Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives … the disciples followed him.
… he said to them, “pray that you may not undergo the test”
… kneeling he prayed …. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still not my will but yours be done.”
… He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
Lk 22: 39, 40, 41, 42
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Challenges come to us in life. No one is immune from them. Some are great and deep challenges that go to the depth of our being, alter seemingly the tranquil landscape we enjoyed.
In challenges we find times of fundamental transition, times of growth that move us to our soul and our spirit. Such times are painful as growth is painful. These are experiences that exceed the routine of our life. They transform us, if we let them. They are a time of choosing. If we try to ignore them, or avoid them – we default to falseness, narrowness, become brittle and opt for neurotic or psychotic states of being – and with those we live in lies, not the truth. This is precisely why growth is so important to a life. No growth, no life – merely a fragment. It is not complicated.
Life happens to us. We do not happen to life. Life has its way with us. Our resistance is ill-advised and, frankly, impossible. So integration of the experiences of life is mandatory. In this, a context is required – and faith and its narrative have proven over the centuries to be the best “contextualizer.” We see this in all cultures throughout time.
Certain psychotherapy helps in the hands of the right and wise counsel who has integrated his or her life, and provided the counsel is received by a willing and receptive listener. However, there are no therapeutic shortcuts to integration and wholeness. Medication often masks the pain, equipping us merely to re-enter the battle without integration and its strength. With challenges serious self-examination is required. Therapy that does not aid this is worthless.
Of course, working on challenges by ourselves is hard as we cannot know our own story while living it. Enter, therapy, the wise counsel of those who love us more than self, and faith narrative – literature as well, the ageless stories of truth – and myth.
Challenges tell us of the life above and below the immediate and the every day. Challenges awaken the soul and the spirit. Challenges are strange gifts, an invitation to full development – union of what is inside with what is outside, what is here and not here, beyond.
Be attentive to challenges and the strife they bring for they bring us beyond the very problem they present to a place of peace, and calm, to freedom from fear and the mundane, to wisdom, and compassion, health, contentment, confidence, clear vision even as to what is invisible, to meaning and purpose, a subtle happiness, an ability to love, and to a proper distance and wise detachment.
Life challenges us so we might know it, know ourselves – and others, know our depth and strength, our vulnerability and our life beyond the mortal.
My challenges began in infancy with abandonment and absence, followed by deaths and losses and capped by death and rejection. Yet, integrate this I did – for to not do so meant an existence of protracted pain and unhappiness. Such are the demands life posts for us. Such is life in the full. No one is offered less and all have it within themselves to accept this challenge.
Sacred texts are, as scripture for the Christian, a story about a full life. Often we miss this. To miss this is to see the movie without the dialogue.
Fear not. Life happens to all of us. Faith is a reliable context.