Friday, August 2, 2013

Life is Difficult

My Front Yard

Back in the late 70's, Psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck, wrote his very popular book The Road Less Traveled. Dr. Peck begins his book:

Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we really see the truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted. the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. 

A few years back I gave a sermon in which I quoted this "life is difficult" passage. As I stood at the back of the church greeting people at the end of the service, this very eager and obviously agitated young man approached me. "I need to talk to you now," he said. I asked if he could make an appointment and come see me during the week, "No, I need to see you now." was his reply.  

Obviously there was some sort of crisis happening in this young man's life. So, we went up to my office to talk. We barely sat down when he tearfully blurted out. "You're wrong. It isn't true. It can't be true - life isn't difficult,  at least it's not supposed to be." It was the first time that he came face to face with this "great truth" of the difficulty of life and it was shaking him to the core.

I discovered that the young man was a college freshman, an eighteen-year old boy who just started school at a prestigious Southern California University.  His life up to now had indeed been anything but difficult. He was handsome, intelligent, and his parents were financially secure. He told me that everything in his life was going along "just as he had planned it." The prospect of life being difficult was chilling to him, and he didn't want to face that possibility.

I felt great empathy for that boy sitting in my office that morning after church. I had been him at one point; but as my life progressed, I had matured and discovered a deeper wisdom that nothing in life ever really goes according to how we plan it.  Indeed, many of my own hopes and dreams didn't materialize according to "my" plan.  I discovered that much of life is filled with failures and riddled with disappointments. Living out the exciting life I had planned for myself, turned out to be not all that exciting after all- living the every day routine was often monotonous and demanded hard work and discipline.

Life is difficult and isn't it great to know that truth. 

Sometimes people look at their own personal failures and disappointments and look at the difficulty in their own life and say, "I wish I could be like him or her- so beautiful, so famous, so successful, so loved, so perfect in every way." But the great truth is that no one is immune from the messiness of the human condition.  Everyone silently weeps over their failures, everyone tastes the bitterness of disappointment. Everyday life is often monotonous, boring and demanding.  No one's life ever proceeds exactly the way they have it planned. It's all part of being human. 

Knowing that we all swim together in this beautiful mess, life suddenly becomes not so difficult after all (as Dr. Peck said).

Our son has been staying with us this summer before returning to school. He said something that really struck me the other day: "Living out here in the desert really toughens you up, doesn't it?"  I hadn't thought about it that way before, but it's very true.  Desert life doesn't make you nasty and crusty, but it toughens you up. 

Every day the temperatures here are in the triple digits.  You can dehydrate very easily. The terrain is rough and rocky and dry and you live with all sorts of beasts- rattlesnakes on the trails, bats in the caves. The night silence is overwhelming- frightening at first.  When you live in a desert you realize that you have absolutely no control over it, you just have to live in it and go with the flow.  You feel very small in the desert but you never feel alone.

Life in the desert toughens you up.  It teaches you that "life is difficult" and in accepting that reality it all becomes not so difficult after all. 

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