The Truth is What We Save From the Fire

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Value of hard things vs. easy things
Like vigorous exercise, a disciplined reading regiment, and giving more than we take in our marriages, there is VALUE — tons of it — in doing hard things. So maybe don’t run away. Maybe allowing ourselves to feel is THE way. (Image/Carl Richards – New York Times)

I’m afraid of someone using a circular handsaw to cut open my skull.

But I’m more afraid of dying, so if the choice is certain death or brain surgery, I would choose brain surgery.

I’m afraid of jumping off of 100-foot cliffs into unknown waters.

But I’m more afraid of being eaten by big-ass dinosaurs, so if a genetically modified hybrid Jurassic World dinosaur was chasing me, I would totally jump if the alternative was being Indominus Rex’s lunch.

Broken down in the most primitive way possible, human beings are motivated by just two things:

  1. Feeling pleasure
  2. Avoiding pain

Psychologists say most people devote more energy to avoiding bad feelings than chasing good ones.

I believe them.

It’s always the same.

Whether I’m standing poolside, on the edge of a boat, or on a sandy beach, and I know the water is especially cold (which I realize is subjective), it always takes me a little longer to brave the plunge.

The water generally validates my fears as my body revolts. I lose my breath a little. My male extremities disappear like a sick David Copperfield prank. I may or may not lose consciousness for a second. All I know is I want to sprint to warmth and dryness because swimming is supposed to be fun and not take your penis away.

However. Inevitably. In what feels like a few years, but is probably only a few minutes, your body temperature begins to regulate itself. Your breathing normalizes. Your body parts are usually all in place.


Depending on wind and air temperature, your body often adjusts so well to the water that it begins to feel almost like a warm bath relative to the chilly air.

I was afraid to take the plunge. I was afraid of the discomfort.

But I always adapt. All of us do.

Change is uncomfortable. But we always adapt.

I allow myself to bathe in the discomfort, sometimes because there’s no other choice. But the truth hits you pretty fast: This was the only way to adapt.

We like to run from discomfort. We’re smart. We know that putting ourselves in certain situations, or subjecting ourselves to certain experiences are likely to cause discomfort. Sometimes, intense pain.

And we run.

But at some point, we realize the only way through it, is through it.

We allow ourselves to feel.

And God, it sucks.

But we adapt. We always adapt. And then some uncomfortable things no longer make us uncomfortable. Certain painful things don’t hurt as much.

Because we’re, just, stronger now.

So, Give Me The Fire

“Pain is sometimes an indication we need to set boundaries, learn to say no more often, or take better care of ourselves; but sometimes it just means that it’s human to hurt, and we need to let ourselves go through it.” – Lori Deschene

I don’t believe in fate, per se. I don’t believe necessarily that “everything happens for a reason,” because little kids get cancer. So, no.

But there is no question that enormous value can be gained from the horrible things we experience.

Maybe there were parents who weren’t very attentive to their child, and were on the fast track to divorce, but then their young child was diagnosed with cancer, and everything changed.

Maybe a sick child can teach you how to prioritize things that really matter in life.

Maybe overcoming adversity can teach them the life skills needed to handle future challenges.

Maybe the entire experience was a galvanizing moment for a struggling couple who finally learned how to choose love and practice gratitude.

Everything may not happen for a reason. But if you ask the right questions, you can always pinpoint the positive results of negative events.

If I have to choose between living with the wool pulled over my eyes, or feeling growing pains, then damn it, I choose growing pains.

I choose truth.

You fight for what you love. It doesn’t matter if it hurts.

You find out what it’s worth, and you let the rest burn.

Ashes from the flames, the truth is what remains.

– Switchfoot

Carry On, Warrior

That’s the name of Glennon Doyle Melton’s first book.

Her second book, Love Warrior, released Tuesday.

I caught a couple quotes from her recently that mattered enough for me to save them for a moment such as this.

Glennon said this in a recent Facebook post:

“I spent the first half of my life being afraid of pain. I found a million easy buttons to transport myself out of pain: Food, booze, sex, shopping, snark, scrolling.

