Life always involves a measure of pain and suffering. From the very first moment to the time we take our leave, challenges are the name of the game. Avoiding challenges is not only impossible; it’s inadvisable. Working our way through challenges is the key to personal and spiritual growth. I know. I have been on that journey big time and, in inscrutable ways, it is changing my character. Even though the journey has been terribly hard, I have not been wrestling with something evil. I have been wrestling with God. This Provision invites you to view and approach your own challenges in much the same way.
Today’s Provision serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, it represents my free-will offering to the nearly 15,000 people who receive my weekly reflections on the nature and meaning of life by email, on the other hand it represents my continued attempt to process, make sense of, and recover from this strange disorder that came upon my brain almost 15 months ago. Who knew that it would take this long!
And who knows how much longer my healing will take, what other treatments will yet be pursued, or how far back I will come in terms of my memory functions and other mental capacities? The answer is one and the same for all of those questions: no one knows. Not even the doctors and other experts in neuroscience. Everyone is guessing, including me, to the best of our ability and on the basis of our ever-changing experience as to what will be the right formula for me.
Simply put, we have embarked upon an adventure of discovery and wonder, with an unknown outcome. That makes it at once all the more scary and exciting. Having hung on and survived, I am now experiencing the most transformative ride of my life. Even though I am still a long ways away from where I want to be, I believe that I am going from barely surviving in a hospital bed to heartily thriving on the trek of life. And I am thankful that so many of you have been willing to share the journey with me by reading these Provisions.
There is a story in the Hebrew scriptures that speaks to the transformative nature of experiences such as the one through which I am going. It comes from the book of Genesis, chapter 32, verses 22-31, and it has become a classic rendering of what happens when someone wrestles, struggles, and tussles with God. I reprint that story here from the Good News Translation of the Hebrew scriptures:
That same night Jacob got up, took his family, and crossed the Jabbok River. After he had sent them across, he also sent across all that he owned, but he stayed behind, alone.
Then a man came and wrestled with him until just before daybreak. When the man saw that he was not winning the struggle, he hit Jacob on the hip, and it was thrown out of joint. The man said, “Let me go; daylight is coming.”
“I won’t, unless you bless me,” Jacob answered.
“What is your name?” the man asked.
“Jacob,” he answered.
The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have struggled mightily with God and with life, and you have won; so your name will be Israel.”
Jacob said, “Now tell me your name.”
But he answered, “Why do you want to know my name?” Then he blessed Jacob.
Jacob said, “I have seen God face-to-face, and I am still alive”; so he named the place Peniel. And the sun rose as Jacob was leaving Peniel, limping because of his hip.
Although my name was not changed, that is exactly how I feel about my experience of living with Autoimmune Limbic Encephalitis. For almost 15 months I have wrestled with a stranger who was not invited and who almost took my life. It has been a tough, tough battle and it has taken every resource we could muster, in heaven and on earth, to get me to where I am today. For everyone’s sake, I wish it had never happened at all. But it did happen and it has changed me and it has given me countless opportunities to wrestle with God.
I’m not sure what your conception of God is, or if you even have a conception of God. In my case, having served as an ordained minister for 20 years before becoming an author and a coach, the notion of God is no more complicated than what you will find in the dictionary: God is the creator and sustainer of life. No one can argue with the fact that such a “Being” exists because “Life” exists. Something brought Life into being and has kept life going for almost 14 billion years.
I know that’s true because, against all odds, I woke up this morning. I know that’s true because, against all odds, I’m writing a Provision that will be read by hundreds, if not thousands, of people. I know that’s true because the Universe is here and a bird just landed on the feeder outside my window. And I find it hard to believe that any of that is a total accident or coincidence.
What’s harder although not impossible for me to believe are all of the destructive forces in the Universe. It took a lot of energy to bring this Universe into being and, I suppose, that energy, whether random or willful, can be both constructive and destructive. Super Typhoon Haiyan is a tragic and sad example of just how destructive that energy can be. My heart goes out to the people in the Philippines, who have suffered so greatly, and my prayers go up for the people of Vietnam and southeast Asia, as they prepare for whatever may be coming their way. I was in Vietnam once and I have friends there. No one wants friends to suffer.
