Experience moves us; however, the direction we allow it to take us is entirely our decision. Does it make us better or bitter?
In today’s Leadershift call, we discussed pain. Mike Davidson opened with a quote by Kerri Tittle, a lady who knows all too well about pain and loss: “One thing about trials, they expose who you are.” Isn’t that so true? Whether the trial is minor or major, true colors always come out when chaos emerges. I think about something as simple as needing the house to be clean before company arrives and there still being what seems like a million things to accomplish. I grow stressed out and irritable. My tone gets snippy, and I forget about the joy of friendship, instead, tuning into my perfectionist nature which has begun nitpicking every task I (and my husband) set out to do in order to prepare for our guest. Minor, yet even still, true colors come out.
But then there are major trials. Painful trials. The kind that send you to your knees, feeling defeated, worn out, and run dry. The loss of a loved one, a health diagnosis, a job loss, the list could go on, and I know every single person has experienced pain. That’s part of being human. But in those dark moments where hope is hard to find, we are left exposed and vulnerable. What do we do with the painful moments we could never be ready for? Who do we become?
Today, Mike had everyone on the call share different trials in their lives that they have walked through. It surprised me how vulnerable people were. When it was my turn, I was able to share my experience of being a victim of assault and how that has helped shape me into the woman I am today. Truly, it has. Because of my story and what I experienced, I’ve developed a passion for relating to other’s pain and showing them that the road doesn’t end there. I have the privilege of mentoring a woman right now who has walked in similar shoes and has point blank told me that she meets with me because she knows I “get it.”
But here’s the thing. I had to choose to take my situation and grow from it. I had to choose to learn from it, instead of be torn down by it. And it didn’t happen right away. I think it is so important to acknowledge the value of grief. Painful trials warrant a time of grieving, but they don’t warrant bitterness. I believe it is appropriate to make the time and space to experience all the emotions a painful situation produces, but it’s just as important (and appropriate) to then decide how it will shape us moving forward.
When I lost my grandma a couple of years ago, I was devastated. It happened so suddenly and was completely unexpected- one moment she was here and the next, she was gone. It was the first personal death I had ever experienced, and I didn’t know what to do with the pain, aside from cry my eyes out. After her memorial service, I began thinking about all of the important relationships in my life, and I realized how I needed to be more intentional in spending time with my loved ones. The brevity of my grandmother’s life has helped shape the way I now invest in relationships, and for that, I am grateful.
As Mike pointed out today on our call, experience isn’t the best teacher, evaluated experience is. If I hadn’t taken the time to address the trauma that came from being assaulted, I would still be living as a victim today, only able to relate to other’s pain, but unable to help them move forward. In fact, I would probably be a hinderance to those trying to recover, because what hope can someone stuck offer to someone who is proactively trying to get “unstuck”? If I didn’t use my grandmother’s passing as a springboard for actively loving others harder, I would still be a mess every time she came to mind. When we evaluate our experiences, I believe it is critical to ask ourselves three different questions:
1. Is there anything I can do to change this trial?
2. What do I need in order to heal?
3. How can this experience be a springboard for growth?
Often times there is absolutely nothing that can be done to change a trial we are walking through (and that requires acceptance), but we can change the way we are experiencing the trial. I think of the story in the Bible in the New Testament of Paul and Silas sitting in the jail cell singing joyfully about God. The situation was bleak, but they chose joy in a seemingly joyless trial. Asking ourselves what we need in order to heal is crucial in order to healthily move forward. Maybe it’s therapy, maybe it’s time alone, maybe it’s community, and maybe it’s something practical like help with a task that you just don’t have the head space to complete while you are grieving. No matter what the situation is, everyone’s needs will generally look different, but as we learn to identify what we need in order to heal and how to ask for the help to attain that, we begin to choose the way we are experiencing pain. Lastly, discovering how a trial can be a springboard for growth gives purpose to the pain! If something good can come out of the darkest night, then even the most difficult situation provides a sense of hope.
As I said at the beginning, experience moves us, and the way we answer these questions will determine the direction that we move.
I’m reading a book right now by Jim Wilson called “How to Be Free from Bitterness” and at the end of chapter two Wilson states, “Your bitterness is your sin regardless of what you think caused it… You cannot have unforgiveness in your heart and rejoice in the Lord.” I would also go as far as saying you cannot have bitterness in your heart and rejoice in the Lord. Often times, if we don’t tackle our trials head on, bitterness will begin to take root, and it will fester. When I don’t address my bitterness, I find it extremely difficult for my joy to be complete in the Lord. My trial is not an excuse to be bitter, and it never will be.
Experiences can either move you to be better or to be bitter, but rest assured that when you don’t choose to learn and grow from your trials, you won’t just remain stagnant. Your life will deteriorate because bitterness is like a rot that destroys. Take the time to grieve; allow yourself to feel the pain you are walking through, because yes, it is so hard. But then roll your sleeves up and figure out how to become a better person because of it. Growth doesn’t happen in the easy situations of life. It happens through the tears, the pain, and the grit it takes to keep pressing on no matter how dark or hopeless it might feel in a moment.