The Gift of Struggle

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” – C.S. Lewis

When I was in second grade I struggled to keep up with the other kids in school. My teacher tried to help me but had too much on her plate.

So she called my mom and told her I was “slow” and that she didn’t have the time to devote to me in class. She went on to tell my mom she thought I might be mentally challenged.

Of course my mom protested and told her I was smart and capable just like the other kids.

But the truth was, things at home were not good. My parents fought a lot and my dad was often away on business. As I result, I shut down. My mind drifted and I created my own inner world during school.

After more discussion with my teacher and principle, it was decided I would be placed in Resource, a special education program my school offered.

I was humiliated.

I didn’t want to go to Resource. I didn’t want to be different, abnormal, dumb. But that’s how it felt.

I’ll never forget the first day the Resource teacher came into my class and called my name. She called me and another kid. I grabbed my backpack, kept my head down and headed out of class.

I could hear the whispers and giggles of the other kids. I felt dejected and alone.

But this humiliation ended up being a blessing in disguise.

I’ll never forget my Resource teacher, Mrs. Stripling, who was so kind and encouraging. She immediately recognized something in me that I didn’t see in myself – the gift to create.

“You’re really good at creating stories,” she told me. “Have you ever done any creative writing?”

‘No,” I told her.

“Why don’t I show you how? All you have to do is take what you have in your mind and put in on paper.”

Mrs. Stripling worked with me and helped me craft up my stories. She encouraged me to use my imagination and inspired me to create and dream big.

She offered me a gift by recognizing my potential.

“The job of love is to realize potential,” said Bono.

Little did Mrs. Stripling know she was planting seeds in my young heart that would one day bloom into a profession of writing and public speaking.

With that said, here are four ways I believe struggle can be one of our greatest gifts:

1. Struggle pushes us out of ourselves and helps us see things differently.

When I told I had a “learning disability” I felt devastated and defeated. It pushed me further into myself and I felt trapped there. But what my Resource teacher did was help me see things differently – she opened my eyes to what I could do.

We all struggle, that’s not the question. The question is: What will we do with our struggle? If we allow it to lift us out of ourselves and into a bigger story – into the story of humanity where we can add value to others – than it’s worth it.

2. Struggle helps us learn to create, dream, and take steps we wouldn’t have before.

J.K. Rowling, the world-renowned author of the Harry Potter books, almost lost all hope years ago as a single-mom without a job living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Life was hard and she was depressed.

But amid this struggle, Rowling would walk the streets of Edinburgh until her baby fell asleep, and then plop down in a café and write. It was during this time Harry Potter was born.

The world is forever changed because of Rowling’s work – a work forged in the trenches of her own pain and struggle.

Would she have started writing if she hadn’t gone through a divorce and felt so alone? We don’t know. But the truth is her struggle created the environment for her to dream big and take steps.

3. Struggle helps us know we’re not alone.

There’s something powerful about sharing our wounds with others. When we do, we realize we’re not alone. Conversely, when we don’t share our struggles, when we stay inside our own heads, we feel isolated and defeated.

This, then, can lead to all sorts of problems, and even illnesses.

The one common thread that holds all humanity together is the fact we all struggle. Pain does not care if we are rich or poor, black, white or brown.

Everyone has pain.

Once we realize this we can stop pretending and thinking (a) we have no problems; or(b) we are the only ones with problems.

The truth is, when we share our struggles it empowers and connects us deeper to our own humanity and to others.

4. Struggle can lead us on the path of extraordinary (if we let it).

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been” – George Elliot.

Twenty-five years after I was told I had a learning disability, I sat on my couch feeling (once again) dejected and alone because of an email I received from a potential publisher. The email stated they rejected my manuscript.

I was heart-broken. I had waited three months for their reply, and even received emails saying the manuscript is promising and would be sent to the editorial staff for review.

My wife sat by me and said, “Don’t worry, Dave, you’ll find a publisher. God has a plan for this book.”

And she believed it too – she believed I was called to write my book and that it would change many people’s lives. The problem was, I didn’t believe it… not any more.

Sadly, I drank a tall glass of self-pity and called it a day.

But thankfully, that’s not the end of a story. About a week or so after I received this email, another publisher contacted me and said they were interested in my manuscript.

I couldn’t believe it!

Months later, I held my first book in my hands. My dream came true.

I deeply believe that struggle can lead us on to an extraordinary path, a path we may miss if everything went smoothly. The question is, will we let struggle lead us on this extraordinary path and allow it to become a tool and instrument to not only change us, but ultimately change the word?

I hope so.

How has a personal struggle helped you to grow? Do you see struggle as a gift?

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