Some friends of mine have had some tough days over the past week. I’ll go out on a limb and say that you probably could say that about someone you know almost every week of the year. I won’t give specifics about the individuals, but they are suffering in ways that are simultaneously unique to their situations and common to us all. One of my friends lost a parent. Losing a loved one is universal and universally difficult. Another friend was betrayed by someone who they had trusted with everything. Betrayal is one of those trials that hurts deep down inside and at times can make us feel like we will never heal. I’ve had bad weeks too similar to these—we all have. For me, the most important thing that keeps me going during tough times is faith.
What is faith?
Faith is an interesting term, and it means different things to different people. The meaning of faith depends a lot on your own experiences in life. For me, it means hoping for something that I feel is real or that will be real sometime, but which I can’t see quite yet. Faith helps me to carry on even when life seems darkest.
I have written before of a few examples of ways that I think can help during difficult times. These are just my own methods, and they have made a difference for me. But I think that there is one thing that helps all of us. At our core, in spite of anything we do to persist, we need an internal strength and power that can generate enough energy and motivation to win the struggle against the seemingly overwhelming difficulties of life. We need faith.
We need faith because we need to hope that the bad times will end. Faith helps us hope for good times that will be better than the bad. When we have faith, we can believe against the evidence of what we are seeing and feeling in the moment that the storm will one day pass on. When we have confidence that the sun will shine again, we can weather even the darkest tempest.
I have said this before, and I will repeat it here: I believe in God. For me, that is crucial to my faith. I realize there are many people that do not believe in God, and I respect them and their right to that opinion. I believe what I have to say still has value for them.
Why does life hurt?
This is probably a question that everyone asks themselves at one time or another. The question might be spurred by a personal difficulty. It might rise to the surface when you see someone else’s suffering that you feel is just not fair. You might ask when everything just seems like a little more than you think you deserve. And when those moments arise, you ask “why”?
If our life was simply an existence from one point to another, that is from birth to death, then I think the question of “why” becomes very difficult to comprehend. And if viewing life simply as that finite journey, it can become easy to let bitterness and frustration in.
In contrast, if you can look at your life as one with purpose, then I feel that some sense can be made. For those that believe in an afterlife, generally also those that believe in God, the answer comes in a different way, but I don’t think exclusively so.
I think all of us believe that we can make a difference during our existence. And not only that, we can individually become something more significant than we were at the start.
I feel strongly that all of us want to improve our character, be a more kind, loving, and generous person than maybe we are at the present time. When I wrote about Charlotte’s Web, I discussed some of the reasons why.
For various reasons, we feel a strong internal need to be more courageous, more reliable, more selfless. We would like to do more for the destitute. Whether we actually act is a different story, but the desire is in us. And this is how I answer the question “why does life hurt?”.
As with many of my life views, I have found truth from Victor Hugo’s writings. A habit of mine is quoting from Les Misérables, in this case the book. He wrote:
The pupil dilates in darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God
Hugo shared my version of faith in that he also had a belief in God. But if you take his conclusion of “finding God” to mean “becomes more like the ideal person we wish ourselves to be” then we can talk the same language, whether theistic or atheistic.
Misfortune, in Hugo’s words, or trials, in mine, serve a greater purpose than just suffering. They can transform us. Difficulties can help us grow in ways we never could have if everything were perfect all the time. I will say before I continue that this does not make the death of a loved one, betrayal by a close friend, loss of a home or a job, or a myriad of other difficulties any less painful.
What I do think, though, is that if we allow our faith to carry us through it and if we keep ourselves from becoming jaded by difficulties, whether ours or not, then we strengthen our character in a powerful way. And in doing this, we fulfill our internal yearning to become better than we were.
Faith can help us keep a perspective that our present but unpleasant experience is not merely misdirected pain and suffering. We can realize and understand that the difficulty simultaneously serves the purpose of changing us into better people. Faith can thereby give us the energy and strength to carry on. It’s a source of power to press onward.
When life does hurt, what can we do?
The answer to this question is twofold, I think. First, what about when our own life hurts? What do we do then? I wrote a little about that in my post on emotional health that I referenced earlier. Essentially, what I said was to find things that help you find peace and see them out in those moments. Maybe not groundbreaking, but good to think about.
I find I am often in a position of watching someone I love suffer, though. And in those cases, I feel a little of the pain they are experiencing, and then some frustration at not being able to help. So then what?
The answer to this question is not a catch-all. Each situation and person is too unique for that. But let me say there are a few ideas that can be applied to most situations. One of the most important idea being to communicate with them. Listen to what they say and let them know you are there with them to help them through it. Many times we feel powerless because we can’t just “make it all better.” But part of helping someone through a difficult experience includes having patience.
But again, I think this is where faith comes in, at least my definition. If we can offer some hope that our friend who is suffering can make it through the difficulty, and that it will be okay, then that can empower them to believe it too. We can help them gain the motivation and energy that they might lack by helping them feel like they will be able to persevere.
This is not an instant cure. I don’t intend to imply that every problem will be wiped away this way. But what I do believe is that as we strengthen our bonds of friendship through this kind of support and this kind of demonstration of our love, then we can help carry each other. And at the same time, we again change who we are internally and grow as a person.
There is no question that we each have had and will again have “one of those days” (or weeks, or months). There will always be times when it all seems to go wrong. But there is also no question that if you can draw on your inner faith, and on the faith of those true friends you have around you, that the burden will be made lighter. And if you can persevere through it, then you will become a stronger and more resilient person too.