How to make the best of an awful situation
Several times in the last few weeks friends have told me, “Wow, your perspective on that situation is incredible,” or they’ve asked, “How can you be so positive in such an awful situation?” Sometimes I’m surprised because I don’t necessarily realize (until it’s pointed out to me) that I’m not making my experience harder by constantly believing my situation is beyond hope or by thinking I’m obviously doing something wrong otherwise this [horrible situation] wouldn’t be happening.
Sometimes I wonder if my friends just think there’s something special about me and that’s why I can handle difficult experiences from a good place. Let me set the record straight ~ there’s nothing special about me. I don’t say that to put myself down. I say it because if this former perfectionist, people-pleasing, take-responsibility-for-everything-and-everyone woman (me!) can persevere through hard times with peace instead of continual angst, I guarantee anyone can do it.
As I have pondered why I can feel peace when turmoil abounds, I’ve noticed that my shift in perspective (which totally changes my own experience) includes these three ideas: choice, opportunity, and becoming.
Choice. When our teenage son abruptly left home one day because “anywhere has to be better than here,” my first instinct was to think I either had to be devastated by this or simply not care. Neither one of these felt good because, for me, feeling devastated is exhausting, yet not fruitful. Unlike the exhaustion that comes from hard, productive work (which I love), devastation still leaves me out of control, sad, and not helping myself or the situation. And no matter how ridiculous I thought my son was being, I couldn’t pretend (and didn’t even want to pretend) that I didn’t care because it’s simply not true.
It’s easy to get stuck in all-or-nothing thinking, in believing there’s only two choices, but oftentimes there are multiple options. Instead of feeling devastated or not caring, I chose to feel love ~ love for myself and love for my son (even though I don’t always think he deserves it). While this hasn’t made the situation wonderful and glorious, choosing love has helped me concentrate on the things I can do rather than dwell on the parts out of my control.
Opportunity. Another key to my more positive outlook on situations beyond my control is to see each experience as an opportunity instead of a tragedy. And I don’t just mean an opportunity for my son to learn life lessons the hard way. Rather, I see it as an opportunity for me to honor the gift of agency even when I disagree with how it’s being used, an opportunity for me to learn the difference between unconditional love and condoning, and an opportunity for me to trust my Heavenly Father even when I can’t see how this could possibly ever turn out OK.
It’s true that while I would never have purposely chosen to have a son of mine just up and leave home, seeing this as an opportunity to learn more about myself and things I’ve known and taught for years (agency, unconditional love, trust in Heavenly Father) has given purpose and meaning to what could have otherwise only been a disaster.
Becoming. The third thing that has helped change my perspective when undesirable experiences are thrust upon me is the idea of “becoming.” Sometimes in my black-and-white thinking I automatically go to “This is how it’s all going to end. My son will always make choices we don’t agree with and he’ll always see us as the enemy.” But what if that just isn’t true? As much as I like to believe I have a crystal ball, I don’t. But this I do know: I am who I am because of the hard things I’ve endured (including the hard things I’ve brought upon myself) and I’m a work in progress. I’m OK with my own “becoming” and it’s fine for me to be OK with my son’s “becoming.”
Life is rarely a bed of roses for anyone, but your perspective can make all the difference for you, even in situations beyond your control.