In the Midst of Struggle

In the Midst of Struggle

I zipped up my running jacket and stepped out into the cold drizzle, a biting wind blowing against my face. Taking a deep breath, I resolved to make it a short run and started down the street. My thoughts swirled with reluctance as the chill penetrated each layer and settled into my bones—it was cold and wet and miserable—what in the world was I doing outside?

I knew the answer, even as I forced my body to ignore the myriad reasons I should turn around and pour another cup of coffee instead of running in the rain. My natural inclination is never toward discomfort, even when facing it leads to benefits on the other side. But experience has proven that perseverance is always worth it, even when it feels easier to quit before I begin.

Sometimes life feels like running in the rain.

Hard days—or seasons—make me want to hide at home in my jammies where I’m safe and warm. I’m in one of those hard stints now. Lately, anything beyond the basic activities required to get through the day feels too overwhelming to attempt. Extra things like reaching out to friends, writing thank you notes, and organizing the piles around my house have shifted temporarily into the “not today” category.

So I haven’t spent time writing in a while. Not only because I haven’t made much time to write, which takes considerable determination during any normal season, but also because it feels tricky to put my heart into words. If I’m honest, I haven’t wanted to admit I’m fighting a battle for healing that isn’t over yet.

I’m still in the midst of my struggle.

For a writer, it’s vulnerable any time you are brave enough to put your heart on a page and press “publish,” opening yourself up to the opinions and potential criticism of others. But when life knocks you facedown in the mud, the risk of sharing your struggle from that vantage point feels like an invitation to be kicked in the face while you’re down.

Yeah, I guess it’s time to admit I’m that writer. Here I am, facedown in the mud.

The details don’t matter, because we’ve all been there or will be at some point. Maybe it’s a period of grief, a struggle with depression, a life transition, relational pain, some sort of loss, a hard diagnosis, or another type of crisis—whatever the cause, it leaves us reeling, uncertain which way is up and if we’ll ever be the same as we were before.

I keep waiting to reach the other side of my particular season of struggle, eager to share all the lessons I’ve learned after surviving such a difficult time. I know I’ll have a story to tell of God’s faithfulness, that I’ll point to different moments when my heart changed and my load lifted on the road to eventual transformation. I’m clinging to the hope that I’ll have words of encouragement for anyone on a similar path, cheerleading those who are struggling in their own ways to persevere.

But I’m not on the other side yet.

I’m still in the midst of my own battle to remember who I am, piecing together my identity by sorting through each broken fragment. So instead of waiting for the end of this slow, arduous process, I’m writing from the middle of it—in the midst of a place I’d rather not be.

Transformation isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. Like Cinderella’s experience with her fairy godmother, I’d much prefer to wave a magic wand and arrive at the final destination of this healing journey I’m on, where in a flash I’m altogether different than I used to be—stronger, braver, more whole-hearted.

Real-life transformation, however, requires a lot more tenacity and grit. Change comes almost too slowly to notice, demanding stamina to keep moving forward with almost no evidence that forward is really even the direction you are going.

Sometimes perseverance looks like things that are intuitively productive, like journaling or exercise or counseling or heartfelt prayer. Other days perseverance looks like getting out of bed. Then doing the next thing and the next, one tiny next thing at a time. And sometimes it looks like simply not giving up, even when giving up feels like the only thing that makes sense.

Perseverance eventually changes us if we keep not quitting, no matter how slowly movement comes.

Today, the gradual ascent toward transformation looks like admitting I’m still not where I want to be. I’m writing from the midst of my struggle, where my capacity has been exponentially diminished for a time. It’s humbling for this recovering perfectionist to say no to invitations and back out of commitments, but pretending I’m at full strength will only use the precious energy I need to keep pressing on.

It’s tempting to push my people away, as if distance will keep others from seeing the dirt smudged across my face and caked in my hair. But the vulnerability of telling the truth about where we are opens our eyes to see that we’re not alone in the mud after all. Sharing honestly with safe people helps us to lift our heads enough to see a whole heap of others who thought they were the only ones here too.

If you find yourself today in a place you’d rather not be, you are not alone. You may be in the midst of it, but this is not the end of your story.

I’m here with you, cheering you on and reminding you that you don’t have to climb a mountain today. You just have to choose not to quit. Go for that run or make your bed or light a candle and spend some time breathing deep. And if that one thing is all you do right now, it’s enough.

Sometimes victory simply means not giving up. Let’s keep pressing on together. We’re going to have a breathtaking story to tell on the other side.

When You’d Rather Just Quit – Why Persevering Matters

When You’d Rather Just Quit – Why Persevering Matters

It’s not normal to want to do hard things. My husband jokes that he doesn’t like going to the gym because he has an allergic reaction every time he works out—his face gets red, he starts sweating excessively, and his heart beats fast. Like my man and exercise, most humans will avoid pain and discomfort at all costs.

