Yes, pain. And, peace.
How being honest with ourselves helps us process difficult outcomes.
When was the last time you felt at peace? What about the last time you felt pain—not physical, but emotional?
Chances are, you didn’t think about the same moment. I didn’t, either, because pain and peace seem mutually exclusive. My friend Maddie would disagree.
Brimming with life, energy, and a contagious love for people, Maddie fills every room she enters with a joy unlike any other. I met her the first year I ran for National FFA Office, and I’ll never forget the way she made me feel deeply loved simply by listening to me pour my heart out in a practice interview in a small, dimly lit, cold classroom in Minnesota in early October. The thing that continues to inspire me about Maddie is the way she carries herself with an unshakeable peace of mind and heart.
How often do we find ourselves on the metaphorical edge of our seats, full of anxiety over what’s going on in our lives? Thinking about past experiences has us picking apart every word we’ve ever said, anxious about what people think of us. Thinking about the present has us worried we’re not good enough for whatever role we fill at the moment. Thinking about the future, there’s infinite potential for things to stress out about. As I’m currently at an intersection of my own life, where decisions I make now will determine a major life trajectory, I don’t even want to talk about how the future tends to steal our peace. I can feel my heart rate increasing simply as I write. A deep breath just isn’t going to cut it. What, then, is the secret to peace?
Recently, I spent a couple hours on the phone with Maddie. We talked briefly about the normal college student topics—classes, internships, relationships, and weekend plans—but the majority of our conversation surrounded the recent National FFA Officer Selection Process. 37 candidates poured their heart and soul into a week of interviews, and, just like every other year, only six are elected to live out that dream. No matter how kind of a soul you have, not being elected is a deeply difficult thing to experience. Each candidate processes the election results differently; I struggled for months to identify why it was so difficult. As Maddie shared her own thoughts and feelings so openly, I was struck by a particular comment she made.
“Miriam, I’ve learned I can be both in pain and at peace about the results.”
Maddie wasn’t simply saying these words to convince herself she was fine; I could feel the truth in her voice through the phone even hundreds of miles away. I was hit so deeply by this comment because it captures a truth very few of us arrive at, and certainly not so soon after an undesired outcome in life.
You see, many people will choose to lie to themselves about one or the other of these feelings, pain and peace. Some become bitter and all they can feel is the pain. How many times have you and I wallowed in our own self-pity after we were dealt an unpleasant hand in life? It’s easy to only see those things which confirm our self-centered narrative. This is a dangerous place to be, as it blinds us to the purpose of our experiences, especially the difficult ones. It also can quickly lead to resentment of the people in our lives, which does nothing except make us more miserable. Yet, on the flip side, some will fake positivity. In an attempt to convince ourselves we are at peace and don’t feel any pain at all, we overcompensate with a fake front of happiness. Pretending we don’t have the feelings we do is dangerous, too. You can’t lie to your emotions. Trust me, because I’ve tried.
Maddie chose to accept the pain she knew she felt, but to embrace the peace she knew was true. She saw the deeper purpose in the selection process; it’s not to be elected, but for each person to bring their genuine soul to the people who fill those spaces. Knowing she lived out that purpose, she felt at peace, knowing her life purpose is so much bigger than one role in an organization. Yet, she didn’t pretend it didn’t hurt. When you care about an opportunity, it will certainly be difficult to see it given to another. In this honesty to herself, she’s setting herself up for more growth as she moves forward in life. The pain will fade, the peace will deepen, and Maddie will persist in her profound ability to show love to people while her very presence inspires them to be honest about both their pain and their peace.
Being honest with ourselves is one of the most difficult, yet most valuable, choices we can make. I’ve lied to myself many times about how I feel; sometimes to pretend there is no peace or purpose, other times to sweep pain under the rug. Neither choice is helpful. It’s my hope you’re not in a difficult season of life at this moment, but when those days inevitably come, as they do to all of us, this is my hope for you: accept the raw emotions of pain, but don’t let them overpower the deeper purpose which brings peace.