Last week, we talked about the power of learning to enjoy adversity. It’s one of the most powerful decisions you can ever make in terms of the joy it can bring to your life—but it’s also one of the most difficult, and that’s no accident. In fact, that difficulty is engineered by our very physiology. I mentioned previously that one ancient manuscript talks about the life of Jesus being literally manifested in our bodies, and whatever your personal beliefs about that may be, I do think that the decision we’re talking about today makes a literal, physical change for the positive in your body.
I think there are two basic forces that fight for control of our lives and drive nearly everything that you and I do every day. The first is a fear of death, and the second is a belief in (and a need for) love.
On the one hand, survival is the single strongest hardwired instinct we have. That instinct speaks to us loudly and insistently. It’s designed that way because if its sole job is to keep us physically alive. If it were to underreact to a potential threat, we might end up dead, but if it overreacts to one, that’s less of an issue. The trouble, of course, is that love inherently requires vulnerability and putting other people ahead of our own wants and needs. Eventually, we always end up having to fight the instincts of our survival instinct over the things that matter most to us.
It’s worth it. Most people seem to know this without being told. Nearly everyone that I know seems to agree that loving and being loved in return is the greatest gift you can ever have, that without its life would hardly be worth living. Though some people may claim to be islands, my experience is that anyone without loving, meaningful relationships is really miserable, whether or not they let it show.
Which brings me to my main point for this week: that belief requires time. Belief in love, belief in God, belief in anything, really. These beliefs have to be tested before they truly begin to change us for the better, and that process doesn’t happen overnight. Now, the moment of decision, when you decide to commit your life absolutely to a certain set of beliefs—that can change your life almost overnight. But getting there is almost always a process.
Essentially, I’m talking about faith. That word is usually used in a religious context, but that’s not exactly what I mean. I’m not asking anyone to believe anything that they don’t think is true, or to hold blindly to any perspective—I’m talking about faith in those things you do believe. There was a wonderful line by C.S. Lewis, I don’t remember where exactly, where he used surgery as an analogy. Rationally, he knew perfectly well that the doctors were highly trained, that they wouldn’t start operating until he was under anesthetic and that it would keep him blissfully unconscious for the whole procedure. But even though he knew all that, he was frightened by the idea of waking up in the middle of things and feeling everything they were doing to him. In other words, he “lost faith” in the doctors.
I think that the vast majority of the times when we’re afraid, when we act out of a survival instinct instead of in love, if we’re really honest with ourselves we know better. Sure, things might not be perfect, but there’s no real reason to be living in fear. The key to adversity isn’t some new trick, but exercising our faith in what we know in our hearts to be true.
Of course, first you have to find what you know to be true, and it has to be more than just an inherited belief. That’s the exhaustive search we talked about last week, and as far as I know there’s no way around it. No shortcuts. You have to make every effort to discover what you believe is the truth about life, about yourself, and about the best way to live. But once you’re finally in a position to make that call, then you’re on the high road.
I’ve got a theory that there’s a single exception built into our survival instinct for love, and a real commitment to living in love for the rest of your life frees you from it in a way that absolutely nothing else can. That’s when even adversity starts to be enjoyable in its way, and you end up getting the best outcome every time. Not the one you want (or thought you wanted), but the best.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!