Adversity — When Your World Rises Up Against You

For 800 years mankind has tossed around the word adversity with great ease when faced with ongoing calamity, hostile or unfavorable behaviour from those who appear to have turned against us, or while one walks through life appearing to experience ongoing bad luck.

Somewhere in the depths of our own private worlds, we walk through life constantly identifying with salmon who fight so hard to swim upstream; or the mountain climber who scales the face of a great mountain, battered and hammered by nature’s forces, drained of all strength, but pushing on towards the peak.

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Adversity — When Your World Rises Up Against You

I will never forget the season in my own life when my son and I, acting on the advice of my attorney, made the decision to residentially relocate to Smithers BC.  My attorney thought it would be a great community for my son and I to relocate to while I tried to recover from a serious accident, and possibly retire to. We packed our things, hired a truck, and made our way north knowing absolutely no one in the community. The community had one familiar name to us, but upon our arrival we discovered it was not who we thought it was. Still, we began the undaunting task of settling in.

Four weeks had come and gone, when there came a knock at the front door. The sound caught us off guard for we had not yet met anyone in the community except for the next door neighbour. Opening the door, I discovered a scrawny small man, his skin worn with time, and most likely younger than he appeared. He stood there nervously, then slowly opened his mouth and began to speak, “I’ve been chosen by the neighbourhood to come speak to you. We have had a meeting as neighbours and have decided that you are not welcome here, we want you to leave Smithers.”

There was no “Welcome to the neighbourhood”, or “Let us know if we can be of assistance”, the message was one of GET OUT! It certainly wasn’t the normal welcome mat that one might expect new neighbours to lay out, in fact, it was more a case of people trying to sweep a person under the mat.

Smithers became a season of great blessing in our lives. My son and I received the medical care we greatly needed but were not receiving in our previous community.  The air quality greatly enhanced my son’s recovery from asthma.  Yet, in spite of the health benefits, socially we remained outcasts. The only one who chuckled was the barber. Somewhere deep in the bowels of a barbershop chair, one found greater wisdom and depth than anywhere else in the community. “Smithers is a town filled with assholes,” the Barber began to say. “I’ve been here for most of my life, and if it wasn’t for my work, I’d still probably only know four or five people. Here, in people’s eyes, if you’re not from the Dutch Reformed church community, then you’re a tree hugger and neither one get’s along with the other. The people here hate outsiders, unless you have money and have come here to spend it.  They hate change that doesn’t line their personal pockets with money. For what most people think of as a religious community, they’re just assholes, each and everyone of them. Don’t be fooled, money and a dutch lineage are the real God in this town.”

I sat there smiling while the barber cut my hair. Quietly I thought to myself, every desert has its oasis, but who knew that Smithers’ cultural oasis — it’s greatest natural resource and pearl of wisdom would be found in a barber’s chair.

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Adversity — When Your World Rises Up Against You

Adversity — with so many differences existing in each part of the world, and in each of our own personal lives, we hold at our core one common thread…we all, at one time or another are faced with some form of crushing adversity. There may be seasons in our lives, and yes, perhaps even long ones where people think we have the “Midas touch” where all that is good flows naturally into our lives without effort.  But, buried deep in the nature of mankind is an underlying truth – with good comes bad. Comfort gives way to distress, good health gives way to the decaying processes of time, love fades and two people’s spirits shrivel while a relationship tries to “hang in there”. When the good times give way to the rude and often uncaring arrival of suffering or loss, we find ourselves in shock, grieving, unable to see the situation for all that it is, caving into the depravity of grief born fear and anger.

In the face of adversity, anger flows naturally into the forefront of our existence, as we struggle to embrace a circumstance which seems so unfair. Inwardly we look skyward as if ready to scream, “Why is this happening?” Under the sudden crushing weight of our circumstance, our world fills with a confusion born out of a sense of injustice.  Anger, expressed in a healthy manner is a normal natural part of the grieving process.

In the face of prolonged adversity, some will crumble, losing all sense of who they once were, while others will stand strong, often thought of by his or her accusers as foolish.

Adversity is little more than a fall, and mankind knows from the moment of taking his or her first step that falls happen. Sometimes in our fall, our knee gets bruised; our pants get torn; and tears of heartache and pain fill our eyes. Yes, we can choose to sit by the side of life’s road and weep over our cut’s and bruises, but that choice only robs us of the chance to arrive sooner to our destiny.

