There are two sides to the coin of human experience: pain and joy; consolation and desolation; exile and redemption.
We try very hard to live a “happier ever after” story. One where life is boiled down to a single obstacle we can defeat – our singlehood, home ownership, the first million dollars, fame, or destroying The Death Star. We want there to be one moment that causes all the turmoil to fade and the bliss to be ushered in.
This isn’t how life works. Even the best life does not happen this way. Exile and return, rejection and affirmation, are a part of the inevitable rhythm of life. You literally cannot have one without the other.
So, What Do We Do?
The belief in a climactic, happily-ever-after-inducing event is tempting. It can become a subtle obsession. Many of us do not know any other way to live.
Are we supposed to accept calamity? Not be affected by it? Not try to avoid it?
Of course not. But accepting the inevitability of struggle invites us to be prepared for it when it arrives. It calibrates our expectations with a more realistic prediction of the future.
We ought to avoid painful circumstances. We ought to do our best to explore joy and peace. With two great exceptions: 1) when comfort is not in alignment with our greater set of values and 2) when it is a lost cause.
For example, number 1 might happen when avoiding conflict with your spouse (in order to “keep the peace”) comes in conflict with your desire for a collaborative marriage based on honest communication. An example for number 2 might be an economic downturn or the onslaught of, say, a pandemic. For us, number 2 came in the form of a struggle with infertility.
When these two exceptions occur, we have to allow our perception the possibility that pain might be not only acceptable but beneficial.
When we are exiled, we dream of return. But what kind of person will we be when our circumstances are finally redeemed?
We often think of exile as a season in which we just need to hold on. Just survive. Just “get through it”.
But there are opportunities in exile. Chances to grow, to learn. Opportunities for intimacy and character to develop. If we do not make the most of these opportunities, we are often shocked to discover we do not return as easily as we had imagined when in exile. The circumstances, it becomes clear, were not all that was in play. They are just the arena in which the real narrative plays out. The narrative of our choices. The stewardship of our opportunities.
For more on exile and return, check out this new podcast series from Yellow Balloons.