“The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow.” ~Unknown
“How did you get so wise?” My friend’s voice on the other end of the telephone line was genuinely curious.
I took a moment to think, wanting to be just as sincere in my response as she was in her inquiry. I felt the words climb up from the depths of my heart and ride a breath of truth as they passed through my lips.
“I cry a lot,” I finally responded.
Believe me, I wish there was another way. On my personal journey—and there are surely others who walk a similar path—life at times sweeps me up in a wave of utter brokenness, and washes me onto new shores of beautiful transformation, grounded wisdom, and unconditional love.
There is a longstanding slogan in Alcoholics Anonymous that pain is the touch point of all spiritual progress.
Somehow our moments of deep despair and gut-wrenching desperation serve as evolutionary portals to a higher level of grace and resolve. The breakdown itself is the gateway to the breakthrough.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not go chasing after anguish like an adrenaline junkie with a death wish. Just because turmoil shows up as an unexpected guest at my front door that doesn’t mean I graciously invite it in for tea and cookies.
I avoid pain—internal and external—whenever possible. I’ve given birth to two beautiful children and both times I asked for the labor-numbing drugs. If I so much as stub my toe on the bedside table or get into an spat with my husband, I reach for my favorite quilt and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for comfort.
I have heard there are two types of pain in the world—welcomed and unwelcomed.
Suffering is defined as unwelcomed pain. I am beginning to understand that, like enduring labor, the more I am able to stop resisting pain’s vice-like grip and breathe through the ark—noticing its build, peak, and subsiding—the less of a hold it has on me.
Just like birthing my babies, on the other side of the pain is the promise. Some of life’s greatest gifts come wrapped in sandpaper.
Here are a few of the treasured insights I have received on the other side life’s tribulations. I hope they renew your strength, affirm that you are not alone, and shed a hopeful light on your dark moments.
Pain strengthens you.
In order to build a muscle we lift the weight. But first there is a breaking and bleeding of the capillaries. The healing of the wound is what develops the muscle; injury precedes strength.
Pain refines you.
It takes pressure to make a diamond and fire to purify gold. Nothing cleanses the soul like a good cry. Tears wash away the impurities of fear and attachment and clear the channels for love to freely flow.
Pain lightens the load.
Growing up my mother would often say, “When you are down to nothing, life is up to something.”
Navigating painful moments can feel like squeezing yourself through a tight corridor. There is no room for excess baggage. At the peak of agony I have learned to let go of the “stuff” in my hands—my stories, my fears, my judgments—in order to hold on for dear life.
Pain qualifies you.
Nothing qualifies a person to step up to a big vision for their life like pain. When I count the cost of the rejection and disappointments endured on the journey to living my dreams, it creates a worthiness and grounded resolve that my toughest critics cannot chip away.
Pain connects you.
One tragedy unites people in a far deeper way than a thousand moments of laughter. Falling apart independently and collectively healing has launched powerful, life-changing movements like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.). Pain becomes purpose when it is shared.
Like the peaks and falls on a heart monitor, the valley low moments are just as much a confirmation of life as the mountain highs. Lean into pain’s sting. Allow yourself to be placed on its potter’s wheel and transformed into all you can ever hope to be and more.
Remember, life is never happening to you, it is always happening for you. Always.
Photo by sue jan