I recently heard a friend say that weight training actually creates tiny tears in your muscle. It’s in the process of your body rebuilding those tiny tears that new muscle is actually developed. I guess that means without tearing your muscles, you will never get any stronger.

What hard thing feels like it’s tearing your muscles a bit?

I was in the middle of an exercise class a few weeks ago and trying to devise a way to sneak out early without being perceived as a wimp. I just wasn’t feeling it. Some days my body simply will not listen to my brain, and this was one of them. The instructor was wearing a shirt that said, “Strong is the new pretty.” Suddenly it hit me: if I snuck out of class, I wasn’t going to get any stronger. Or prettier, apparently.

If I listened to my discomfort and chose not to push through a hard hour, I was going to miss the chance to tear my muscles enough to let them rebuild.  If I wanted to be strong, I had to do the work it took to get stronger. I decided to stay in class. It may not have been my best workout, but I finished it.

Sometimes it’s more about choosing not to quit than giving a perfect performance.

Real life is the same way—there is no shortcut for building endurance. Strength comes from persevering through hard things. The discomfort associated with pushing through physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual fatigue is usually a sign that you are getting stronger.

That’s not to say we should push ourselves past the point of physical or emotional exhaustion, or that to grow we need to live in a constant state of weariness and overload (I’ve been there—it’s not a healthy). It takes wisdom to know when to push and when to rest and recover—but most of the time when something is hard, I would rather quit it completely than wrestle with the tension between persistence and rest. It’s in the wrestling that new strength emerges.

Right now I’m in the midst of something that feels harder than I anticipated it would. The thing I committed to isn’t going the direction I’d hoped, and the length of my commitment seems to be increasing before my very eyes. My muscles are tearing in ways I didn’t expect.

My natural response is to give up and say, “Well, at least I tried.” But perseverance takes practice. Building endurance requires persevering in little things, one decision at a time.

Some days I’m more inspired than others, but often my choice to keep going just starts with getting out of bed. Then pouring a splash of coffee into my cup of creamer. Then praying. A lot. Then taking a shower. Then getting dressed. Then showing up to do the thing I said I would do, trusting that I’ll have what I need for the next few moments.

Some people call the choice to persevere or to quit “fight or flight.” You can either press into the hard thing, fighting through discomfort, stress, tension, fatigue, or you can run away from the thing that causes those undesirable feelings. Most of the time, I just want to run away.

When I feel overwhelmed by the incessant demands of my precious, inherently narcissistic children, I’d rather put on a show to keep them quiet than deal with my own selfishness, magnified by their constant needs.

When I feel needy and overly sensitive for reasons that seem irrational, I’d rather eat something sweet—anything sweet—than rumble with the deeper cause of my emotions.

When the demands on my time and energy outweigh my capacity to keep up with my commitments, I’d rather drink a latte or a glass of wine than deal with the root of my stress.

When I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, I’d rather shop for something new and pretty to wear than examine the untrue beliefs about myself that drive my pursuit of superficial beauty.

When I get in a fight with my husband, I’d rather give him the silent treatment and go to bed angry than apologize for my part and try to lean into the discomfort of being seen in my ugliness.

Fighting is harder than flighting. Building endurance takes work. Persevering through hard things means tearing our emotional muscles a bit. But there is no shortcut for the strength of character that comes from pressing in when you feel like numbing out.

Sometimes I’m tempted to think that it actually would be better to live a comfortable life than a good one. Why would anyone choose to do hard things like run a marathon or scale a mountain or earn a college degree or have a baby?

For the same reason it’s worth the fight to save a marriage, care for an elderly parent, raise a difficult child, reconcile a broken relationship, deal with emotional baggage, wrestle with questions of faith, battle with cancer, or press into the thing that breaks our heart. Because, in the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, life is equal parts brutal and beautiful—life is brutiful. And because our perseverance through our current struggle prepares us to persevere with hope through the next hard thing that will come.

Our choice to be be brave and persevere today helps us to respond with grace and strength tomorrow. We will not lose hope when life gets hard in the future because we know we’ve endured victoriously in the past. Our hearts will be stronger than they used to be.

So I’m not going to quit just yet. Today I’m on vacation with my family, grateful for the chance to step away and catch my breath and gather my strength to keep pressing in and pushing on when I return.

But I want to gain the full benefit of this current struggle by allowing my spiritual muscles to tear a bit. I am trusting that the strength I am building, slow and imperceptible as it may be, will be worth the fight.

Choosing not to quit could possibly take all your courage and all your strength–but you are brave and getting stronger by the second. May you have the strength to endure today, no matter what form perseverance takes.