“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” – J.K. Rowling
How many times have you found yourself emotionally troubled where it seemed like there was no way out? There’s nothing like a healthy dose of pain to wake us up, get us back on track or to at least kickstart us in the right direction. Often that “better” direction is unknown to us during the time we’re feeling the most pain, but if we learn to be still versus react, we can place ourselves in a position to learn some of the most valuable lessons that we ever will in our lifetime. During this time, what is typically difficult is doing what I call the “hard thing”. It’s the decision(s) that may possibly bring more pain prior to relief, but it’s usually the one thing(s) that will help us come out of turmoil more than anything else and more importantly bring us to a place where we don’t repeat how we arrived there in the first place. The issue is its frickin hard, hence the title, “Doing the Hard Thing”.
In my life I have had the privilege and honor to listen to several people share some very personal and difficult situations that they have faced. Many times I was there to simply listen, which I have learned to do quite well, and other times they sought me out for advice. As I sat there intently listening and observing the duress on their hearts and minds along with the pain painted on their faces, I would quietly pray to myself for comforting, yet helpful words to give them. I have learned while enduring my own set of painful issues, that good advice or words of wisdom were often words or conversations that I wasn’t ready to address when they were first introduced to me. Not because they were off the mark or hurtful, quite the contrary actually. They were the words that figuratively stepped all over my feet, slapped me in my face and often made me the most angry, because they were words of truth that I was not ready to confront just yet.
What can happen to us when we decide to confront those ugly truths about ourselves will prove to be one of the most liberating things that we will ever do. Years ago as I listened to a mother share some issues that she was having regarding her teenage son, I learned some very important facts about her, her son and why their conflict existed. To make a long story short, she had never married her son’s father, but was married to another man. Prior to her current marriage, she had an affair and her son was conceived from that relationship. Because the other man was married with other children, you can imagine it made for a very complex and painful situation for all involved, especially the son. Years had passed since he was born, and she often wondered why her son was still so angry with her and seemingly everything and everyone else. Besides not seeing his father, like so many other young men and boys face, she didn’t realize that he knew about their affair.
First lesson, kids always know, so quit pretending as if they don’t.
So what do I tell this painfully stressed out mother who is sincerely trying to reach her now older and mature son? There are many things I could have said to bring her comfort, but what continued to ring in my head was sharing the “hard thing” with her. The thing that would probably cause her to feel the most uncomfortable, the most exposed and the most vulnerable. I told her to share the truth with her son. To stop dancing around the real issue and get to the core. Share that you had an affair and out of it came him. Tell him that you love him (the son), but his father was married and his wife has a hard time seeing him because it reminds her of the affair, but perhaps at some point in their lives it will change, but for now this is what it is. That was an amazingly hard thing for me to say to this now remorseful mother, but the fact remained and until she confronted the real issues with him, he would lose more respect for them both and eventually drown in his own anger.
In a similar situation, I know a man who is a husband and a father. He and his wife were separated for several months and he had an affair. From that a relationship a child was conceived. He was sorely remorseful and had a difficult time forgiving himself, but what his wife did was beyond extraordinary. Not only did she stay with her husband and work on their marriage, but she accepted the baby into their lives as if he were her own child and she helps raise him when he is not with his biological mother to this very day.
When I think of doing the hard thing, she will forever be my hero!
My last story is my own. As I have mentioned in a prior post, “Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?”, was due to embarrassment and shame, I had to learn how to take my own advice. Like most, my lessons weren’t fully understood until my pain was so great and literally unbearable. It was a season for me to own as well as acknowledge my failures, poor decisions, divorces and fears. It was not to enough to own them, because that is simply the starting place. What was imperative for me was to recognize was the vast layers of root causes. One, why was I afraid? Predominately, it was the let down of me finally admitting to the world that I was not perfect. For me this was doing the hard thing because I was everyone’s “go to person”, counselor, big brother, perfect son and brother and for the first time I had to admit (to myself) that for once I needed help, advice and counsel.
As I have heard a great teacher often say, doing the work (doing the hard thing) is like remodeling a bathroom, because it’s going to look a lot worse before it looks better. Once we start to knock those walls downs, things will indeed look a mess and progress seems like a far-fetched concept, but as we keep at the work, (the rooms of) our lives will finally begin to take shape. For some this may take years, while others only months, but remember it is not a race to a specific destination, but a journey to reveal, grasp and understand the many lessons that we must learn in order to become whole and better people on the planet. Doing the hard thing is just that. It is ultimately the hardest of things that we will ever do, but the outcome can be rich and equally rewarding, and although there is no guarantee on our outcome, choosing to go down this path will not fail in building our characters and appreciation for living an authentic life. Those around us will be blessed by the aroma of our new and developing presence, but none could be more blessed than the ones that chose themselves to take the path less traveled, the path of doing the hard thing.