“I was afraid of the wrong thing.

“I’m no longer afraid of pain — I’m now afraid of the easy buttons.

“Because I’ve learned that all my courage and wisdom I need to become the woman I want to be is inside of my pain. When you transport yourself out of it, you miss your transformation.

“First the pain, then the rising.

“You can do hard things, Warrior. You were born to do this.”

You will NEVER hear me celebrate my divorce. Not ever.

I failed my wife and son. I haven’t decided yet who I failed more.

It remains the worst and most painful thing that has ever happened to me.

Which raises something of a philosophical moral dilemma: Would I rather be married still walking through this world oblivious to the harm I cause others, to my wife’s persistent discomfort, and without the ability to help my son grow into a man capable of understanding what it takes to succeed in his human relationships?

Or… can I accept that this is what had to happen for me to arrive in a place where I have a real chance to be a decent human being moving forward?

Blissful ignorance and comfort? Or tormented enlightenment and discomfort?

I don’t know how to say that I’m happy my marriage ended, because that’s not how I feel.

I would NEVER say that I think my son’s life is better with his parents apart.

But I know how to say that I’m genuinely grateful for the opportunity to experience the kind of trauma required to instill real change.

I NEEDED to hurt.

I NEEDED the fear.

I NEEDED the anxiety.

I NEEDED to break.

I NEEDED to cry.

That was my path to right now. There could be no other.

I don’t know that anyone captures the true essence of the human condition in the midst of life’s most challenging moments as well as Glennon.

I wrote about my intense admiration for her in a post last month. And it’s because I am magnetically drawn to people like her — people who accept responsibility for their life choices, who don’t blame others for their problems, who courageously admit their flaws for the sake of helping and encouraging others, and are the ones willing to stand up and raise their hands to say: “This is what it’s REALLY like when I’m not pretending to be who I think everyone wants me to be!”

Because then we all get to feel a little more “normal” afterward. It takes the brave people admitting things for us to realize we aren’t the only ones with those same feelings and fears.

It takes courageous people to teach us how to live courageously.

From Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens’ story about the Love Warrior book release.

“It’s a beautiful lesson for each of us who takes on the responsibility and privilege of partnering and parenting: Do it authentically.

“I asked Melton if it’s daunting to embark on such a public life — book tour, speaking gigs — on the heels of announcing her separation.

‘I’m used to going out all busted up,’ she said. ‘It’s where I’m most comfortable. Now, more than ever, people don’t want shiny, perfect.

‘Lovely and easy and shiny people are really comfortable talking about their problems when they’re over,’ she continued. ‘We’re not allowed to struggle until after we’ve done our victory lap. That’s fine, but it’s less helpful than hearing from people in the trenches. How do I show up in the during? Maybe this all happened to me so I can go out there and be seen in the during.’

Thanks, Glennon.

I know exactly what you mean.

20 thoughts on “The Truth is What We Save From the Fire”

  1. I don’t believe in fate – as you said, kids get cancer.

    I do however believe that life continually provides us with choices, small and large. And we can look at these choices as opportunities to shape ourselves and our futures.

    When presented with choices, we can choose any of the options, or none of them. That’s always our choice.

    Sometimes our choices work out well, other times we wish we had a do-over. But we can always take value from our choices (good and bad) if we look at them and try to use them as opportunities for growth.

  2. Reblogged this on Mugglestones and Mayhem and commented:
    Recovery programs call our useless running, “getting something we don’t have,” or “keeping something we don’t want to lose.” Greg Baer, in his book, Real Love, calls it “Getting and Protecting Behavior.” Whatever you call it, it’s how we shield ourselves from pain. Check out blogger Matt”s great insights about this tough part of existence! Thanks Matt!

  3. I’ve had a snippet of lyric running through my head since a concert this weekend. This post makes it resonate even more for me. “It’s the weight that you carry from the things you think you want. I’ve got everything I need and nothing that I don’t.” I think like you – this moment I’m in is a lesson I need. And as Zombiedrew said – It’s my choice what I take from it.

