Tough times in life are inevitable. We will all face trials, challenges, unexpected circumstances, shocks and surprises. Some of these will be fleeting. Some will feel as if they will never end. This is what it means to be human.
It may seem weird and perhaps even insensitive to suggest that we can enjoy tough times. After all, they are tough, can be excruciatingly painful and even have dire or negative long term consequences that can shift the trajectory of our lives.
In the word enjoy is the word joy. Joy is a word that we would reserve for the good times, not the tough times. Whilst many would associate joy with happiness, another way to describe joy is an ‘an awareness of grace’. In other words, an awareness of the fact that you are not alone, that you are loved and provided for. Tough times amplify this awareness. When we face trial, people around us rally. They extend love, provision and friendship. They pitch up. They give. They feel with you. Of course, this can be felt during good times as well, but these acts in the midst of trial are significant in that they bring incredible humility into our lives and open up the rawness of what it means to be human. We are reminded about what counts and what is meaningful. Trial has a way of recalibrating us, bringing us back on course, removing the superfluous and unnecessary, refocusing us and redirecting us. It is, in many ways, a gift even though it may not feel that way.
I share a story in The Middle book of a tough time I was facing financially. I had been consulting for a few years and was simply struggling to make ends meet. I had been at the Gateway Shopping Centre and arrived to pay for my parking when I discovered I had no money. Heading to the ATM I was rudely made aware by the LED screen that my bank balance was R1.50. I was stuck in Gateway. I remember sinking into a negative state as I considered my options. One was to beg. One was to call someone. I chose the latter, calling my younger brother and asked for help. He pitched up. He didn’t only pay for my parking. He took me to spar and bought me groceries. He then took me for a coffee and we hung out. Then he paid for my parking and I went home. I remember sitting on my step outside of my room I rented and reflecting on that moment. The experience with my brother wouldn’t have happened without trial. It humbled me. It removed a degree of pride that existed in me. It reminded me of the importance of my relationship with him, and the fact that at various points in my life it is completely ok to ask for help. That moment was a gift which produced joy despite how hard it was. It can only be explained as a strange and significant juxtaposition.
In line with what we do at The Middle, tough times also produce something we all need to live life well; endurance. In a previous blog on endurance, I defined it as the ability to keep going through tough terrain. If life is tough, we can expect tough terrain. In order to live life well, we need to be able to navigate tough terrain when it arrives. Theory around this is helpful, but the true development of our ability to navigate trial well, happens best when we are in The Middle of it. If we can be present in our circumstances and aware of our choices, actions and mindset through tough terrain, we developed the ‘middle intelligence’ needed for future tough terrain. When future tough times turn up, we are able to apply that intelligence, keep going and breakthrough. We will mitigate unnecessary pain and consequences by applying this middle intelligence to future trials. Simply put, we need tough terrain to successfully navigate tough terrain. Resisting and numbing our way through those times inhibits the growth and development that comes from it. I have been in a few very challenging professional relationship scenarios. Each time I navigated one I learned. I have middle intelligence in this area around boundary setting, establishing clear expectations, having regular honest and open conversations, how to engage in tough conversations, when to give and when to stand firm. I don’t fear a relational trial as much as I did in the past, because of the way I have grown in this area having navigated these real-life experiences.
What are you facing up to right now? How can you open yourself up to the ‘awareness of grace’ around you? How can you let this trial shape the way you do life and especially the way in which you navigate similar scenarios in the future?
You may be especially equipped to extend that grace to others who are going through what you have already have to navigate. Let’s be generous. Let’s lean in. Let’s do tough times as a tribe. The sad reality is many may be experiencing pain on their own. It’s not easy to share and to ask. Reach out where you feel led. In the middle of the chaos, the adversity and the pain may we all experience pockets of joy and meaning reserved only for those moments.