Even if there was a way to protect ourselves or our children from challenges, it wouldn’t serve us or them well. Why? For the very reason, we all know intuitively. Without challenges, we don’t develop and grow.
The fantasy of every person is to live a life of pleasure and bliss, free of pain, worry or anxiety. It’s very common that we desire this for our children as well. We’ve learned that there’s no escape from hardship in our own lives. We hope that through our ability to control so much of our children’s lives we can at least protect them from the many challenges that we’ve encountered in our lives.
Of course, there is no way of protecting anyone from the challenges of life. However, what we really need to understand is that even if there was a way to protect ourselves or our children from challenges, it wouldn’t serve us or them well. Why? For the very reason, we all know intuitively. Without challenges, we don’t develop and grow. If a child didn’t rise and fall and rise and fall he would never learn how to walk. Learning any subject only comes through the discomfort of study. Only one who has gone through the effort of raising a child can experience the satisfaction that only a child can bring to a parent. Only through extreme dedication and hard work does one learn to become a doctor. Only through trial and error, sometimes affecting other people’s lives, does the doctor become even better. Only one who has suffered a loss can truly console another who experiences the same. There are deep levels of emotional and intellectual wisdom that we only receive by going through an experience. Often, it’s only through the deep sting of an insult or a hurt that awakens us to an entirely new level of sensitivity.
“No pain no gain” is, no pun intended, a painful truth that we’d rather ignore. Yet, the best way to dispel darkness is with a ray of light. The best way to dispel fear is by looking it in the eye. The way to look at a challenge is to ask, “What potential opportunity lies behind this challenge?” We must know that G-d constructed the world in such a fashion that the opportunity always lies behind and challenge and that the pain always comes before the gain.
For me, this podcast is a perfect example. I spent over a year working just to launch this podcast. I’ll be spending much more time before reaching the results I am trying to achieve. I know that the more time I put into it and the longer I remain dedicated to it, the greater the results will be.
In our attempt to make our children happy, we will do much better teaching them how to respond to their challenges rather than protecting them from their challenges. Challenges are one of the greatest sources of potential growth and satisfaction. The more we protect our kids, the more difficult a time they will have when life throws situations at them and you’re not there to protect them. The more we guide and encourage our kids, the more independent and capable they will become. I don’t protect my kids from cooking because they may burn themselves, I encourage them to cook while observing them from behind. I don’t protect my kids from carrying a glass bowl, I encourage them to do so carefully. If the lesson costs me a $15 bowl, it’s the least expensive tutor I’ve ever hired for a lesson that will remain for a lifetime. There is no greater teacher than experience. No, I would never let them do things which can put them in danger and will protect them from experiences that I assess to be beyond their ability to handle.
There’s a story told about a man watching a butterfly trying to squeeze out of a cocoon. After a few hours, it stops. A man observing felt compassion for the poor butterfly which seemed stuck. He took a knife and cut open the cocoon. The butterfly now emerged very easily. However, the man noticed that it had a withered body and shriveled wings and was unable to fly. What the man, with all his kind intentions, did not know was that the restriction and the tiny opening is G-d’s way of forcing fluid from the body to the wings so that they would be healthy and fly.
There is a Jewish teaching that I have been teaching my children from a very young age. It’s one of twelve unique Jewish teachings that they all know by heart in Hebrew. Whenever we have a family birthday we repeat all twelve passages. Yes, I’m indoctrinating them. So should you. This particular teaching states, “If one says I have put forth effort and did not succeed, don’t believe them. If one says I have not put forth effort and have succeeded, don’t believe them. If one says, I have put forth effort and succeeded, believe them.” The message is very clear. Things that come without effort are not an achievement nor do they have much meaning for us. When we put forth effort, it is impossible that nothing has been achieved. The bottom line is that we must exert effort.
This takes us back to the fundamental value of living life with a long term outlook instead of a short term gain. They say that anyone who invests in the market long term always comes out with a gain. It’s those who become scared when the market drops and sell out of fear that always lose. Offering ourselves immediate comfort by taking the shortcut to avoid pain ends up costing us significantly as we move on in life, unprepared due to the shortcut we took.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski shares an insight that he learns from lobsters. A lobster is a soft animal that lives inside of a rigid shell. That rigid shell does not expand. Then how can the lobster grow? As the lobster grows that shell becomes very confining. The lobster begins to feel under pressure and uncomfortable. So what does it do? It goes under a rock formation to protect itself from predatory fish, casts off the shell and produces a new one. Eventually, that shell becomes very uncomfortable as it grows. So the lobster, once again, goes under the rock to shed its shell and produce a larger one. The lobster repeats this numerous times.
The stimulus for lobster to be able to grow is that it feels uncomfortable. If lobsters had doctors they would never grow because as soon as the lobster would feel uncomfortable it would go to the doctor and get a valium or a Percocet pill. Then it would feel fine and never cast off its shelf. From the lobster, we learn to realize times of stress are also times that are signals for growth and if we use adversity properly we can grow through adversity.
So I leave you with this question. Next time you experience a hardship or challenge in your life, will you get distracted by your attempt to understand why it happened and protest how unfair it is or will you focus on what you can do with the experience by noticing the opportunity of growth it is offering you?