Finding Peace In the Midst of a Storm

08/31/2010 17:49

If I have heard it once, I have heard it a million times, the voice of my wise father saying “the gift is in the struggle.” I have listened to the melody of this phrase more times than I care to remember throughout my life during periods in which I have grumbled about life’s trials and tribulations. 

“The gift is in the struggle, the gift is in the struggle, the gift is in the struggle.”  This quote has become a mantra of sorts to me. Perhaps if I say it over and over and over again I will master its meaning and therefore be able to successfully apply its utility in my life. On a more serious note, I have struggled to fully grasp the meaning of these words, believing that my father, the wise man that I know him to be, has tried to lead me in the right direction by giving me sound advice in an effort to help me to find some much needed relief from the angst that I experience during various moments of conflict or stressors in life.

“The gift is in the struggle” is a phrase whose origin can be credited to a man by the name of Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who was a long time prisoner in Bestial Concentration Camps during the Holocaust.  Dr. Frankl survived some of life’s worst imaginable tragedies and used his gift of “life” to tell his story and pass on the wisdom that he acquired as the result of his experiences in captivity. 

I have learned that throughout life we are faced with “growth producing experiences.”  Sometimes it can seem as if everything is conspiring against our having peace.  The kids are fighting, the traffic is backed up, the bills are piling up, someone was unkind to us at work, someone gets sick, we become ill, and the list goes on.  So, the million dollar question is “How do we find peace during the struggles that life brings?”

What is peace anyway?  I think that the answer to this question can be better examined by the way in which we choose to define peace.  I used to think of peace as the absence of conflict.  I struggled to live a conflict free life and was frequently frustrated with not being able to control things.  Many of the things that I attempted to dictate were outside of the realm of my control.  I eventually came to the realization that this line of thinking limits ones sense of peace in that peace then becomes totally dependent upon our circumstances.  Since conflict is a part of our everyday lives to some degree, holding on to this view, resulted in very few moments of actual peace for me because there were many things that I had no power to change.

Over the years, and through various philosophical and many practical conversations with my father, people from my Church, other professionals, and wise friends (those who dared to have gone there before me), I have “grown into” thinking about peace in a different way.  It seems to me that a state of peace is a phenomenon that allows us to rise above our circumstances to the point that we are able to remain calm despite of the storms that may surround us at a given moment.  Peace is therefore, not something that is dependent upon circumstances.  Peace allows us to see past our current struggle and into the distance which in turn allows us to hold steady on our life course as we “ride out the storms” or “bumps in the road.”

“Those of you who practice positive thinking regularly know that it is much easier to be positive when things are going well in your life than when life is difficult.  People often have more difficulty choosing a positive attitude when there is a crisis, tragedy, or challenging circumstances.  Yet, it is precisely during these times that a positive attitude is most useful. 

Maintaining a positive attitude in difficult times requires you to broaden your perspective and suspend judgment.  Your attitude is directly related to your perception and interpretation of events.  It is important to recognize that all of our experiences - especially the most difficult ones - offer seeds of opportunity and growth.  Sometimes these seeds are subtle and hard to find, but they are always there.  Have you ever had a situation that at the time you thought was terrible, only later to find out that it was one of the best things that ever happened to you?  While it is good to have this realization after the fact, the key is to have this understanding during a difficult time.

The best way to do this is to use applied faith.  Applied faith means that you are able to trust in the moment of a difficult experience that there will be something good that will come - even if you can't see it right then.  You simply trust that with time you can find the positives and/or opportunities that come from the experience.  For example, a common positive outcome during times of crisis is a greater connection with loved ones and/or with a higher power.  People often reorganize their priorities when faced with a trauma or disaster - placing love, relationships, and spirituality at the top of the list.

So the next time you are faced with a challenge - no matter how big or small - try shifting your perspective and looking for the seeds of growth and opportunity.  Even if you don't see these seeds immediately have faith that they are there and you will see them in time.” (Think Positive Blog, 2006). 

Ultimately, “the gift is in the struggle” and as we travel along the path that takes us through the journey of our lives, we have to decide upon a personal definition of peace and how we are going to manage the storms that come our way.  The path that we choose, will to a large degree, be directly correlated with the amount of peace that we then experience throughout our lifetime.  I don’t know about you, but I am working towards mastering the art of peaceful living by giving up control and walking by faith. I have learned that peace is really nothing more than a state of mind and that sometimes we have to endure some of the discomforts that are indicative of problems. We can not control many of the things that may result in stress, tragedy, loss, and/or disappointments in our lives but we can “choose” our attitudes when these situation arise, which can ultimately allow us to experience peace, despite of our trying circumstances.  I have found that sometimes the gift can only be found in the struggle.  My latest mantra is “What am I supposed to learn from this?”