If you’re not someone who believes in silver linings or finding the meaning out of life’s messy moments, stop reading. This post isn’t for you. Sorry not sorry.
However, if you’ve walked across the fiery coals, dodged bullets, peered into dark wells, sat on the edge of sinkholes – all metaphorically speaking, of course – lived to tell the tale, and believe that you are who you are because of it all, then I invite you to stay. Because you’re someone who’s decided that regardless of what you’ve been through, regardless of what wrongs have been done to you or what wrongs you’ve done to yourself (or others), that there was purpose in all that pain. Your messy moments have made you.
I used to say things like “everything happens for a reason” as though bad things were meant to happen. That there was some higher force at work intentionally throwing curve balls or releasing giant boulders in our own version of the Temple of Doom because it was a part of the path meant for us.
Then, about a year ago, this adage got turned on its head for me. My best friend and I were doing a book club together (which I guess makes it more like a book duet) and this very idea came up in conversation. She politely disagreed with my take, reflecting on her own traumatic experience from just a couple of years prior. Her higher power – the one she believed in – wouldn’t have deliberately or intentionally made her son sick. Her higher power wouldn’t have caused either of our miscarriages or my sexual assault. But, she said to me, that didn’t mean we couldn’t find meaning or purpose out of those events.
In that very moment, I realized that was what I meant the entire time I had been saying “everything happens for a reason.” It had never occurred to me that the words were in the wrong order. The saying should be, “We can find a reason in everything that happens.” This rings so much more true for me as someone who is always looking for the deeper meaning in things. I aim to connect the dots, to track how previous events led to current events, and to learn from my mistakes and messy moments.
This mindset is so much more empowering and positive than staying in the suffering. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t feel the feels when we are in the middle of the messy moment. We must. We must feel. We must face our pain or loss or hurt. True healing cannot happen by avoidance. It’s like that kid book/song about going on a bear hunt and everytime they get to grass or the river or mud. You can’t go around it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go over it. The only way to go is through it.
And when we are done wading through the muck of the messy moment, we look over our shoulder and go, “Well that was something.” From the other side, we can see how far we’ve come. We can see what it took to get here. We can retrace the journey to even understand how we came to the muck to begin with. And, if we are truly curious, open, forgiving, and interested in our own growth, we can also see how that messy moment has served us.
Because I promise there are life’s greatest lessons inside the messes. When things aren’t going right is when we learn. When things feel like failure, is when we grow. Just think about it. Would you know what perseverance or resilience or grit was if you hadn’t gone through something that required them?
Our experiences are made up of both messy moments and happy ones. They both play a role in who we become and how we show up in the world. But I do believe that it’s life’s messes that have the more profound impact on who we become.
Of course, keep in mind that who we become is still up to us. Our hardships can have profound impact but they don’t dictate whether we sink or swim. That’s up to us. That’s our choice. One coach (I freakin’ love and adore) calls this “response-ability.” We make the choice in how we respond to what life throws us.
This month, as we focus on gratitude and giving thanks, I want you to consider your life’s messy moments. So often when we are asked what we are thankful for we grab at the easy, happy things. We’re grateful for the food on the table, the roof over our heads, the comfort and privilege of buying ourselves coffee each morning on the way to work, or maybe the time off to be with family. These are wonderful things to be grateful for. I’m not knocking that.
(For some, these things are their entire world because they struggle to have their basic needs met. I get that there’s a privilege here in being able to be thankful for the shit you’ve been through because you’re coming from a place where a lot of other things are handled.)
Regardless, our challenges and hardships are deserving of our gratitude, too. They are like the ugly-looking present our grandmother or great aunt hands us for our birthday. We turn our nose up at it because it’s missing a chunk of wrapping paper, or the tag is illegible, or it’s smaller than we thought it would be, or it's taped together carelessly. It doesn’t glisten the way all the other perfectly wrapped, ribboned, and bowed gifts are. And then we unwrap it and we discover it’s underwear or pantyhose. Not only are we completely disappointed that this is what they’ve selected for us but we are mortified opening this up in front of others.
However… There comes a time we’ve run out of underpants and we don’t want to spend our own money on new ones and we become thankful we’ve got those tucked away. Or, the other pair of tights we had suddenly have a run in them and now we need the panty hose. Or, our grandmother or great aunt actually carefully selected the underwear or nylons because they knew they were practical and would be needed someday. Maybe they even got us the finest brand and we would have noticed that if we spent any time really being thankful for the gift.
The ugly-looking presents are still presents. They still provide something. If we are open to receiving their possible use and we are grateful that we were thought of. We may not know yet what purpose they serve, or their meaning, but we will. And when we do, we’ll be so glad that gift came, no matter how it looked or felt at the time.
This month, be grateful for your messy moments. They have taught you something. They have offered you more than you may know right now. Consider inviting them to your table and conversing with them awhile. They may have more to share with you. And you may find you have a lot to share with them. I’m willing to bet they would be delighted to know how you’ve continued to persevere, thrive, and keep going. I’m willing to bet they would feel honored to be a part of your journey and on your path. I’m willing to bet they would appreciate your thanks in contributing to the wonderful, beautiful, intricate human being you are.
Because, my dear, you are not shattered glass. You are a mosaic with both light and dark pieces. They play off one another to create a marvelous and unique effect. You are made of all your messy moments and magical ones. So don’t discredit what you’ve been through. Find gratitude. That shit has made you and you’re magnificent.
Would you like to go walking with me and tell me your story? I’d love to hear about your life’s messy moments that you’re thinking of curating into a memoir.
If you’re interested in a 20-min virtual walk and talk (I’ll call you like old times), email me to find a time.
I’d love to hear from you, walk with you, and hold space for the messy moments you’ve experienced.