I am reading a book, by K.J. Ramsey, about her struggle with a decade of chronic illness and pain. She started her journey with the intention of overcoming her trials, with conquering her problems, with emerging victorious over her pain. Reality turned out a little different for her, and hence the name of the book, which is what got my attention:
“This Too Shall Last”
I immediately thought to myself – this is the antidote to motivational posters that offer a false narrative that everything will just be okay if we think positive, believe good thoughts, or ride unicorns to a place of happiness. Sometimes, as anyone who has lived long on this earth will attest to, this too does NOT pass, but sometimes, many times, and for some, all times, this too shall last. People live with chronic pain, devastating disease, permanent and severe physical handicaps, and overwhelming emotional battles. A motivational poster or a snarky meme will not help one whit towards overcoming.
You can do it!
This is a favorite phrase I use with my daughter Jamie. In her case, it is usually true – with determination, hard work, and plenty of smarts she manages to achieve goals she sets for herself in her personal life, education, and work. But it turns out, for many this is not only a false statement, but a slap in the face of their reality. Many times you CAN’T do it, no matter what. The resources are not there, the depression is too deep, the challenges beyond your ability. Offering thin motivational phrases to someone struggling without taking the time to know their pain, feel their suffering, and understand their battle is an insult.
One Step at a Time!
But what if you can’t take that first step? What if that step you tried to take yesterday is the same step you are facing today and will likely face tomorrow? It is entirely possible that your emotional struggle keeps you pinned to the couch, mired in gloom. If you could only take one step… you might be able to take that second. But the cheery, seemingly uplifting phrase does nothing more than exacerbate the reality of war that rages inside.
Your Only Limit Is You!
Duh. I’m quite sure that’s what we are talking about here. It is no comfort to a depressed person to find out that THEY are the problem. Are you limiting yourself? Sure you are! Do you want to limit yourself? Hell no! But if in my infirmity and pain and suffering my only hope for success is ME, then I am in trouble. I, you, we know that we are our own worst enemy. If not, I, you, we would be the ones writing trite motivational posters.
False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR)
But is the evidence false just because someone says that it is? Is the cancer that is eating up your spine a figment of your imagination? The rent is three months past due, there is no food in the fridge, and the transmission is out in my car – but it’s all okay, because that is false evidence. I respectfully submit that there is enough evidence in many people’s lives to convict them of the crime of hopelessness. Fear is real, fear is crippling, fear can make your worst day, well, even worse. The only thing to fear is fear itself? I know many who would beg to differ, that fear is the thing that binds them, fear is the thing that keeps them from moving forward, that fear eats at their very being. If I found myself in the backcountry of Alaska and came face-to-face with a 1,500-pound Kodiak bear I would be paralyzed with fear. And that is how many people wake up in the morning, fearing their disease, fearing their addiction, fearing their very life.
Be the Very Best You!
I know a man who is the most depressed and defeated person I have as a friend. He is intelligent, funny, personable. And, he would tell you, his life is a complete failure. Everything he has done – two marriages, multiple jobs, traveling, writing, music – has ended with a big bunch of nothing. I think he would tell you that, based on his many decades of experience, the very best him is his worst enemy. If he could only shed him, shake the depression, and eliminate his chronic health problems – maybe he would have a chance. He needs more than a cheery unicorn ride of false promises, and as you walk away feeling so fulfilled for offering your pithy advice, he’s wishing that he could be the very best YOU. Because his own self is not working out.
Today Is Just Another Hard Day on The Way to Success!
Now we are at least getting close to the truth. Today is another hard day. It may lead to success. It may lead to more pain, more suffering, more failure. In all likelihood, today is just another day to put one foot in front of the other, stop limiting myself, be the best me, and face my fears. Been there, done that, don’t want to go back. Because if you wake up in the morning facing the same challenges, same fears, same pain as the last 1,000 mornings, tearing another page off the motivational calendar ain’t gonna get the job done.
So, what to do? I do not have YOUR answer. I have MY answer, which is hinged on a faith I have clung to and relied on since 1981. The reality of eternity, of a God who loves me enough to allow me to walk through the fires of life, the same one who has kept me sane and blessed me beyond measure in the face of sickness and suffering, he is my answer. And he doesn’t speak in pithy and vacuous quotes. Instead he says this:
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Unless you are one of the very few, the lucky ones, the golden-child, the one who seems to get through life without pain and struggle and fear and defeat, you will always have trials and tribulations. You cannot phrase your way out, you cannot exercise someone else’s false promises, you cannot take four thumbtacks and pin your hopes for a better you up on the wall. Reality is real, not masked in flowery quotes on pastel backgrounds.
Of all the motivational quotes, I think this is my favorite:
The Only Easy Day was Yesterday!
Because it is the truth. Yes, you need to go on. Yes, you need to try to be the best you. Yes, you need to overcome your fears. Yes, you can do it. If you made it to today, know that your only easy day was yesterday, that you will face more trials today, that life will go on. And maybe, when you find your way, when you claim your hope, there will be another easy day. And then another.
The best advice I can offer you is to wake up each day. If you do that, you have lived to fight another day.