"Life didn't change. God changed me."
One reader said this quote in the Tim Keller book, "Walking with God through Pain and Suffering." I thought it powerful at the time, but I've been thinking more about them: the sentiment has become more true since I read it. Often, we cannot change our circumstances, but we change the way we react in the face of them. In the case of a Christian, God changes how we weather, think, and react to circumstances, especially hard and excruciating ones.
I have been taught and have written before about how gratitude is the best way to compensate for resentment. I, too, am grateful for every mistake I've made in ways that I have wronged others, and am grateful for every way I have been wronged. But sometimes I slip, and when I do, it helps to realize that those slips are merely growth pains in a path and plan for spiritual formation. It helps to remind myself of the sentiment, also, that "life doesn't get easier, but you just get stronger."
Resentment in our lives comes from things not going as we originally planned them. Maybe losing control isn't such a bad thing, because we'll never have life go completely as planned. We can only react to what happens, and every challenge isn't a hurdle, but a re-directing into another place we didn't know before.
The actual quote, put more eloquently, is from Steve Maraboli, popular radio talk show host and author of "Life, the Truth, and Being Free," is that "life doesn't get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient."
It is true that things don't get easier, but we just become better equipped to deal with them. With more familiarity to the same difficult challenges, we fear those challenges less, learn from our mistakes, and ready up for the next storm.
I remember the first time I ran in 25 degree weather as a freshman in high school with my cross country teammates in New York. I wore a T-shirt, basketball shorts, and no gloves, running 11 miles through the snow with my friends. I knew immediately that I made a terrible mistake: by the end of the run, my entire body was read, my hands were so dry they were bloody, and my coach went up to me and said, "what the hell are you doing?"
Things did not get better in the next couple of days. In fact, it got even colder. I made sure to wear a sweatshirt and sweatpants, and since then, I've been well-prepared running in the cold, rain, snow, or whatever condition there is. One time, my friend and I ran in the middle of Hurricane Sandy, heard the loud snap of a tree, decided it was a terrible idea and sprinted back home.
In the words of Brianna Wiest of Thought Catalog, "every experience we have is inherently neutral. That's hard to grasp when things seem so changed. But things simply are, no better, no worse." A common saying is psychology is that a situation is never good or bad. It just is, and we personally evaluate and decide to assess valence to that situation. Most things aren't as simple as good or bad; they're both.
Time does not heal all wounds. I believe that is a misconception: time is a resource with which we heal our own wounds, through which God gives us the strength. Life often moves very slowly, and in my experience, life doesn't change as fast as we like, or at least I like. But it is in experiencing pain that we know what joy is, because emotions are all relative to each of us.
Wiest puts it best, and continues in saying that "we start to realize that we are only as grateful as we were once without. We are only as accepting as we were once exclusive. We are only as happy as we were once suffering. The change that happens is a change in perception."
She goes on to urge us to just let things be and not extrapolate meaning and assumption from our circumstances. "We'd find that the majority of our angst and frustration comes from allowing ourselves to the whim of other uncertain means. We'd realize that things only matter as much as we decide they do."
I've asked myself a question recently, in that my life hasn't changed that much, and I still endure the same level and manner of suffering: so what? So what if people judge and speculate about you? So what if many of your friends betrayed you? So what if life isn't the same? So what if it's gone in another direction and I've had to adapt?
It's my choice to decide how to react, what to perceive and how intensely I care about certain things more than others. I still haven't made the decision as to what matters to me and what doesn't, but God has given me the insight to realize that I am the one in control of my own life, no one else. "Our lives are genuinely the result of however we perceive them," Wiest ends. "For better, for worse, for now, for always."