I started some new knitting this afternoon. The house was quiet and I sat at the kitchen table with my needles and pattern. I have some cobweb fine yarn in a shade of light grey. I’m making a shawl and learning to knit lace.
The knitting did not go well. I had to undo and start again seven or eight times. I used to cry about my knitting but not anymore. I’ve learnt that it’s worth it; the dropped stitches and the unravelling, it’s a necessary part of getting where you want to be, this picking yourself up and trying again.
But in life (rather than in knitting) what is it that allows us to persevere when things are hard and not end up burned out and defeated? What is it that gives us a healthy energy to carry on rather than an overwhelming sense of defeat?
Gone are the days when I believed that for a thing to be good it must be hard. At one time I was never happy or satisfied with what I did or who I was. At home and at work I was hyper-critical of my efforts and always trying to improve. In spiritual things I would push myself to pray a little longer, memorise more scripture, fast more earnestly, serve longer more inconvenient hours. I did it all without joy because it came from a sense that I always needed to do better. Life became one long self improvement plan. Resentment grew. It was a miserable way to live.
At one time we had a phrase in our house, “if it doesn’t hurt it doesn’t work’. We used it to talk about disciplining the kids. We used to say that for the punishment to change them it had to cause them some pain. Turns out that was not entirely true. Several years into parenting we found we got the best out of our kids not through punishment but through loving kindness and positive affirmation.
After all, it was the kindness of God that led us to repentance and not his punishing anger.
I changed my relationship to difficult things when God changed my relationship to Him. I went from feeling subject to His disapproval, always looking to improve myself and justify my existence, to understanding the overwhelming unconditionality of His love for me. It is the singular most important thing that has happened to me and it didn’t happen the moment I became a Christian. It took much longer for me to see that if I never did another good thing as long as I lived God would still love me just the same. So now I know that a challenge is not a test that I pass or fail, it is not there to test me, trick me or catch me out. A challenge is something different and I’m usually happy to say yes to it because I know I can’t really fail.
If you were raised on the tricky idea that God sends hard things into your life to teach you something good, you may have started to believe that hard things is the only teaching tool in His kit. It’s a miserable way to live, constantly under the fear of punishment and failure, destined to live the rest of your life facing a long list of trials that you will almost certainly fail to be successful in.
It would seem that God does want us to be happy. Changing your focus and allowing your focus to be changed, from a punishment perspective to a love perspective will give you a new attitude to challenge and allow you to access some the good things that lie on the other side of the hard things in life.