Battered and inwardly bruised by the cruel words and intentions of those bullies who exist in the world around us, there comes a point in time where we might cave into the mess, or realize one great truth — the harsh negative actions, the bullying, the character slander, the collapse in business, the gut wrenching loss of a relationship due to cancerous gossip of enemies posing as friends, does not define who we are. Everything that goes on around us, is not IN US!  At times it might feel as if adversity has filled every inner corner of your being, but don’t be fooled.

I live in a world filled with daily adversity, and yet, it’s not who I am. The adversity is all the junk, all the garbage that swirls in life’s winds around me…it’s out there, not a part of who I am. An external force trying desperately to chip away at an internal force.

When adversity rears it’s ugly head, and people try to bully you into doing something that’s only in their personal interest, that’s when a person must remind themselves that there are three equally viable responses to such a demand – yes, no, or maybe. While a bully might not like any answer which deviates from his or her personal agenda, we must step back, take a deep breath, and realize that we cannot take responsibility for someone else’s perspective, or behaviour, we can only take ownership of our choices, our actions, and our reactions. In life, figuratively speaking, each and everyone of us takes our own garbage to the curb for pick up. Only a fool abandons his or her own garbage halfway down the driveway to run over and grab someone else’s garbage. Adversity, while it impacts your world, it’s really someone else’s garbage. It’s an event taking place outside of you…not inside you.

It may seem strange to think of it as such, but adversity is actually a friend. Herodotus, the Greek philosopher, said, “Adversity has the effect of drawing out strength and qualities of a man that would have lain dormant in its absence.” Adversity brings to us a choice, we can choose to let it crush us, or we can choose to let it refine us, bringing greater definition to our life.

It is very easy to get caught up in self pity, the unfairness of life, or the ‘why me’ traps. When we do, we fail to recognize the opportunities to grow deeper in personal wisdom and understanding which often accompany adversity.

Adversity is inevitable in life. As has already been pointed out, adversity is part of life. To avoid or resist it will only empower it’s buffeting forces to dig deeper over a longer course of time.

When people deliberately go out of their way to hurt us or make life hard for us, do we have to cave in to their wishes to find peace? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Our world is filled with highly dysfunctional people who walk through life believing they are “the norm”, and a healthy example of who and what everyone else should be like, when in reality their life barfs out every conceivable evidence of their personal lack of health. They are little more than “the stuff” that whirls around you. They are an external force, and through the imposition of their wishes, unsolicited opinions, intimidations, tantrums when they don’t get their way, they will try to deceive you into believing you are something you are not. Only you hold the keys to who you truly are.

Unhealthy people, are people who have allowed life’s clutter to blind themselves to what is right and what is healthy. That definition will be unique to each and every individual, but know that when a person wilfully causes pain or injury to another person, that action is never coming from a healthy person, no matter how hard they try to fool you into thinking it’s in your best interest.

The garbage of this world is out there, it is not who I am. In the face of adversity, we must all embrace this reality if we are going to choose to grow through life’s storms.

There will always be those who try to shape us into the kind of person they think we should be; this usually happens when they struggle in knowing how to shape themselves. Rather than work on their own issues, they deflect the much needed attention away from their apparent lack of health by trying to change someone else. Their actions may be cloaked in a spirit of well-meaning, claiming it’s in your best interest, but in reality it is an outer sob, a whimper, or a life desperately in need of healing and personal growth. Even in the face of adversity, there is room for compassion – there is room to recognize that perhaps, while those around us try to find their way in life, part of our adversity is little more than the ripple effect of someone else’s growing pains.

I grew up in an era when the family farm consisted of buildings made from huge logs. Those buildings had stood for decades. To look at them, one might only see log buildings, but I saw something different early on in life. For a tree to grow into a strong timber, there must be strong winds, dry seasons, the threat of a forest fire, disease, and pests. Adversity is to each and everyone of us, that strong wind, that dry season, that threat of fire, the disease, and often in human form…those pests.

Henry Ford once said, “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that a plane takes off against the wind, not with it.”

Adversity doesn’t build character. It provides us with the opportunity to peel back life’s layers so we can see where we are at in the process of developing our own character, our own qualities, our true unique definition.

Author — James C. Tanner

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