Finding purpose and meaning in the bleak seasons of life

The truth is, though we try, we cannot avoid hard things.

  • Wednesday, August 25, 2021 7:44pm
  • Opinion
Mark Wagner

Mark Wagner

C.S. Lewis, the British writer and professor, wrote, “We must stop regarding unpleasant or unexpected things as interruptions of real life. The truth is that interruptions are real life.”

Everyone has experienced events that seem to knock us off our feet. The past 18 months have felt like a major interruption for all of us. We were thrust into the dark days of a global pandemic, stuck at home at first in an unprecedented lock-down. Businesses were shuttered and we were literally banned from human contact. Now, here we are, many months later, wondering what the world will look like when we emerge from the days of the virus which shall not be named.

But sprinkled among the many days of depression and loneliness, there have still been times of joy for my family. My wife and I welcomed a new child into our family, we became “yogis,” I wrote and recorded a new album, my wife learned how to make sourdough bread (and she’s really good at it!), and our family discovered a new love for paddle-boarding. I must also admit, we watched the Netflix series Longmire for the fourth time, fell in love with Ted Lasso, and we bought a VW Eurovan named June that has become our “home away from home.” These little bright lights of happiness have illuminated the good that can emerge in the midst of challenging times.

The truth is, though we try, we cannot avoid hard things. Whether it’s a job loss, the death of a loved one, a tragic accident, or a global pandemic, unpleasant intrusions are inevitable. The question then becomes; how do we keep going? How do we survive these painful moments and rise up on the other side; stronger, fuller, brighter? My theory is that the only way to gain strength in the weak and bleak seasons of life is to charge through them with a vision for what could be on the other side. Instead of getting angry at God or others for causing this hardship, we ask God (or the Universe; the Spirits), “What are you up to, really? What lessons am I learning? What knowledge is there to be gained in this season of struggle?”

This simple shift in perspective will change everything. We stop focusing on the mountain of misery and catch glimpses of sunlight peering through the clouds. Those tiny rays of light will guide us on the long path towards wisdom. They are walks on the beach, holding hands with a loved one, laughing at an episode of Schitt’s Creek, or losing track of time reading a great book. They are the moments of peace and stillness that surprise us, even in the midst of a pandemic when we are forced to abandon our busy schedules to embrace new opportunities.

While we cannot avoid adversity, we can learn through it. In the end, we grow wise not by solving problems but by allowing those problems, and the experience of surviving them, to shape us and to give us a new perspective on life.

The Rev. Dr. Mark W. Wagner is the pastor of Vashon’s United Methodist Church.




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