I love Tolstoy’s opening line in Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
He’s right, of course: none of us are immune from unhappiness. Each of us know its presence in ways that are unique to us. We can and must offer each other empathy, sympathy, and compassion, especially ourselves.
The danger in this, however, is that we make our pain so much our own that it becomes woven into the warp and woof of who we are – often to the point in which we find comfort in it, maybe even pride.
Or maybe it’s only me.
Over time and for a myriad of reasons, I internalized the belief that life is hard. Western culture? Definitely. Protestant Work Ethic? To be sure. Family of origin. Mmm hmm. But it goes much further and deeper.
I believed that my pain was of value, that I was of value because something (or everything) was hard. Struggle became my badge of honor. Suffering was the marker that I was taking things seriously and not being remotely frivolous (translate: less than I’m capable of), that I was made of solid stuff.
I know. It sounds crazy. (Because it is!)
The good news is that I am aware of such! (To be this crazy and not know it is highly problematic.)
In truth, it has felt natural, even desirable, for me to suffer and struggle.
For who would I be, if not burdened and heavy-laden with worry and concern? How could I remain alert in relationships so as not to be taken advantage of or hurt? How could I possibly expect to earn money (even meager amounts) if not willing to grit my teeth and soldier on? And the writing? How in the world could I possibly believe that what comes to me easily, naturally, and yes, simply, would exist in the first place, let alone be any good?
Crazy, yes. And completely unacceptable!
When I was in grad school one of my professors said that it was much easier for people to accept sadness than joy, much easier to settle for less than desire more, much easier to accept their depravity than their dignity. I thought he was tired and had not had enough coffee, that his words were blurring together and turning themselves upside down without his awareness, that I was the recipient of yet another lecture at the end of a very long day. Nope. He meant exactly what he said. And he was right. I’m living proof.
It sounds a bit ironic, but here’s the bottom line, here’s the struggle that is worthwhile, the one I am learning to pursue with a vengeance (and an equal measure of grace):
Allow joy, pursue desire, choose trust, make room for ease, accept “more,” welcome what is simple, effortless, and natural as good and right and true, let go of shame, accept others’ love, believe in beauty, realize you are of value just because you are, and hold on to hope – always.
Preaching to the choir…
Or maybe not.