Doing the Hard Things

One of the constant struggles of adulthood is reconciling what we thought our lives would be with how they actually turn out. I’ve not been so disappointed with the specifics of my adult life–where I am, who I’m with, what I’m doing–as much as I’ve been surprised by how hard things have been, in general.

A recurrent theme in my journey has been the feeling that I was not prepared for how hard this would be. Big, broad things like caring for my community, balancing communal with personal needs, maintaining healthy relationships, establishing boundaries, and then small, specific things like managing money, taking care of myself, and figuring out what’s for dinner tomorrow.

I suppose I though that, by the time I settled into my 30’s, more of this stuff would come naturally.

Because, you see, I didn’t go looking for trouble and I haven’t made a bunch of bad decisions. So I guess I should be thankful that I was not naive enough to expect that good decisions would always reward me with ease. Sure, sometimes they do. But sometimes they don’t. And if I was in the habit of making decisions based on my desire for the quickest, pain-free route through life, I’d be disappointed in deeper ways than I am now.

With some of the hard stuff of life, there are tricks we can learn for making these things easier: we can become more efficient in our work; we can seek council about navigating difficult relationships. But, no matter how many short cuts we learn in life, sometimes there is not a simple way. Sometimes the best way happens to also be a hard way. And my guess is that most of us ask these same questions. Specifically, why don’t good things come easy?

In Biblical language, the life of a Believer is often equated with struggle and hard work. Three of the most prominent Biblical metaphors for the Christian are a farmer, a soldier, and an athlete. Those three images don’t exactly paint a picture of a life of comfort and ease. So those of us who make decisions based on our faith should never be surprised if, in making life decisions, we welcome a certain level of difficulty both internally and externally.

For those unfamiliar or disinterested in Biblical language, the other answer is a few years’ worth of anecdotal evidence (from my own experience) that the inherent value in good things transcends the difficultly of attaining and maintaining them. More simply put: good things are always worth the work. I may still question this belief while “in the thick of it,” but I’ve learned to depend on it as I walk forward. It’s the reason I don’t shy away from the hard things.

What good, hard things are you struggling through in your life? These will be different from mine, depending on your season of life.

Maybe your hard work is learning to forgive someone who has really hurt you or learning to love someone who is unlovable. Maybe your hard work is physical: training for a marathon, losing weight, rehabilitating after an accident. Maybe your hard work is internal, academic, or psychological like finishing school, going back to school, or writing that one final paper. Maybe you’re working on finally paying off a debt. Or maybe you’re just trying to stay sober or stay alive.

Things like these are hard. Very hard. They require more than positive thinking or prayer as therapy–they require work. And if we’re afraid of hard work, we miss out on the fruits of this labor: a healthier body, a better job, a loving relationship, sobriety, etc.

While doing school work one morning with my son, I asked him what subject he’d like to tackle first. His response to me was impressive: Let’s do the hardest thing first. (Sidenote: He did not learn this from me; I hate doing the hardest thing first. It was my husband who taught our son to not be afraid of the hard things.)

For my six year-old son, the hardest thing right now is learning to read. It stretches him and challenges him and takes far more work than he wants to do. But I keep reminding him that the payoff for this hard work is HUGE. It seems hard now, but it will change everything for him.

And I think the same thing is true about a lot of my hard things.

In this season of my life–my early 30’s, married with three young children–my hard things may be different than yours. For example:

I’m taking responsibility for myself. I’m taking ownership of my brokenness, my mistakes, and my failures. I’m working to correct my bad habits and my relational deficiencies. And I’m working to understand the part that I’ve played in the problems I see around me, in both a broad and a personal sense.

I’m working on being married because marriage is hard and I’m really bad at it.

I’m learning to embrace motherhood as hard work. I’ve always acknowledged my job as “mom” as important work, but I’ve never allowed myself to embrace its inherent difficulties as a sign of its significance rather than my weakness. Motherhood is good for me, in many ways. And having a physically present, emotionally invested, intentional mother is good for my kids. So, it’s worth the work it takes to do it well. I won’t belittle its difficultly anymore.

(I also freely admit that I parent my children differently than most and that some of the difficult decisions I’ve made–having a big family, homeschooling, a tv-free home, urban living, etc.–were made with full knowledge that it would be harder at times. The difficulty doesn’t necessary legitimize my decisions, but it shouldn’t surprise me either. We choose what we believe are the best things, not the easiest things for our family.)

I’m staying put. This is a really, really hard one for me. But part of the hard work of this season of my life is learning to plant and cultivate a life in a particular place with particular people. It is important for my emotional and spiritual stability to learn to be consistent and loyal in relationships and in a community. Someday, it may be time to do the hard work of uprooting and moving on. For now, the hard thing is staying put.

I’m learning to keep my mouth shut. It’s sort of ironic that I’d mention this on a public blog where I do the very opposite of keep my mouth shut, right? But one of the hardest things for me has always been fighting my need to be heard. To voice my opinion. To be represented. To be seen. And, so, much of the internal work I’ve done over the past few years has been understanding this need and learning the difference between speaking in wisdom as a contribution and speaking in desperation or for validation. (I wrote about this a little bit last spring.) I think this will be a life-long struggle for me, but the pay-off is big. I am learning to pay closer attention to the people around me; I hear them better. I avoid unnecessary conflict at inappropriate times and in inappropriate places. And (I hope!) it has been making my relationships stronger.

I don’t choose hard work because it’s hard. I choose it because (and if) it’s best. And the difficulty refines me in more ways than just the fruit of the work itself. (Just like training for a marathon is profitable for more than just the length of the race.) I may never master these things. Or I may. There are things that other people seem to have mastered that they have been working at for years and years, struggling in ways that I could never imagine.

What good, hard things have you overcome?
What good, hard things have you mastered?

What good, hard things are you struggling through in your life?
What good, hard things are on the horizon for you?

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One thought on “Doing the Hard Things

  1. “I don’t choose hard work because it’s hard. I choose it because (and if) it’s best.”

    Great sentence! Christianity offers the even keel of being neither a cold stoic on one extreme nor a reckless hedonist on the other – I’ll credit Russell for making a point of that many times.
    God decided to make it so man would have to work hard for his food, but he also set up feast days in the Old Testament, so he is not against enjoying a day off work and a nice meal if we remember him in it.

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