I currently have the opportunity to co-teach a Sunday School class for 14- and 15-year-olds at my church. This week, I felt it very important to share with the young people in the class something that I realize has been a major theme of learning in my life thus far, particularly having to do with my difficult journey to finding my family. We were talking about the positive results that can come from living a “good” life. Sometimes I look back on my youth and feel like I was promised life would be good (or, as I interpreted that to mean, easy) if I did everything “right.”

The reality I have come to know instead is that life is just plain hard. For each of us, in our own way, it is a struggle. I have come to know that struggle very individually. I have come to realize that I will likely struggle throughout my life in different forms and in varying roles: as a friend, a spouse, a mother, a sibling, a friend, and just as an individual walking on this Earth. Even if I do what I think is right, life is still going to be hard a lot of the time.

What I am also learning, however, is that I am stronger and more capable for each current of struggle that sweeps across my path. I think of it like standing on the beach as the waves come in. While it feels that the grains of sand are eroding away beneath my feet, nearly pulling me down into the ocean, that sand gathers back around my ankles and actually strengthens my stance and my ability to withstand the next swell. The way I explained it to the kids was that they can expect life to be hard, but that there are ways to feel support and strength along the way and that they can come out stronger on the other side as they continue on.

My main source of strength is my faith in God. Whether it be a higher power or some other source you connect to for refuge from the storms in your life, there is power in faith and hope. I see people who have struggles in life and immediately turn in anger toward those closest to them or to God, questioning, “Why me?” I have been very hurt. I have wondered why. I have also felt peace as I have sought to strengthen my own relationship with God. Clinging to my faith has given me an anchor in the storm and hope for the sun to rise again. I believe faith combats fear.

Second, the support of understanding friends who have felt similar pain can bring peace and hope. I have seen people pull inward and suffer needlessly alone. I recognize that I myself have done so. When I have identified this withdrawal in myself and made the effort instead to reach out and put myself out there (this can be painful for some of us!), I have been rewarded with a huge measure of relief. In Christian words, loving our neighbor allow us a deeper understanding that each person has great value and worth. When we are open and real with each other in our common struggles, the bond that forms is strong and lasting. For the past several years, my adoption support network has allowed me to be who I am comfortably, without fear of judgment. Although many people in our lives mean well and try their hardest to be understanding, we may find that others in our community are able to have a much more perfect understanding of the complex feelings surrounding things like child loss, infertility, or parenthood. In turn, we can become more understanding and less judgmental as we gain respect for our fellow travelers.

The point I hoped to get across to my class was that they have the power to recognize good in their lives, even when things are hard, and not just in the absence of difficulty. Whether we are coming from a religious perspective or not, each of us has the option to choose learning and growth through our struggles. I recently heard someone say that although they would never have chosen the struggle they were currently dealing with, they wouldn’t dream of trading what they had gained as a result: the stronger version of oneself, the new friends reached out to along the way, a stronger foundation of faith. So much beauty can be identified on the other side of pain. What has given you strength and support through your struggles? What have you gained as a result?

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” -Rumi