I‘m forever fascinated by the way tragedy paralyzes some and launches others. I think it comes down to what we think we are worth and therefore how willing we are to advocate for ourselves. Personally, I first become paralyzed and then I launch.
Two women I admire, authors Louise Hay and Martha Beck, had seriously traumatic childhoods and both went on to write books and give lectures that served to inspire and help people move through their own challenges. Louise Hay was an impoverished and abused teen run away, Martha Beck suffered sexual abuse by a prominent member of the Mormon Church she grew up in, but neither was broken by their experience. Maya Angelou, author, poet and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, was raped at a young age by her mother’s boyfriend. Having such a trauma occur could have dimmed her spirit, in fact, she was mute for five years afterward. But the girl who didn’t speak for five years grew into the woman whose voice profoundly impacted not just the world of art and literature, but the world of politics, galvanizing people to demand civil rights and women’s rights.
What if some of the best books you’ve read or movies that you’ve seen stopped at the hardship? For example: there’s a war, a family dies, the end. Would we go and watch this movie? Not likely! It’s the change that occurs through the difficult process that we’re drawn to. Yet, why, when it comes to our own lives, do we stop and say, “No, no, don’t want the pain, good-bye, no.”
Another person I admire, Karen Berg, often says in order for coal to become a diamond it needs to sustain extreme pressure. We, too, must go through pressure situations to reveal our greatness. So, when challenges arise, as we know they will, the realization should first be whatever situation we find ourselves in is what we need for growth.
Often we get too caught up in assigning causation to our challenges with thoughts like ‘He did this to me, she did that, God’s not fair, I’m being punished.’ Leave all of that, that’s not going to help you in any way — at all, ever. We have to stop and say, “Okay, why is this is my life, how can I find something good in it?” Because there is always a reason and a way to grow from the experience, that’s why we came here. Things are not random. We’re supposed to use it to grow and change.
It doesn’t always go that way, though. Too many people who suffer a traumatic life event or abuse aren’t able to launch. Instead they become mired in their pain, unable to grow from their experiences. They may turn to drugs or alcohol or become abusive to others. If we don’t experience transformation from our challenges, if growth doesn’t occur, then there can’t be any change, and without change, we only have the pain of experience.
One of the ways that we keep ourselves in pain and from experiencing growth is through blame. We love the blame game, because it’s much easier to focus on who is to blame rather than the situation that we may find ourselves in. Regardless, we have to know that we’re in the present challenge or conflict. The reality is the reality and assigning blame changes nothing.
However, it’s not always easy to set aside blame. Some of us have parents who weren’t everything they should have been and so a lot of people grow up burdened with false beliefs from their childhood along with a lot of blame for their parents. If a child was called stupid, or survived a myriad of physical and emotional abuses, that child will ultimately have to make a choice. Stay in the pain, accept their parents’ harsh judgments or decide to prove their parents wrong. Same issue, same problem, same seed, two very different paths.
I’d like to share a parable:
A man goes to the house of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and stands in the long line waiting to seek his council. Rav Elimelech’s students, including the Seer of Lublin say, “Why don’t you share with us why you have come here?”
So, the man told them the following story:
“I rent a piece of land from the governor of this area. I operate a pub and a little motel, and unfortunately business has not been good for the past six months and I haven’t been able to pay my rent. And just this week the governor came to me and he said to me that unless I pay him this coming Monday, not only will he kick me out of my house, pub and motel, but he is also going to beat me maybe to death. So, I have come to Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk to see if he can help me and maybe give me a blessing, maybe give me some advice about what I should do.”
The Seer of Lublin who was able to look into the future, says to him, “I’m telling you, do yourself and your family a favor, go and hide. You do not want to be anywhere where he can find you on Monday.”
So, the man says, “Thank you, but I still would like to hear what your teacher has to say.”
He waits some more, he finally enters into the room where Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk is and tells him the whole story again. Rav Elimelech looks a little bit farther? into the future and says to him, “Stay home, it’s going to work out”.
So, the man goes home, he’s so happy. He has an amazing weekend with his family, he’s just happy as he has ever been. He has been worrying about this for more than six months. Monday morning there’s a knock on his door and it’s the governor of the area, and the man is so excited, he knows everything is going to work out. He opens the door, he says, “Please come in”, and the governor sees him so happy, he says, “Oh, so you must have the money you owe me?” The guy says, “No, not a penny of it”. So, the governor, who did not appreciate that, grabs him and brings some of his men in with him and they started beating him, and beating him, and beating him. And as he is being beaten he starts thinking, “I should have listened to the student, why did I listen to the teacher?”
Anyway, they get done with him and leave. Now, the Governor didn’t know this, but his wife had a very close relationship to this man, his name was Moshe, and whenever she would go to the market he would help her find the best produce and fish and meat and he would also help her carry everything back to the house. She developed a great fondness for this Moshe.
So, Monday afternoon she comes back from the market and she tells her husband, she says, “You know, usually on Mondays our good friend Moshe, the guy who rents from you that land, he’s usually there to help me and I really can’t do all this without him, do you know where he is?” So, the husband is a little bit sheepish, and says, “The truth is he had not paid me rent. I had to…”
“What? You had to what?”
“I had to, you know, teach him a lesson”.
She looks at her husband and she says, “Listen, if you do not get him to both forgive you and be OK with whatever he asks for then I’m divorcing you”.
So, the Governor doesn’t know what to do, of course he has to appease the man, so he goes back to Moshe’s house, he knocks on the door, and at this point Moshe is smarter – he’s not answering the door, in fact he’s hiding under the bed.
The governor is at the door, saying, “Please let me in.” And Moshe says, “No I know what happened last time I let you in.”
“Please, you don’t understand, it’s not the same thing, this time – anything you want, I’ll give you, anything, just please forgive me.”
And Moshe starts thinking, anything? That’s a big word, anything. He says, from under the bed, “If you forgive my entire loan and let me stay here for the rest of my life without paying any rent, only then will I forgive you.”
The Governor of course has no choice, he grants him his request. He says, “Of course, your loan is completely forgiven and you are able to stay here rent free for the rest of your life”.
So, a few days go by, Moshe’s healed a little bit, he decides to go and visit the teacher and the student. Rav Elimelech says, “Tell us the whole story.”
He tells the whole story and how he got beaten up on Monday, but then the Governor came back to forgive his debt, and gave him free rent. So Rav Elimelech after hearing the story, he says, “Both of us” he says to his student, “can see, but there’s a great difference between you and me” he says to his student. He says, “You are able to see up until a certain point and I can see until the end. And this” he says “is the great difference”.
And this is the lesson for us, see the end, not the moment. Don’t dwell on problems, situations, or darkness. Remind yourself that you are in the part of the story after the beating, but before the Governor comes back and forgives all your debt. We may not be able to see the end, but have certainty that whatever darkness you are facing is not the end.
“Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.” -anonymous
Thought Into Action
Write down some difficulties or challenges in your life, past or present, and how you have dealt with them. Now ask yourself what is in the situation that you need to experience in order to grow?8