If you met your 10-years-ago self on the street, would you recognize her?
If I ran into 10-years-ago me, I don’t know what I’d do with her. I think I would recognize her bright eyes, fresh and rested skin, quiet spirit, and complete confidence that she knew exactly where her life was headed. I might introduce myself (because she probably wouldn’t recognize me at all) and offer to treat her to a cup of coffee. Just to hear her story.
After it was all over, I think I’d hug her tight and whisper in her ear, “Life’s coming. Just hold on.” I don’t think she’d get it, but that’s okay. Someday she’d understand.
She was a soft, sweet, and lovely lady. Yet I am beyond grateful I’m not that all-knowing girl anymore. Bumps, bruises, complete derailments, joys, sorrows, victories, and defeats have molded me into a stronger, healthier, more resilient, broken yet more beautiful version of myself. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
Depending on how we respond to it, experience can change us for better or for worse. But one thing we’re guaranteed: experience changes us for good.
How experience changes us as a faithful teacher
Every experience, positive or negative, offer us the opportunity to change. Sometimes an experience is something that happens to us (job change, death of a loved one, an unexpected surprise) and often it’s something we make happen (choices to move, improve our health, make new friends).
When challenging and pivotal experiences arise, we have some choices as to how we respond.
Responses that prevent growth
- We can run and hide. Often if the circumstances feel threatening enough, we can emotionally (and sometimes even physically) run away from them. Avoidance is easy.
- We can become bitter. We can allow seeds of disappointment to grow into resentment, anger, and stress. Stress is one of the highest contributing factors to physical disease. Harboring it instead of processing it begins taking a toll on our health – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and even financially.
- We can blame others. It feels better in the moment to make a problem someone else’s fault. But we’ll never learn or grow when we’re pointing the finger.
- We can stay right where we are. We can reject the opportunity for growth altogether. God is never going to force you to change. In my experience however, when I have ignored the invitation to change, he will continue to send up flares and red flags and take away the things in which I find comfort and strength.
Responses that encourage growth
- We can take responsibility. We can own our part in the situation and take steps to finding a solution. My happiness is up to me, and me alone. I can make decisions in support of the direction I desire my life to go.
- We can seek help. There is no shame in counseling. NONE. Healthy people get help! Seek out a professional who can help you navigate these tough emotions with care, sound advice, and an objective and wise perspective.
- We can keep going. Take faithful steps forward, knowing that victory comes to the person who never, ever, ever gives up.
- We can grow. Embrace the learning part of the struggle. Read, listen, connect with wise people, strengthen your faith and relationships.
- We can lean into our faith. This is a choice, a tough one. Do you believe enough to hold onto your faith for dear life? I can’t imagine navigating life’s heartaches without God at the wheel. I don’t ever want to try it. (If you’ve never walked through a fire with God at your side, I must ask: would you be willing to try?)
Traumatic experience is by far the toughest teacher. Grief experience in particular throws these response choices at us in rapid fire, when we’re most overwhelmed, and most vulnerable to take the “easy way out” options. Stay in the fight. Don’t throw in the towel. It will feel easy to run, hide, blame, resent, and stay stuck in the mud. Hard experiences require even harder work to come out stronger on the other side.
How experience changes us by opening our eyes
I think we all at some point have a look-ourselves-in-the-mirror moment where we realize “I’m just not the same person I was.” We have that moment with our spouses too. (You can still love each other – the new versions of you are wiser, stronger, and better-equipped to tackle the tough stuff together.)
Thank GOODNESS I’m not that same person anymore. To wish away all the personal growth, gained wisdom, changed perspective, would essentially be regretting the well-lived life I’ve been blessed with. I have more to offer now as a human being than I ever did years ago. And the next season of my life will bring even more experience to use for good. Holding onto past hurt, blame, resentment, disappointment, failure, or frustration is only holding me back. (This is the fertile soil in which stress and depression tend to grow.) When I live in that past, I can’t connect with the learning and growth that allows me to make a more meaningful contribution to my faith, my family, my friendships, and my career.
Do you want to be different in 10 years? Or how about in 10 minutes? Allow whatever experience you’re walking right now teach you something for the better. Choose how you will respond to hardship and disappointment. Will you respond by running away and blaming others, or will you respond by growing and leaning into your faith and relationships?
One path is easy but ends up taking you in circles. The other path is a harder walk but there’s something amazing waiting when the darkness clears.
Choose your own adventure!
Rising Strong by Brené Brown