When you're going through the tough stuff
Updated: May 7
When I was young I often viewed the bad stuff that would happen to me as "bad luck" where I was the victim of the random occurrence of good luck or bad luck. I laugh now at the naivete of that kid. Then I went to the next phase thinking I was being punished for things I did or did not do. "God must be mad at me" is what went through my mind.
As I became older and had a chance to reflect on why I react the way I do to stuff (while at an Ignatian silent retreat) I remembered two defining moments in my life. The first one was when I was in kindergarten, my Dad was stationed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Atlanta (Dobbins AFB) I remember being mercilessly teased by these kids for being born in Africa (I was born at a US NAS Port Lyutey in Morocco). They were pretty nasty talking about me being born in the jungle and I was a monkey etc. The second one was while at the Air Force Academy as a sophomore, on Dec 7th (Pearl Harbor anniversary) an upperclassman announced it was "slap a jap" day after which he proceeded to slap me on my head (I'm Filipino so he even got the ethnic thing wrong).
Each situation was pretty tough but as I look back, it was what defined me in a few ways. First I learned to hate prejudice; second I learned to fight for the underdog, the person who cannot fight for themselves; and third it gave me a drive like nothing else. You see it was those incidents that fueled in me a need to prove those haters wrong - in other words, my success was my revenge.
Emotion is a strong driving force in either a positive or negative way - but emotion will drive someone to do something. In a positive way those incidents drove my success - to prove myself. In a negative way I became a mean competitor - wishing ill on my competition. I've since learned to quell that negative junk (very hard though) and also learned to tap into that motivation. Now it's really morphed into a drive to become the man God wants me to be - the best version of myself, which author Matthew Kelly describes as God's dream for me.
So you're going through the tough stuff right now. That pit in your stomach called despair. That paralyzing emotion when you dwell on all the junk in your life all at once. So here's how I've dealt with that in my own life:
1) I reframe my thoughts on the situation from "why is this happening to me" to "what can I learn from this?" All the best lessons in my life have come from going through some very hard situations. I embrace the tough stuff because I know I will be a better person on the other end. I will be able to understand others more - empathize with other better. Imagine seeking advice from someone who had everything go perfect in their lives - not very inspiring huh? (And you know everyone is going through something - they look good on the outside but they are dealing with junk like you!)
2) I break all of my problems into each individual thing I need to solve. Like the movie "Martian" with Matt Damon. He survived being stranded on Mars by solving one problem at a time. When I break down the sum of all issues into each individual thing, then it becomes more manageable emotionally.
3) I look for perspective. To view all my junk in context of life. Your either in something, you're coming out of something or you're going into something. Isn't life about managing all the good stuff and bad stuff and boring stuff and awesome stuff? I find when I take the eyes off myself and focusing on helping others, either in ministry, or giving to causes or contributing my time to help others in business, church or reaching out to someone hurting, then my problems seem so miniscule.
4) Prayer. My heavenly Father loves me, He made me, He only wants the best for me. The things He sends my way I always know is another bridge He is building for me to bring me closer to him. While other sees things as obstacles in their life, I view them as a road made straight to run towards my Lord to get closer to Him who knows every hair on my head. So I start my day in prayer, I continue my conversation with God throughout the day and end my day in prayer. How can you have a thriving relationship with someone without communicating with them. And I know He is never distracted - He listens to me!
A friend of mine sent this to me:
"Keep walking with Me along the path I have chosen for you. Your desire to live close to Me is a delight to My heart. I could instantly grant you the spiritual riches you desire, but that is not My way for you. Together we will forge a pathway up the high mountain. The journey is arduous at times, and you are weak. Someday you will dance light-footed on the high peaks; but for now your walk is often plodding and heavy. All I require of you is to take the next step, clinging to My hand for strength and direction. Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend. Stay on the path I have selected for you. It is truly the path of life."
-- Isaiah 40:31, Psalm 17:23-24, Psalm 16:11
"This too shall pass" I have learned to say. But I've added to that: "to something bigger and better!"
P.S. While we hate to see our children go through hurt and pain and our tendency is to protect them as parents and not want them to go through it, I've learned that by depriving them of these opportunities, we inhibit their skill to deal with the tough stuff. My kids are strong because they've learned to handle the junk early in their lives. By the way - doesn't our heavenly Father do the same for us?????