  4. That excerpt- and your write up- are marvellous. This realization has been creeping up on my for a while- that we need the unpleasant roadblocks in our way more than the easy peasy shortcuts, and you really drove it home. Here’s hoping we make all the right choices. 🙂

  5. It takes a lot of courage to openly share our hurt me butI we can also help others the most during these times. Thanks for sharing your life whois goingto through the trenches.

  6. Your timing is impeccable, I needed this today. This evening I was driving home from my first day of classes bemoaning (just to myself) how effing hard things are right now. School, parenting, co-parenting, household shit, everything. It’s just hard. I was questioning if it’s worth it. Are my long term goals worth pursuing if it’s such a challenge?
    As I was turning onto my street flipping through radio stations, I caught part of an interview with MSU’s football coach. He was talking about players recruited from small town football programs and how they adapt to playing in college when he said something like “This isn’t a fairytale, there’s a lot of hard work involved.”
    I don’t believe in fate either but between that and finding your post today I think The Universe is trying to remind me that there’s value in the struggle.
    “You can do hard things, Warrior. You were born to do this.”

  7. Thank you, Matt! I love Glennon, too. ? Wondering if you have already read Brené Brown’s last book, _Rising Strong_? She writes eloquently (as do you) on this same topic. The only way out is through. And, we can do it and be better for it.
    I also really like Esther Perel’s TED talk on infidelity. She does not recommend it, and also acknowledges how it can make us better: Rethinking infidelity … a talk for anyone who has ever loved
    Take care and have a great weekend!

    1. Thank you so much for that link. Some really good thought points in here, especially the acknowledgement that when you look outside the relationship, you might be looking for yourself.

  8. I really believe that there is value in the process, and normally I would be all over this like a rah-rah cheerleading fangirl. But I don’t know…sometimes I just get really tired of having to be the warrior, of having to stay strong and continue to carry it all. Sometimes I wish someone would come along and walk beside me for a bit and help me carry it all.

  9. “Now, more than ever, people don’t want shiny, perfect.”

    I usually cringe when I read comments by people who have discovered the right way to do things, and always try to promote their method of marriage. They usually present themselves as shiny and perfect. Any difficulties are just small blips on the radar. They apply their “marriage model” and it all works out-you should just give it a try and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results!

    An unintended consequence is that when real problems occur, and the “method” doesn’t work, these people are, well, kind of screwed. They have just spent all this time publicly promoting the “right way”-for them to suddenly say, “whoa-this isn’t working anymore” would be pretty embarrassing, considering the amount of time they insisted it was the only right way to do things. So they usually suffer in silence, either forever, pasting on a fake smile, or until one of them just goes off the rails and says, I can’t do this anymore-I quit! And everyone, once they hear about the divorce, are shocked, because this was the perfect couple who had it all figured out!

    Thanks, Matt, for providing a place for all of us who are individually muddling through things to come here and encourage each other and muddle through together.

  10. A couple of thoughts:

    1) Much of life is the result of the consequences of our choices. It’s important to note, though, that these consequences are NOT applied equally, or fairly. They’re more potential negative outcomes than consequences, really.

    2) We have to accept our role in the negative outcome in order to grow. You’ve obviously done that a lot on this blog. I’ve worked on this too – even though my first spouse was emotionally abusive, I DID walk away from that marriage with a better understanding of who I really was and how I got myself into that situation. I also better understood the value of being true to myself, and what kinds of sacrifices are truly too big to make.

    I’ve had some of these convos with the hubs, and he’s quick to ID my lessons as taking blame for it all. But that’s not it – not in the least. I’m merely accepting my role in the situation and choosing to learn from it so I can be a better, stronger, more genuine “me” – and avoid similar pains in the future, of course. Sure, it’d be easy to point out all the things he should have done differently – but honestly, how would that help me? It wouldn’t. At all.

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