Next year, in June, my niece is going to get married. I’ve been reading on her social media account about all of the stresses she’s been going through to plan the wedding in addition to holding down a full time job and studying for her master’s classes. By all accounts, she is doing a lot and has every right to be stressed. I know I would. Then I got to thinking about it a bit more from a larger perspective. What if the whole thing was super easy? What if the wedding planning was done by someone else? What if the going to school was effortless? What if money was no object and working was really unnecessary? Would it all mean the same to my niece in the end? Isn’t it the struggle that gives it all meaning and a deeper understanding of yourself and others who have done this same thing before you?
When you think about any event you have gone through in your life. Perhaps it was getting your first car, having your first kiss, graduating from school, having a baby or maybe even retiring from 30 years of working. These events or rites of passage give you an experience you can now use to not only have more wisdom, but also to be able to relate to others. It can also give you a sense of belonging. I think about this often when I observe my son and his wife struggling as they begin their married life and raising their young boys. I think, yep, been there done that (with a knowing look on my face). This knowledge and wisdom help me feel like I belong to a group of parents and grandparents that have gone before me. I can now have a perspective on life that they have and, I hope, that my son and daughter-in-law may someday have as well.
I think it’s been said that humans, by nature, are social beings and we thrive better in groups by feeling connected. Studies have even shown that if babies are not held our touched, they will get very sick and sometimes just give up on life. We want to belong in any way we can. Through our experiences we can not only belong, but we can also gauge how successful we are in our life. We can use the comparisons of our experiences to know how to feel about ourselves. Are we normal? Are we doing things correctly? Do we fit in or not? Even if we think we don’t fit it in, that in and of itself is a form of belonging. We then belong to a group of outliers or rebels. Belonging makes us feel safe in the midst of what can feel like a very chaotic world.
It’s also been said that life is a struggle. I’ve often thought of this statement as negative or not looking at the bright side. But now I’m not sure I agree with that perspective. I think that most of the “bright sides” that you can think of are really are born out of struggle. Sometimes the struggle is your own and sometimes the struggle has been done on the part others. I think it’s important to honor the process of the struggle and those that have gone through it. I also think it’s equally important that we move on from the struggle. It’s important to acknowledge that it has given us wisdom and to enjoy the of the fruits of our labor. Some people will forget this critical part of the process and get stuck in reliving the struggle and perhaps even feeling like a victim of it.
I challenge you to step back on your life for a moment and see all that you have accomplished. Take note of your struggles and your victories and then take a long, slow, deep breath and know you have made it. Now, when you see others struggling similarly, you can show sympathy for them. Better yet, have compassion for them and offer them your help. This is how we awaken to who we truly are as human beings. This is how we evolve and grown in this life together.
Dwight J. Raatz
(a.k.a. Suffering to Belong)