example. If only you believe strongly enough and be VERY careful of every word that comes out of your mouth, the Universe will reward you. And variations of that quote that I’ve seen attributed to various writers, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”
Somehow we’ve gotten it in our heads that having things go well and easy for us are rewards for and evidence of our good behavior and that when we experience hard times, we must have made some mistake and are experiencing a punishment. This kind of thinking is so dangerous. It leads to the “blaming the victim” notion that so many abuse victims have to deal with. It also can parallelize us from making any decision or taking any actions because every choice is fraught with concern over the outcome. The concern is not only the normal, what if this doesn’t pan out variety, but the deeper story we’ve attached to the outcome of our actions: all the world will know if we are good or bad. If we are successful, then clearly we are good people who are doing “life” right. If we suffer setbacks and hard times and failures, then we must have done something wrong, something more deeply and fundamentally wrong than just making a mistake.
We tell ourselves terrible lies like (or just as bad, we believe these things of others): We expressed a negative thought and therefore the Universe rained tribulations on us. We didn’t properly follow our bliss, therefore we are living a pale, sad life. We sold out and kept our muggle job because we needed the insurance and don’t have the time or energy to pursue more high-minded pursuits.
Maybe hard times aren't measures of how great or enlightened or lousy we are. Maybe hard times just sometimes happen to everyone. Maybe they are part of life because, well, because they are part of life.
More philosophically and more importantly, maybe they are part of life because they are our allies who help us learn and grow.
May you make allies of difficulties.
May you never judge yourself by the outward appearance of your life.
May you never compare yourself to others.