And yet there is something to be said for the things that come from wrestling with God, especially when that wrestling entails a measure of suffering. They say that suffering builds character but I would put it differently. Suffering creates and changes character. No one comes into and goes out of this world without a measure of suffering and everyone experiences at least some measure of suffering along the way. My suffering was pretty mild until August 30th of last year. Since then, it’s been pretty intense. And it is helpful to me to frame this suffering as a form of wrestling with God. Whether or not it is building my character, it is certainly changing my character. I hope and pray it is changing my character for the good.
This spiritual perspective on the trek of life means that life is not just totally random or accidental. I think of life as a gift, even when it’s hard and even when we are being dragged through the pits. As long as it doesn’t kill us – and, in the end, it will kill us all – life has a way of teaching us valuable lessons that can open eyes, soften hearts, heal wounds, and transform souls. That’s what happens when we wrestle with God and, as painful and as challenging as it may be, that wrestling is the key to the Universe itself. There’s no other way to get from here to there so I invite you to lift up your hearts, give thanks, and sing.
Coaching Inquiries: In what ways have you wrestled with God? How has that wrestling changed you? What has helped you to stay in the ring? In what ways has it stayed with you and informed your perspective on life? Where do you see the Universe taking you now?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Thank you for your Provision on Healthy Habits. I plan to print it and share it with my staff. You are a gift in my life.
I love this compendium! It was not only helpful and handy, it also made me smile because I can check off most of those boxes on most days. Authentic Happiness indeed!
Hope you are succeeding in being happy lately. This list can certainly help us all.
After reading your Provision, I was struck this week by how happiness & doing what is good for ourselves & those around us are so closely linked. (Helping others, getting exercise, enough sleep, etc.). About a year ago I read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts: Finding Joy in What Really Matters & I have been counting gifts ever since. I’ve noticed a definite difference in my mood as a result. I now look for little (& big) things to be delighted by, and I never fail to find them even on a “bad” day. It amazes me how such a simple shift in focus yields such great rewards & contentment. Thanks for the reminder! We just moved to a new city and I have been overwhelmed at all that entails, so I needed this reminder. Thanks again.
Thanks for reprinting the happiness column from the HP. I’m sure that for each of the 21 points made, you’ve found a way to make them happen in your life. That would have been a different and interesting way to “reprint” the message. Given your prompt, that’s the way I’m reflecting on each one: examining the extent to which I’ve structured my own life to determine the degree to which I’ve put into place elements from each factor. It’s refreshing to do this review from time to time. Thanks.
As a wellness coach, specializing in helping people lose weight, I see the happiness issue as a big one. Just last week I had my clients list 20 things that make them happy. (This was actually difficult for some of them!) People did find that scarfing down chocolate chip cookies was not on the list. Overeating was not on the list. What makes us personally happy? People should reread your wonderful Provision #832 and take the time to make their own list. Don’t stop at 20. As the article suggests, enjoy the little things in life. As an example, I get happiness from watching the sky, the clouds, the birds, a warm house, a hot shower, my zippy new car (as well as my 21-year-old car before my new one.) The list can go on and on! If you are not a naturally happy person, take time to make your list. I love your Provisions. Keep the good advice coming!
You might take this as a Debbie Downer kind of comment, but what the heck. I found most of your last Provision to be very helpful and it made me smile, many times. That said, as the wife of a man who is chronically ill and suffering from its debilitating effects on his entire life, I have to say something to say in response to this morning’s Provision. There is a constant attempt to find the positive, feel something happy, give when we can, and seek the good – but the overwhelming weight of chronic illness is sometimes too great to bear.
That is when turning to friends or family should be a lift. Too often, however, people turn their backs on friends and family who might be depressed when faced with this kind of extended and incurable illness – the kind that leads to a loss of normal daily activities such as work, exercise, and the simple ability to leave the house. Instead of throwing out a lifeline of emotional support to loved ones they make things harder.
People are hypocrites when they throw their dollars to charities, to help strangers, and then turn their back on their family and friends. That’s just hurtful. Debbie Downer on a dark day. Tomorrow will be better. Today might be too.
Happiness is good, as far as it goes. But I would choose deep and lasting peace over happiness every time. Our post-modern American obsession with finding happiness may well be at the root of the pervasive malaise of our time. Thank God that the truly great people among us don’t waste their time pursuing happiness. Consider Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa. Chasing after happiness wasn’t on their agendas, and we can all be glad it wasn’t. Peace, mercy, justice, communion with God and all creation. These things beat happiness hands down.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, joy, and health.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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