Rethinking tough times

Rethinking Tough Times

There’s a way to rethink tough times so that their bites aren’t so hellish. And that’s true no matter how they come—terrorist attacks, terminal illness, pandemics…

I’m not downplaying loss or trauma but saying that we can lessen suffering by changing our focus.



I’ve mourned the young deaths of two brothers and a niece.

After the first of the deaths, I was nauseated with grief but didn’t unduly suffer: I experienced divine grace that nudged me to look for the blessings—not punishments—in what had happened.

So, look for blessings in my sorrow is what I did.

I saw that profound loss didn’t cripple me, as I suspected it would.

I saw that growing old was a privilege, and that I could still exercise mine.

Though it took some years, those insights helped me to quit a cushy job to go search for fitting work, knowing I’d live if I “failed” and lost my house.

Quitting made some things better but others worse than I’d imagined. But I kept getting the feeling that my woes were for my good. After some thought, I agreed:

Tough times can shake us awake and help us remember our desires.

We may want a car, but desire making a difference.
And there’s nothing like tough times to help us focus on what deeply matters.

When I moved to Kenya as a child, I was disturbed by poverty I saw and longed to help others live better. Giving away coins here and there didn’t feel like the best way, but I’d put my money where my heart was when I grew up. As a sleepwalking adult, though, I’d long forgotten what mattered to me and was careless with cash. Until I didn’t have any. Thanks to financially tough times, I remembered my desire and started making changes to make it happen.

Tough times can help us handle our desires.

It’s better to fumble a little than get what you want and lose grip.

At times, my laundry money was my only money. I prayed often for a windfall of cash that never came. And thank goodness: I wasn’t ready. An estimated 70 percent of lottery winners file for bankruptcy—they get the windfall without proper preparation. Thanks to financially tough times, I started building muscle to handle money: I began appreciating it more and using it more wisely. And forming good ideas about using it for my desire to help others live better.

Tough times can help us drop mental chains.

We can’t cling to old ideas and create better outcomes.

Until my job almost crushed my soul, I held God at a distance. My brother, a pastoral counselor, could see that I was struggling and was smart in offering help: he knew better than to say, “Go to church,” so he simply said I might like kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. Times were so tough I checked it out. And got hooked. And opened up to more ideas. And put new ideas into practice and got results I liked. And I haven’t looked back.

Tough times can help us serve a broader purpose.

The hammer can shatter glass or forge metal, as the proverb goes.

A lump of clay makes a great paper weight. But by working the hell out of it—kneading it, stretching it, firing it—a lump can become a coffee cup, which can also be a paper weight. The kneading, stretching, and going through the fire were part of the clay serving a broader purpose. We don’t need tough times to transform, but when they happen, we have a choice: call them beatings, and then stay the same, or chances to be reshaped, and then serve something more.

Tough times can help us live enjoyable lives.

Life is for enjoying, not fighting.

Here’s the tragedy: We’re pressured into groupthink and taught to fight what we don’t want. But when does fighting stop and living start? Jesus said that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. That doesn’t mean to shrug off injustice, but to drop mental chains and learn struggle-free ways of making our dreams come true. Tough times are great for knocking us to our knees and “helping” us drop the fight and do what feels right, “appropriate” to our group or not.