“Into each life some rain must fall” – Ink Spots.
I’ve had rainy days. I’ve had rainy years. In fact, my late forties were mostly rainy. But throughout, I’ve been blessed. What is the best way to live your life so that when times are tough, when nothing seems to be going your way, you can come through those times stronger, wiser, more capable, and remain optimistic and energized for the future? What’s the best way?
You know guys, my life has been pretty darned good. Even though my Dad’s anger issues weren’t fun and I was sexually molested as a kid (not my Dad) and I had the normal amount of sports injuries and I had braces and acne and awkwardness galore, I had a fantastic childhood. I felt the same amount of childhood pressure to conform and do stupid stuff. I stole a bunch of alcohol out of my parents liquor cabinet, a wildly incongruous brew, and barfed it up over the deck into the bushes. I almost died when my buddy dared me to jump off a washed out bridge which I did into the murky depths below. I thought we were going to die when my buddy Karl drove 100 mph in a residential neighborhood and the brakes almost gave out. All that, but my childhood was great.
Time flies: High school graduation, then exchange student to Sweden, then graduate college with Swedish girlfriend in tow, then marriage. Many of you find yourself at this spot in the road. You’re young, some of you are married, some with kids. And the main of life is directly in front of you. Got a job. Got a woman. Got health. Life is good. I remember doing my first triathlon because after work we’d go to the gym and I could train. No kids!!
And then they came. With them the weight of life began to accumulate. The job now was a requirement. Being in shape was an option, as was sex. My wife began to have health issues. My role changed as I had to bring a more consistent level of support. The job (sales) fluctuated up and down causing stress. The kids got sick. The day my oldest had diarrhea in the bathtub with my daughter in there while my wife was sick in bed was probably the hardest day of my life… up to that point.
Unfortunately(?), that was nothing. When the IRS showed up to my office – Oy, that was a bad day. Or the day that FHA fined me $13 million. Or the day one of my employees committed $20 million in fraud. Or when the entire mortgage industry collapsed into a pile of dung. These days kind of stick out upon review. Each of these episodes created a perception that my world was collapsing. And yet, I was able to show up the following day ready to fight through the issues and restore my life to my base belief that I have been blessed. And I did.
So what’s the best way to ensure that when the monsoon season comes you’re ready for it? Life has formulas. One of the key formulas in life is from James “Consider it pure joy”. This Bible passage has been foundational for me because it describes an every day reality – Life is hard, hang in there, you’re building character, it’ll pass. This Bible passage reveals to me that if they wrote about this stuff 2000 years ago, then rain probably is a universal issue. So understanding that rain falls on everyone is an important starting point.
Second, difficulties are not without purpose. A universal observation: deep growth doesn’t happen without difficulty. The glory days when I was printing money was the least satisfying days of my life. The next era when the stressful days were the norm weren’t particularly enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but overcoming those challenges made me feel substantive. So understanding that difficulties are part of the plan helps put them into perspective.
Yet challenges are pretty stressful, so third, you have to put positives in the bank while you can for withdrawal later when you need them. When I came home from work day after day when it was all falling down around my shoulders, my wife and kids were there to pick me up. I was truly able to rest. If you don’t have a place you can rest and repair, your life may be a short one. Your wife can provide back to you the love you have invested in her over the years with compound interest. Your kids can bring you joy as well as learn from your model.
In our house we learned that when times get tough there are stages to character development which follow a path: Quit – Endure – Persevere – Transcend. With young kids at the first sign of challenge they want to quit. By keeping them in the tension, you ask them to endure and not withdraw physically or emotionally. After a while though, enduring without progress isn’t enough. You want them to persevere where they move forward against the challenge. Eventually, they transcend that particular hurdle in life. But the real takeaway is that they’ve built character along the way. In your adult challenges, you need to model for them what you have asked of them. In this leadership, your kids will have the opportunity to empathize with you which is an incredible emotional lift.
Fourth, other ways in which you can be ready for your days of pulling the plow – Read. Washington was one of the least successful military men in our history with a couple victories early and one at the end. In between was nothing but difficulty. Lincoln only saw his country killing one another in a bloody civil war. No pressure there. FDR wore the mantle of responsibility for the lives of millions and the freedom for all of mankind all from his wheelchair. I’m not those guys by a lot, but at minimum I can read about their strengths and insights. It helps you avoid whining if you think your life is hard. Reading gives you a deep perspective on the strength of the human character.
Fifth – you need community. It takes a while to develop a group of friends that allows you to escape for a while. You can’t build that over night. It’s takes years and years to get there. If you’re an introvert, better get going. Communities are one of the most satisfying and necessary components to the good life and is invaluable during a deluge.
Lastly, prayer does work. Hey, I’m a skeptic. But I’m telling you from experience and not an ideological position, personal prayer and family prayer is real. Every dinner, every dinner, my family would give thanks for our blessings. The question of whether prayer affects reality or just affects your ability to navigate reality is up to you to decide, but either way it’s something that costs nothing and could mean everything.
The rain falls and waters the ground. The soil holds the seeds of your intentions which you have planted – they will need the water to flourish.
To your growth through difficulty,